I was recently in New York.
I had always dreamt of going there—since I was a teenager probably—and finally, at the age of thirty one, I made the oversea journey.
I was impressed, of course. I had been longing to get a first impression of that heaven of skyscrapers, to know what it might have felt like—looking up and seeing all those giant human efforts standing in front of you with the menacing poses of titans.
It was breathtaking.
I took the subway all the way to South Ferry, my first morning there, and when I climbed the stairs and got out into the open sky, giving my back to the river and looking straight at Manhattan, I could not believe my own eyes. As I was running up the stairs, my heart beating fast in my chest, I knew what was coming, and I could no longer wait—yet I was somewhat scared: it was an amazing feeling.
I figure that you only get that intensity of emotion the first time you’re visiting New York: the first time you’re seeing Manhattan, from amongst its streets, from the river or from the Brooklyn Bridge; the first time you’re gazing at the Statue of Liberty, looking up at its marvellous face from below its feet, on Liberty Island. Those first impressions are unique, and are hardly repeated.
But I might be wrong. Maybe, when you haven’t been there for a while, going back feels like visiting again for the first time. Maybe…
Yet, in the light of my thirty-year experience of life, not everything impressed me about New York City.
The style and rhythm of life, for example, weren’t at all new to me. I felt comfortable, or, rather, was familiar with the pace and mannerism of such a place. Having lived in London, I felt trained and prepared, and knew exactly what to do and how to do it.
So this is when I realised how much the city of London had actually given me: how much it had educated me. If, as a teenager, I would have completely fallen in love with New York, and would have wished to move there, now I wasn’t so sure I did desire that type of life: because I had already lived it.
Of course, the casual stroll through Central Park exercised an immense charm, as did the late afternoon spent down by the river, radiated by the company of the sun before it set. Not to mention the beauty of the city’s museums and arts centers, the wide variety of shows, exhibitions and events that you are unlikely to find so frantically condensed anywhere else. The incredible selection of food, of all types and origins, so authentically reproduced and served. And the opportunities… because, let’s be honest, that is the first reason why we choose to live in big cities.
All those factors contributed to the attractiveness of the place. But I could see beyond it—inebriated by the energy of NYC nonetheless.
I could see and feel the stress. The stress of having to travel great distances, packed in underground trains or waiting for buses, in order to get to work from the far-away areas where you could afford to live.
I could feel the pollution that blocks your airways and numbs your senses, as you cross the street or make your way through the busy avenues.
I could feel the frustration of always being just a number, as you try to weave your way through the dense masses, in an attempt to somehow stand out.
I could see the impossibility to have real, fresh, clean thoughts while your mind is constantly occupied on how to get through the day, deal with tomorrow, and somehow get out of a miserable situation.
And I am not saying that this type of life is avoidable elsewhere, or that if you lived in a small city then you would have found your oasis. I am just saying that the metropolis exasperates every aspect of life, the good ones as much as the bad ones, and that for me is enough to know that no truly healthy lifestyle could be achieved within it—unless, maybe, you are wealthy and experienced: but I have my doubts even there…
Having lived that life, I felt all this. And the tireless hopeful light of my early twenties having faded, I could now resist the temptation, and get a clearer view.
I loved New York, and very much enjoyed it. For all the energy I put into studying it, before I went, and exploring it, once there, I haven’t come even close to knowing all that there is to know about it.
Yet what I have seen has satisfied me, for the present time.
I might be too biased when it comes to London, but I could see a lot of it in New York… Many comparisons could be drawn between the two cities, I think, but that is not my point here. Actually, I have no point. Maybe just the fact that, growing up, life teaches us how to take care of ourselves, in finding better and healthier solutions. And while many of the teachings usually come from our encounters with people, some of them can come from places too—especially those we have learned to love.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Madiha Foundation.