There is so much to see in NYC that we had difficulty figuring out where to start. We eventually decided to start the day in Lower Manhattan, to visit Wall Street and the site of the World Trade Centre.
Despite its fame as the kingdom of high finance, I had expected Wall Street to be a fairly nondescript street, much like Downing Street in London. Indeed, the action takes place behind closed doors: due to security reasons, the New York Stock Exchange is now off-limits to visitors and you can only catch glimpses of the building, the security guards and the traders nervously smoking outside. On a side note, Wall Street was the place where I saw the most people smoking—there was a thick cloud of smoke in front of most buildings! For finance’s sake, I hope it was tobacco smoke…
From Wall Street, we walked to the site of the World Trade Center, where the Twin Towers stood until 9/11. Like most people, I still remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the attacks—I was living in Hong Kong at the time, thousands of miles away from the U.S.A. geography and culturally speaking, yet the events affected me. Like most people, I have seen countless hours of footage taken that day, from the two planes hitting the buildings to the towers collapsing, from the collective sense of anger and shock to rescue workers making their way to the site of disaster through a thick cloud of smoke, ashes and debris.
As we walked toward the site of the WTC, under a clear blue sky like this fateful day of September, I was offered a whole new perspective. For a start, I had never realized how “central” the WTC had been. I know it was in Manhattan, but I didn’t know its exact location. Well, it’s within walking distance from Wall Street, the financial district and it’s relatively close to Battery Park. The Statue of Liberty isn’t far either. The WTC stood in the heart of NYC, close to a number of landmarks that symbolize the U.S.A.
I hadn’t realized either how densely populated and constructed the area had been either. The WTC complex wasn’t a standalone complex; it was surrounded by hundreds of small businesses, offices, hotels, etc., that sustained damages. Around the financial district, the streets are very narrow. I can’t even imagine the chaos that took place on 9/11, and I can’t imagine how hard navigating these narrow streets—and escaping—had been.
That’s what I had in mind when I first approached the site where the Twin Towers had stood.
After years of controversy and several delays, the reconstruction of a new complex is now underway. At the WTC site, the atmosphere was much different than I had expected: it was more upbeat and less solemn than I would have thought. For instance, I didn’t see that many patriotic displays and overall fewer flags and 9/11 references that I would have imagined.
I guess it has been eleven years since the tragedy. NYC took the time to mourn and is now moving forward. Yet I was surprised—maybe it’s my European side: in the Old World, over there ten years is nothing, but for the New World a decade is a long time.
Regardless, I liked what I saw. It’s often better to move forward than to look back. There are many aspects of U.S. society that annoy me as a French, as a Canadian or as a world citizen. Still, I must acknowledge that Americans are excellent builders and innovators.