[smiths] travel sub-editor Emma Henderson takes an emotional trip to the city that never sleeps, and explores how the metropolis has recovered 13 years on from one of the biggest tragedies of the 21st century.
NYC has always been the ‘city that never sleeps.’ Today, it’s a phoenix city that has revived itself following a huge tragedy. The city has lived on since that day and it is thriving in every possible way.
I went to New York this September for my ’21st birthday’ – I’m actually almost 25. The dream was to visit in winter, but university has a habit of getting in the way. It was hot; so hot that the taxi driver said, although it was ‘fall,’ it was the hottest day so far – great.
Even though I was 11 when 9/11 happened, I remember exactly where I was when I saw it. I remember what I was wearing (alright, it was school uniform), where I was and what I did. That event has permeated everyone’s minds – even those who weren’t even alive when it happened.
St Paul’s Chapel, nestled just metres from where the twin towers stood, is the unsung hero of that day. Its very survival is testament to its strength as it managed to keep standing as the towers came crashing down. Not only did this small gothic chapel survive, it thrived. It became a sanctuary for the emergency services; those risking their lives in order to save others. It became a home, no matter who you were. The information and memorabilia inside brought tears to my eyes: “There was never a thought of race, creed, colour or gender. I just hope the once this has all passed, that is not forgotten”. To me, it was so significant that it was a chapel which brought so many people together, religious or not, in such a distinct time of need.
Outside, there is a new building dominating the skyline: the One World Trade Centre, the tallest building in the western hemisphere. 13 years on, the area is largely still a building site, gracefully covered with bright and attractive signs boasting of the regeneration. Past this are hundreds of neatly planted young oak trees, which symbolise strength and solidarity. Two huge black granite elegant ‘pools’ dominate the floor space. Water continuously flows down the inside of the pool and the names of those who lost their lives are engraved around the side. The atmosphere was slightly eerie. I think it was the overwhelming awe combined with the time of year.
The museum was harder to understand. I had been so keen to go inside, but when I came out I felt totally different about it. It is built around the remaining wrought iron structures that made up the foundations of the skyscrapers. I felt uneasy, as if I was prying into something I shouldn’t be and acutely aware that I was standing where thousands of people had lost their lives. I could finally put into context what I had seen on the news and read in books into my own version of reality. It happened and I was standing in the aftermath of something so horrific that 13 years later, the restoration was still going on.
I wish I could have been to New York before 9/11. I feel like I ‘know’ another New York to the real one: a modern, less authentic one. It’s the same way I feel about Brazil – it will never be the same now after the FIFA World Cup and the upcoming Olympics. Still, I visited New York at a very poignant time which is something I will never forget – 13 years on, unlucky for some, but not for me. The trip ended almost magically cruising on the Hudson River, when coming back to NYC, the weather finally broke and a rainbow sat perfectly over the new downtown skyline – picture perfect.
Photography courtesy of Emma Henderson.