WHERE  IS  THE  SOUL  OF  NEW  YORK?

NEW YORK CITY, June 7, 2005
 
(STAR) By Millet M. Mananquil - Bob Dylan once raved about New York as the capital of the world, full of a million stories. It was the city of the future where tomorrow happened today.

The saying goes that when Wall Street sneezes, the London Stock Exchange catches a cold. So much so that during the 9/11 tragedy at the World Trade Center in 2001, New York wept. And the rest of the world cried as well.

The tears for the thousands of lives lost there have dried up. The memories may still evoke pain, and if you believe British novelist David Flusfeder, New York has lost its soul. He called it boring and predictable. Andy Warhol once said that the city’s future would one day be flat and meaningless.

But this certainly was not the New York that we saw when we joined 5,200 delegates from 70 countries last May 3 to 7 for the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) 2005 International Pow Wow in New York, flying in via Northwest Airlines.

We saw a New York rising from the ruins. We felt its unwavering spirit and its sense of hope and healing at Ground Zero. It seemed hollow and forlorn, but not empty. We saw people flocking to its perimeter fence, their faces showing rich emotions. Across the site of the tragedy, at St. Paul’s Chapel, we felt "the love freely given to strangers by strangers" as we looked at photos and memorabilia showing grieving relatives, rescue workers and volunteers as they converted the 200-year-old chapel into an even more historic sanctuary. There, people fell on their knees not merely to pray, as George Washington did in 1776, but also to rest with the throngs of people huddling for signs of hope.

"After 9/11, this part of New York fell on its knees," said Jonathan Tisch, chairman of NYC & Company – the city’s tourism marketing organization – at the Jacob Javits Convention Center where the Pow Wow delegates converged. "Some 50,000 employees woke up the next day not knowing where to report for work."

But then, the tourism industry quickly came together. We needed visitors emotionally and financially. They responded and came from all over the world," said Tisch.

"New Yorkers spread the welcome mat as thousands from America came to pay respects to the city. True, there was a decline of 36 percent in tourism arrivals, but by 2005, we hope to regain the pre-2001 arrivals. New York is on track to welcome 40 million tourists, six million of which are international visitors.

"It is patriotic tourism that will save us," Tisch stressed. "Our spirits are unbroken."

Roger Dow, the new TIA president, said that visitors will see a revitalized Manhattan and a more upbeat attitude in the tourism industry. "The obstacles are there–the widespread disagreement about the Iraq War and other foreign policy stances of the Bush administration, the difficulty in getting visas, the security measures resulting in long lines.But the travel industry will help overcome this problem."

Henry Silverman, chairman of Cendant Corporation, stressed: "Travel is a force for change in the world. It’s the persuasive power of people meeting people." Gen.Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State, amazed the Pow Wow delegates as he strolled around the stage, speaking without notes. This man, for whom the world’s most powerful world leaders were just a cell phone call away, emphasized: "The things that pull us together are stronger than the things that pull us apart. The essence of our relationship with the rest of the world is trust."

The five-day Pow Wow was a wow as the TIA took delegates on tours to popular sites such as the Rockefeller Center, the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Time Warner Building and Ellis Island, that place evoking poignant memories where l7 million immigrants passed through to enter America between l892 and l954, giving meaning to the words written by Emma Lazarus inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…"

Definitely stirring more poignant memories will be the World Trade Center Memorial designed by architects Michael Arad, Peter Walker and Max Bond. It will feature a vast landscaped plaza with cascading voids and pools, and with a special area for those lost but never identified. It will have gathering spaces above and below ground, access to historic columns, and areas for reflection.

There is not a trace of the violence that once occurred here. In this memorial, we see New York’s soul. There is strength and courage in this soul that would probably make Bob Dylan sing of a million stories.And too bad, Andy Warhol missed the colors of the city’s future.The New Yorkers are painting it now.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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