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Gordon's D-Zone Arcive (2006-2014)

Friday, September 11, 2009

New York memories before September 11

There are cities in the world that have a special place in my memory. One of them is New York City. The one time I had the chance to visit the Big Apple, as it is also called, was when I was about 13 back in 1994. I went together with my family to visit relatives who lived in Long Island. I couldnt believe I was going to the city I had seen only in movies, particularly Home Alone II, which was one of my favourites then. Indeed, I was thrilled to find myself in the city that never sleeps” (as Frank Sinatra once put it )>

I remember being taken around the different areas of the city and I was excited by the fact that there were so many people from different cultures inhabiting the same city. I was blown off by the various ethnic communities one could find so close to each other. We passed through Little Italy and ChinatownI recall but Im sure that there were many more - as suggested by the kaleidoscope of streets decorated with traditional ornaments and the unreal smell of delicious foods!

But a fond memory I have of New York was when I had the chance to taste kosher food in a Jewish restaurant. Since two of my cousins are Jewish, I had the opportunity to eat at a restaurant that wasnt invaded by tourists. The owners were so welcoming that it felt like coming home to a family dinner. Okay, at the end, one of the owners gave me some sweets for being such a good boy. I guess some things do really change ;)

Anyway, New York wasnt only about eating. We visited many sights and museums, including the Vanderbilt Museum, the Rockefeller Centre. We also had the opportunity to attend a Broadway show starring Mickey Rooney. One evening, we took a ferry ride across Manhattan and I took a good look at the famous Statue of Liberty - on Ellis Island. The lady with the scales of justice was a gift given by the French to America as a symbol of friendship. Unfortunately, I dont get the chance to get up there - perhaps thankfully as there were many, many steps and long queues!! But seriously, what I saw back then, the Manhattan with the towering skyscrapers dwarfed by the Twin Towers and the Empire State Building, I would never see again.

Of course, at that age, I had already travelled to many cities in Europe but New York was a different kind of town than any I had experienced before. I walked the streets of New York in disbelief as I witnessed the towering skyscrapers that surrounded me. I almost got dizzy at times. I enjoyed scaring and feeding the pigeons which seemed to have taken over most of New York‘s streets. I enjoyed to be able to move around without having people staring at my gait - a thing which used to happen a lot in Malta.

True, some people say that in cities like New York, you may as well be dying on the street and people will still ignore you. But, at that age, I interpreted peoples detachment and caution as an opportunity to be more myself . At the time, I could move around more as my mobility impairment permitted me to do longer distances. I wonder how it would be like now with my wheelchair…Ah! I digress

Well, another memory that I have of New York was when I got the chance to go on top of the Twin Towers. An event that I would remember every time September 11 is approaching. Mine, however, is not an experience tarnished by terrorism and tragedy. Indeed, it was a wonderful experience - going to the top of the World Trade Centre!

Getting on top of the Twin Towers wasn’t easy. We had to wait in the long queue of tourists who wished to peer from the highest floor of the building. Ironically, we may have took longer waiting in the queue than actually travelling up the 110 or so storeys of the late tower. Indeed, the lifts had been designed to be super-fast as they were continuously in operation taking workers and tourists up and down. I finally made it to the top floor…

As I stood up there, I could see the whole of Manhattan below me. It was a breath taking experience - not just because the air was thinner up there but because I could see how small everything really was - at least from that perspective! Even if it wasnt like witnessing the Earth from space, it surely got close. People, cars and other building appeared as structures and machines created by Lilliputians. Yet, the same people who appeared as not bigger than ticks, were the same ones who built the structure I was on. How incredible it was that as humans we are only capable of doing so much and yet as a community we’re capable of building so high.

And so, I did manage to climb up the Twin Towers. But now, after thousands lost their lives in a horrific event of 9/11, the only thing that remains is a piece of land known as ground zero. I am thankful that none of my American relatives were there at the time but I remain saddened by the whole event. When I watched the attacks on the Twin Towers on CNN on that fateful day, I couldn’t believe that such a structure could collapse so fast. But it did.

9/11 is a moment in our recent history when a dark chapter of fear and doubt has been opened. It’s an event that has brought us face-to-face with our vulnerability as humans and with the complex realities of globalisation.

However, when I remember 9/11, I try not to recall the bloody images of the terrorist attacks - even if they must be acknowledged. Instead, I try to recall a city of peoples with their own traditions living together, working together and building communities together.

While New York is far from perfect, the solidarity and acts of courage exhibited by the residents of New York during the hard times following the attacks was proof that there is still hope in humanity. It is evidence that the demons of prejudice, hate and revenge manifested through terrorism have no place in the world. Sadly, 9/11 was followed by military action in Afghanistan and Iraq while global terrorism is not on the decrease.

I sometimes wonder whether we will ever be able to achieve a state of peace and rid ourselves from the cycle of violence that continues to threaten our world.