I’m just back – riding out the jet lag. Today’s post is mainly photos because they’re pretty, because I don’t do flikr, instagram or tumblr and because in so many ways New York is about what you’re taking in with your eyes and can’t be conveyed with words. But there are also a few things I noticed in myself and about the world being there a good thirteen years after my first NYC experience.
I’ve been back for a couple of days in between but that last time I spent any length of time in New York was at the tender age of twenty – riding Greyhound buses around the East coast – one full year before 9/11 – during this most recent trip it became very easy to see how my worldview and experience of the US, New York and they as symbols of the West and the world have altered since.
We’ve both been before, he and I, we’ve done the sights, this trip was about rest and chill and soaking up the vibe of the city. My previous trip had felt a little bit like a pilgrimage to the icons of my TV and movie culture: yellow cabs, Harlem, Central Park, Rockafeller, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and Wall Street. We queued and rode the elevator to stand upon the top of the World Trade Center in September 2010.
This time the only sightsee was when we went and visited the 9/11 memorial. I think I thought that it was still Ground Zero but of course over a decade of time and clear up and rebuilding has happened since then. The events of 9/11 , as for many people, were pivotal in reframing my understandng of the world. In amongst all the destruction, grief and shock I remember at the time seeing people in the Middle East cheering on TV and it shocking me, I remember thinking ‘Wait, do people hate America?’ There was I this young product of Western consumerism and captialism, taught that our Western ways, cultures and religion were the most enviable and progressive in the world. 9/11 gave me critique and started my journey towards deconstructing so much of this dominant, arrogant and oppressive message and worldview.
Travel for most people provides perspective, it has the potential to dilute your self interest for a while as you are exposed to accents, foods, architecture, spaces and sizes that are different but as important as the social and cultural markers in your own life and world. I’ve lived in a few places around the UK and Ireland and travelled to a few different places as a youth and adult. All of these have influenced my perspective, questions and sense of self and place. I think Cairo and New York are the biggest places I’ve been and separate to the physical size, I have been profoundly impressed by the sheer number of people and subsequent lives and hopes and dreams contained within these cities. As a young twenty something I travelled to New York and experienced it’s size and population by asking questions about how to change the world and make a difference – I was terrified of anonynimity. This itself is a strong characteristic of our Western worldview, where life is pursued as a success measured by media, celebrity and fame rather than relationships, experience and peace.
This time around I noticed a lot more of the groups, families and communities living in and making up the city. Understanding more about generations, investment, character and legacy. I steered well clear of the sights, the skyscrapers, the multi-lane traffic and horns, the busy tourists and the awfulness of the big screens and lights in Times Square – I didn’t want the noise of music and images I wanted the noise of people’s conversation and chatter, to see the rhythmn and culture of their lives in their small part of this diverse and vibrant city..
This time I valued the upbeat morale in the staff team at a local frozen yoghurt place (the frozen yoghurt was amazing too), the lounging hipsters will their small dogs talking art projects, the scooter riding children, the dancing ice cream server (there were a lot of desserts on this trip), the buzzing social economy bookstore and cafe supporting people living with HIV/Aids, the two bin men laughing over morning doughnuts and the male couple curled up asleep in the sun.
My experience of this city was deeper and richer this time around. I spent time looking for the ways in which people were connecting with each other and forming my own connections with myself and my life partner – reconnecting too. I was so glad to be away – feasting upon the visual both in buildings, spring time sunshine, blossom and flowers and a chance to people watch. Reassuring me of the communities and families that are all around us, valuing us, shaping us and nourishing us – it made it very worthwhile to come home.
All text and photos (c) Harriet Long 2013