Some 40 years ago, when I came for the first time to New York, I was a tourist.
A tourist is a person who visits a place, asks about the way of life, the history, the customs, the culinary specialties, the local music and dancing and many other things about the country he visits. When he finished the trip, he returns home… and forgets everything he learned until the next year, when he starts again in another country, with other people and so on.
At the time I visited New York for the first time, it was summertime.
Means that the temperature was high, the humidity was high, the irritability was high. I had the feeling that everybody who walked in the street next to me was ready to take a knife from his pocket, that he had prepared long time before, and would try to kill me! Why me? Maybe because they could see that I am not a New Yorker.
Probably the psychosis was the result of too many articles and books I had read about the violence in New York City. But it is sure that the climate in summertime pushed me to get such strange feelings.
So, despite of all interesting things I saw in New York, I decided that I did not want to come again into that city.
Only some two or three years later, I made a stopover in New York during a business trip to South America.
This time it was in the fall. One of those sunny days in September or October, maybe “Indian summer”, with all trees in Central Park yellow and red, with so many people walking in the streets, some of them jogging, others agglutinating at the Rockefeller Center.
All of a sudden, I realized that I feel home.
Why? Maybe because I understood there are only two cities in the world: New York and Paris! All others are big villages! Only in New York or Paris can you find many cities in one city. There is no “downtown”, I mean “center of the city”. Every part of the city is a city in itself. Every district of the city has its feature. Greenwich Village is different from Harlem and Chinatown is distinct from Brooklyn. It’s just like Paris, where Champs-Elys�es is different from the Latin Quarter and Montmartre is distinct from Bois de Boulogne. I know people who lived all their lives in the same “quartier”, where they found everything they need and they knew everybody. I imagine it’s the same in New York City with the various “neighborhoods”.
Later on, when I started coming back almost every year, I discovered so many museums, so many theaters, so many musicals. I discovered that almost every week end there is a “Parade” and New Yorkers love to attend. The funniest hat, the Marathon, the Veterans, the Gay Pride, everything is an opportunity to “faire la fête”: to be one of the party.
After a while, I started to return to New York just for a week end, only two or three days. Every time I tried to discover another part of the city.
Once I spent the week end in Sutton Place, watching every passer-by to catch some famous personality.
Next time, I walked around the United Nations mixing with the demonstrators against, or maybe for, I don’t know which cause.
Of course, Christmas time was a highlight! So many show-windows, so many lights , Santa Claus everywhere and the Rockettes at the Radio City!
One day I had a shock! Like many thousands of visitors, I went to Ellis Island. I was very impressed by the history of the place. And all of a sudden, almost by chance, on the wall carrying 400 000 names of immigrants, I found the ones of my great-grandfather and his family. It was a link to the past I never expected to get in my life.
One of the places I used to visit almost every time, in the evening, was the restaurant “Windows on the World” on the top of the World Trade Center.
My favorite seat was in that corner where I could see far below, in the darkness, the Liberty Statue. It looked small, like a toy, and I had the feeling I could catch it with my hand. I used to spend hours looking in every direction, admiring the “roads of light” or the top of the skyscrapers glittering against the black background of the sky.
So, when on the 11th of September I heard on the radio what was going on in New York, I could not realize. As a first reaction, I considered it should be a bad joke, some kind of “science fiction” forgery.
Later on, when I saw the images on the T.V., I thought to my friends who live in New York and I tried to get them on the phone. Of course, it was impossible!
So I had a terrible frustration. I wanted to be there and be sure that everybody is OK. I asked myself: “Why did they do this to me?”
At that moment I realized all the things I lost.
And I understood that I am a New Yorker!