Big City

Looking over towards Manhattan from the Jersey wasteland, I remembered that disturbing and, indeed, disgusting film, the War of the Worlds (the Tom Cruise version). And I suddenly felt I realised why someone living in Jersey and facing the Manhattan skyline dim in their eastern horizon day in day out could secretly cherish the destruction of this city. Clearly, what you can see of this city from over there is a world at a different scale, a humbling and humiliating dense forest of titanic constructions. It looks like an alien world that doesn’t care, one built by the corporations, which materialise as skyscrapers and towers and lights that are perpetually on in distant offices in Lower Manhattan. Those distant giants, the proverbial canyons between them, mock the mortgaged wooden boxes they live in, which they call home. The sight of the city from over there exudes sinful pride, in a country where everyone feels the need to be proud of at least one thing. It is a world on the other side of the river and a world that they can only see from a distance and briefly visit.

What those who would relish the experience of turning Manhattan into ruins, embers or underwater habitat is how many poor people it contains itself. Living side by side with the corporate citadels, possibly working for them. Looking at the Manhattan skyline from a distance belies the city’s complexity and subtlety and confusing diversity, but it is all there: what cannot be seen from Jersey is tenements and shops and condos and tiresome endless streets, the very grid that gives the pretense of Cartesian infinity on this very small island.

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