Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon is a U.S. citizen, whose guardian archangel gifted him the chance to live in or near New York City several times in his life – as a young child, as a university student, and as a young lawyer. This piece is about my memories, so I’ll use the first person singular.
My first residence after marrying my Brazilian wife was Manhattan, my first daughter was born and baptized in NYC, and I still have friends and relatives there. After 34 years living outside the USA, I still feel like a New Yorker when I visit.
In my memory, as the attacks unfurled ten years ago, they seemed surreal; this had to be a previously unreleased disaster movie, high in special effects but awaiting the deus ex machina, the last-minute rescuing figure who would right the wrongs, set the world spinning backwards, and undo the prior mistakes.
One thing this undoing did was to return the Manhattan skyline to what it was when my father, on a Saturday morning, would take me to Manhattan (where he worked) using the Staten Island ferry. The skyline, then as now, was dominated by the proud pinnacle of the Empire State Building.
New York, which calls itself the Empire State, has always been, in fact, the pinnacle of the American Empire that presided over the world economy for a century and more. That empire is now declining, as the Asian Century begins. The fall of the twin towers, those quintessential symbols of capitalism, can be seen as the beginning of the decline – 9/11 proved that Wall Street was not invincible.
This brings us, by a roundabout way, to the second “Nine Eleven” part of this reminiscence. On November 9th, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. In the vast majority of the world this date is abbreviated 9/11. The “good” 9/11 happened 22 years ago, with the destruction of that quintessential symbol of communism, the physical embodiment of the Iron Curtain. The Soviet Empire had maintained itself, notwithstanding chinks in the wall, as the only power capable of contesting the American Empire.
In 1989, my family’s best friends in Rio were a German couple, whose company we shared on a weekly basis or oftener. I learned German so I could talk with them and their other German friends, even though we all spoke Portuguese and most spoke English. Our families vacationed together in Mainz and Bayern, where their families lived.
When the Wall fell, we immediately went to our friend’s house, where we watched … and wept. Tears of joy, not tears of loss. The only sadness was that all flights to Germany from Brazil were instantly overbooked, so we couldn’t go there.
When the Twin Towers fell, I was in São Paulo at a client meeting outside my office. As I left, someone said that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I thought little of it because, over the years, small planes have occasionally flown into tall buildings in the Big Apple. When I got to my office, and saw the television set up in the main conference room, I went in, watched…and wept again.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)