Every time I go to NYC I learn something. 5th Ave divides the East and West. 6th Ave traffic goes uptown. Pedicab drivers charge $4 per minute. I stumble upon pockets of peace in the midst of the rush and activity. Some of the doorway embellishments are just gorgeous and there is so much Art Nouveau and Deco around.
I saw one of the prettiest horses I have ever seen carrying a traffic cop near the Rockefeller centre.
It's 18 degrees Celsius on the 5th of November, unseasonably warm, but they have the Rockefeller Plaza ice rink up and going and the skaters are out. Yesterday I read that they have cut down the tree that they will shlep to the Plaza and decorate for Xmas.
There is a joke, 'how many New Yorkers does it take to change a light bulb?' And the answer is 'None of your business! Get out of my way!' The real joke is that New Yorkers are not like that at all. People are extremely polite, in the city at least. It's all 'excuse me' and 'thank you' and 'you're welcome'. Some guy standing on a corner handing out leaflets for a comedy club, when asked (perhaps a little brusquely by my husband) about the number of the street we were standing on (Little Brazil, but I think it's 42nd?) admonished 'Hey, first say good morning, I'm not a tour guide!' Then he pointed out the number just below the name. So it helps to smile and make eye contact and be polite. There are so many people from so many backgrounds and skin color/race is a real issue here, that you must not even remotely appear to be disrespectful; and maybe the politeness has an edge to it but it is a necessary thing. So every one is actually very polite and I don't know where that joke came from. Maybe things were different a few years ago. Or maybe it refers to the Bronx. (But you don't want to linger more than a millisecond when the lights turn green. In the car, all semblance to politeness disappears.)
Anyway as I was shpatziring along looking at the buildings and the doorways and the shop windows and the people and the other tourists with their sneakers and baseball caps and fanny packs and 'I ❤️ NY' T-shirts, looking and spending and craning their necks like me to look at the skyscrapers, I was thinking yet again, what a great city is NYC. Really, as my young Tajiki pedi-cab driver, who had won the green card lottery and came to NY with his wife with whom he now has an American baby, said: it truly is a city that never sleeps. This guy left Tajikstan and here he is peddling a fat old lady tourist to her hotel, living the dream. I'm sure his son will grow up and go to college and who knows, be President one day. You never know.
So what makes this city so great? Why is NYC so great in ways that say, Riyadh or Doha are not? I suppose I could substitute 'NYC' with London or Tokyo or Paris, and they are fantastic and amazing cities, but the difference is that they are 1000 years old. Moscow is also an amazing city, also 1000 years old but with a crazy post-Soviet twist which gives parts of it this manic insane no-holds-barred excess energy. New York is only what, 300 years old? With really most growth in the last 150 years? That's when the robber barons made their mark and became the upper class. The Rockefellers and Roosevelts and co. And the skyscrapers are only since the 1920s when they were made possible by the invention of the elevator and other technological advances. That's not even 100 years ago. But you can't think of NYC without thinking of skyscrapers. (And the Twin Towers of course. That's a whole other thing. Not going there now.)
So much growth and vitality and wealth. And yes there is a port and all sorts of reasons why there was a town put there in the first place. But I think the biggest and most powerful thing that the city has is the drive and the desire of its people to get on, get ahead, reach for the brass ring, and take advantage of the myriad opportunities that are there. Sure you have to work hard and you need some luck. But anyone can be anything in NYC.
And one of the reasons that this is possible is tolerance. All religions, all races, all points of view. Ok, nothing's perfect and there were dark days during the stewardship of some Mayors. But overriding all is the vitality of freedom.
And that is why despite all the wealth of the Emiratis or the Saudis (for as long as it lasts) and no matter how many ski runs and skyscrapers they build in Dubai on the backs of slaves, their cities will never result in anything remotely approaching New York. No freedom, no tolerance, and of course no Jews. No chance.