Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.
― James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room
New York City has long been a favourite destination of mine. Back in 1976, I visited for the first time with my brother as part of a summer adventure that saw us travel coast to coast and back again. As an 18 year old experiencing the enormity of New York for the first time, I was understandably awestruck. Mind you, it was a far different city then from what it has become.
42nd Street was, shall we say, “seedy” to be kind. While Broadway was undoubtedly a huge attraction, the high-minded, artful Big Apple sat side-by-side with peep shows aplenty and street attractions that I haven’t seen since that first visit, and I’ve been back many times. And for all the times that I’ve been there, only on that first visit was I ever afraid. While walking along 7th Avenue near Times Square, I managed to attract the attention of some nefarious types who made me uncomfortable even if nothing detrimental to my health actually happened.
Still, once New York gets in your blood, it’s pretty hard to stay away. On my most recent visit, I was explaining to my companion on the journey that no city I’ve seen is built on the scale of New York. I’ve been to cities that have larger populations and far crazier traffic (Bangkok in particular comes to mind – consider being in a taxicab that stalls in the middle of some eight to ten lanes to traffic and just won’t start – been there, done that). But New York’s enormity is unique, a fact that was explained for me, in part, by a statistic I encountered in a publication that came with my subscription to The Economist magazine, “Pocket World in Figures.”
Among the minutiae describing population and various statistics regarding age, demographics, median income and the like was a list of cities with the most skyscrapers. While I can’t say for sure what the rule is for designating buildings as such, two things struck me: Toronto came second with 1,993; New York was first with 5,888! Toronto’s position as number two was surprising but the distance between first and second place was what caused my jaw to drop. No wonder New York immediately impresses you with its size. So much of it is just so BIG!
On this latest trip, by virtue of where we were staying (New Jersey), our day in the city always began at the World Trade Centre. While the site remains a work in progress, the centerpiece of the redevelopment, the new building – One World Trade Centre – is largely complete. While nothing could ever replace the twin towers, the new building is a worthy successor. As luck would have it, we were able to watch a documentary on the construction of the building not long after we returned to Saint John. Knowing the details of the construction simply enhanced the wonder the sight of the structure had engendered in me. Enshrouded in glass, it is a huge needle that draws your eye anytime it appears in your field of vision.
Otherwise, the city remained its usual, frantic self. Over the course of our five days there, we checked out Central Park just to be reminded that trees do bloom and that Saint John’s turn will come, even if it is a month or so behind. The Staten Island Ferry, with its great views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Manhattan and New York Harbor continues to be the best ticket for the price of just about anywhere. That being said, if you haven’t done the cycle of New Brunswick’s ferries on a beautiful summer day, you need to make a plan and make sure you do.
A Yankees-Mets game, Broadway shows, a visit to Brooklyn, good food galore, the sights and shopping: five days well-spent, I say. Towards the end of our time we managed to encounter a couple of protests, louder versions of the overall impression I always have of New York: this is a place where “things are happening”. I know the same can be said of any of the world’s major cities but something about its physical presence makes everything in New York conform to its image as the BIG Apple. I always feel that I’m somehow closer to the pulse of the world when I visit. And I enjoy that.
At the same time, when the day came that it was time to leave, it didn’t take me long to remember why New York is always a nice place to visit but not somewhere that I would necessarily want to live for a long time. As you leave the city and head northward you eventually get beyond the traffic that stays with you almost as far as Augusta. Once past Maine’s capital, though, things begin to revert to the pace that we think of as “Maritime” and, quite frankly, I breathe a sigh of relief.
No matter where I go, it’s always the same it seems, especially if I’m driving back from the U.S. When I come over the rise on Highway #1 where the city is laid before you, it always looks particularly beautiful to me. Which, I suppose, goes a long way toward proving the old adage, at least for me, that “there’s no place like home.” In my case, that’s Saint John – always was, always will be.