I’m writing this in part standing in Century 21, the massive discount clothing store opposite the huge building site that is the World Trade Centre. Notice the number of superlative adjectives in the previous sentence? We must be in New York!

We had a late start to the day, courtesy of our Broadway adventure (the memory of which will stay on our credit card as well as in our memories). Paula wants to do the Heroes of the World Trade Centre tour, and we have combined this with an heroic assault on Macy’s because our fabulous New York cards gave us an extra ten percent discount. So far I’ve collected two pairs of Levis for about 100 Aussie dollars, in addition to the amazing shirt and tie I bought at an outlet near our hotel on the West Side. Paula is trying on a pile of designer bits in this amazing barn that offers anything up to 70% discounts. If I had a few quid saved and room in the suitcase, I could grab designer suits and shirts – beautiful English and Italian stuff for about A$160. London Fog raincoats are about US$120. Ahh, covetousness! The only extra I want is a warm long coat in dark grey or navy, and I haven’t seen it yet! Maybe in Claire’s famed outlet mall.

We’ve completed our tour with the amazing Jarryd and have both come away completely moved by the experience – perhaps not so much by the awful events of that morning as by the behaviour of volunteers and rescue workers; by the outpouring of support to the local people, by the poignancy of the memories in Old St Paul’s Church. I’m so hesitant to talk about miracles, but what providence protected the church from the tons of falling debris from the towers only a hundred yards away? It became a place of refuge and recovery for the workers as the site burned foe three months… I hadn’t realised Rowan Williams had been in Manhattan that day… I remember Vic Chirillo’s story of being caught on the island and not being able to fly out for days.

Being in the church became a kind of homage to so much history – this was Washington’s church on the day of his inauguration, this building that is the only British era building left in Manhattan. To leave and walk around the site listening to Jarryd was to experience not the memories of falling buildings but the effects on ordinary New Yorkers, who had hoped that their city was renewing itself at the time, only to be traumatised by more than the day, but the loss of thousands of jobs, some forever, and long economic depression. Jarryd made the point that many of those walking past us might be survivors with still-traumatic memories. We both liked the respect he showed at the various points where he stopped and talked.

He finished by observing that, in his opinion, 9/11 had changed New Yorkers from the live-for-the-next-deal stereotype to a people more aware of life’s fragility, where goodbyes had a greater intensity and meaningfulness. It was a good moment on which to conclude our time in New York.

It’s hard to make any meaningful summary of New York after five days, except to note that it seems to be the quintessence of America. Paula made the point that in a city with more than it’s fair share of poor, we saw hardly any beggars – unlike Vancouver – because everyone seemed to be desperate to make a buck at any length. Street vendors and the merchants on the stands seemed to work from 9 until midnight. The girls in the bars and restaurants – all of whom seemed to have ‘foreign’ accents – worked massive shifts for poor wages and the promise of tips. One had to respect the fierce independence and drive to succeed, although one wonders about the cost to those who don’t. And what of those living in less affluent areas like the Upper East Side or in the Bronx? We saw none of that, and do they have a safety net as we, less entrepreneurial, Australians would expect.

But altogether a most vibrant, creative and – we think – polite city. In your face, after your money, but giving as good as it gets. No wonder it is America’s greatest city and the centre of it’s cultural life: you can see anything money can buy, and much that it can’t.