Being a tourist can be hard work. We were on our feet today for about nine hours and out and about for thirteen. The day started with a pilgrimage to the new Apple Store, which shares a tony location on Fifth Avenue and Central Park with high end jewelers and designer stores. This is as it should be, since design plays such a significant part of the appeal of Apple products. The entrance of the building is a large glass cube that rises ethereally out of the pavement. Most of the store is below ground level and was buzzing with excited shoppers. The atmosphere was typical of other Apple stores we have visited.
Then we took a walking tour from Bryant Park to the Times Square area. The guide pointed out the crystal ball that drops on New Year's Eve. If she hadn't, we would have never noticed it. It looks so small on its perch so high above the ground. The theme of most of this walk was the conflict those who love New York have, balancing the preservation of the historic with creating living spaces that are comfortable for people today to live and work in. For a long period of time after the Great Depression, new money did not flow into the theater district and many fine performance houses fell into disrepair. We remember when we first visited here in the 1970's and Times Square was a fairly scary place - full of X rated theaters, strip clubs, and ominous looking people on the streets. In those times if someone came along with the money to build something new, old buildings were knocked down with impunity. Two events turned things around. Mayor Guiliani got a law passed giving him the authority to shut down any "sin" oriented establishments. Then the Disney Corporation contributed major money to the renovation to some theaters and moved their more wholesome approach to life into the Times Square area. There are some who resent the Disneyfication of the area. They argue that there is little left that differentiates this part of Manhattan from many other American cities. I can see their point, but we and gazillions of other tourists seem to feel very happy to be here and can enjoy the area without averting their eyes and clutching their handbags.
Our second walking tour was to an area we've postponed visiting for the last nine years - the World Trade Center site. The events of that day are forever blazed in our minds and to go and look at the hole that was the site of so much anguish seemed depressing and pointless. However, we read positive reviews of a tour of the place and decided to visit the area. The tour started at St. Paul Chapel located right next to the WTC site. George WAshington worshipped at this church and it survived a huge fire that burned down all the surrounding buildings during the Revolutionary War. It seems miraculous that the church survived the inferno that the burning towers caused and it became the location where the rescue workers came to eat, rest, and try to recharge their batteries. Many memorials are still located here. As we walked the huge square that was the WTC plaza, the guide explained that many of the seeds of destruction were planted in the response to the bombing in 1994. Emergency facilities were located at 1 World Trade including a giant stockpile of fuel for the rescue vehicles. This ignited when the towers fell and caused incredible additional damage. Ironically, the rebuilding that has been handled by area businesses is finished to a large extent, but the parts that the government is in charge of including the memorial, have hardly begun. The Deutsche Bank building is still being demolished, the pace slowed by the fact that human remains continue to be found there. It will probably take another fifteen years before the site has been completely rebuilt. The guide questioned whether it is wise to rebuild large towers here since the one that is already finished has low occupancy rates. Would you like to work on the 100th floor of a building in this area? Our president stated that we would not allow the terrorists to change us, but the fear that people continue to feel today as they travel and react to their fellow non Christians is still palpable.
In conclusion the guide said that events of 9/11 showed that there are many people today capable of being heroes just as there were in the past. New Yorkers were reminded that we are all in this together and the interactions of people here have been strengthened and warmed. While I must say that everyone we have met has been pleasant and helpful, it is hard to feel a kinship with those CEO/Wall Street moguls who are earning billion dollar salaries while the rest of the country continues to struggle financially.