I visited New York City for 9 days. My first time in the city was when I was 8 years old. It was during December. All I remember is the enormous toy store Fao-Schwartz, the horse ride in Central Park, the infinite number of shiny Christmas decorations, the Nutcraker ballet and ice skating. Now, at 25, the experience was different. It was not a relaxing vacation. Definitely not a place to take it easy.
New York is neither a perfect nor an idyllic city. It has its charm, but it’s difficult to perceive. There is traffic and garbage. I even had a déjà vu that transported me to Venezuela for a second: Someone threw trash in the middle of the street…just because.
Walking does not exist in New York. Sprinting is what it takes to survive the human stampede. The subway is difficult to understand at first and when I asked a woman for directions, the response left me startled: “If you have eyes, why don’t you read?”. It was the middle of April and spring decided to take a longer break to let everyone freeze some more.
However, amongst all that hard shell, that Manhattan concrete jungle interrupted only by parks, the chaos somehow finds its natural rhythm –as if all the cacophonous pieces followed an order known by them solely. The preppy girl going all stressed out to work, the dog-walker with ten pets at a time, the homeless guy who lives through the day with a few coins, street artists entertaining for a living, babysitters walking toddlers in their strollers, runners jogging in spite of the merciless cold, yellow taxis sprinting desperately for clients, hot dogs, pretzels and shawarmas being sold on the street for those too rushed or too broke to sit down and eat. Everyone has a space. Everyone is wrapped in a certain dynamic, overwhelming for the foreigner, but normal for the local.
The essence of New York is not only found in its architecture, its monuments, its physical places, but also in its people: bankers and artists, poor and rich, elegant and sloppy, old and young, Americans and foreigners, gay and straight couples holding hands. Asians, Blacks, Whites and Latinos, with dark, brown, light, purple and blue hair. Everyone united by the toughness required for living in this whirlwind.
It’s the city of the yuppie, but also the homeland of the hipster. It’s the city of Wall Street, but also of the Moma. It’s the city with hectic main avenues, but also with tranquil side streets. It’s the city of intimidating skyscrapers, but also of the 4-story buildings with emergency staircases and with exceptional murals on their façades.
It’s the city of big brands like Starbucks, but also of the little traditional bakery owned by an Austrian woman who lived in Paraguay for decades. It’s the city of a complicated subway system, but where the sound of an Ugandan instrument with an unpronounceable name produces the most beautiful sounds. It’s the city where while some are always in a hurry, others have time to sit down at Bryant Park and play chess. It’s the city where you go to a typical Japanese restaurant and merengue songs of my childhood are played.
It is a tough city, but without escaping vulnerability. Ground Zero is a reminder of that. The squared prints of both towers inside of fountains whose water falls down in a deeper level, represent the collapse of the World Trade Center. Around the pools the names of the victims are engraved: 3 thousand persons from 90 nations; the attack was not against a sole country.
It is neither a perfect nor an idyllic city, but many long to go and live their dreams there. There are more than 8 million people residing in New York: locals, nationals coming from other cities, foreigners, sedentary and nomad inhabitants. Just in 2011, 50 million visitors were counted. Nationality, language, skin color, height or culture, are irrelevant here: everybody wants to go to the top of the Empire State.