Dorothy was right. There really is no place like home.
I've been to some of the great capitals of Europe — London, Paris, Copenhagen, Madrid. I've been to Jerusalem, the ancient spiritual home of three great religions. I've been to beautiful and fascinating old towns like Toledo (Spain), Heidelberg, Montreal. Yet my own town, New York City, in whose suburbs I grew up and in which I now spend almost every day of my life, remains more deeply and endlessly fascinating to me than any of them.
You'd think it would become old and tired, boring and same-old. But it doesn't. And I think I've figured out why.
The great cities and historic towns I've visited, especially in what we used to quaintly call the "Old World," tend to have a powerful dedication to their pasts, avidly preserving their monuments. Roman ruins, medieval castles, royal palaces and estates, historic sites and neighborhoods are all right there for locals to take pride in and tourists to ogle. The great metropolises may spread out and become super-cities, but their "old town" neighborhoods remain.
New York, on the other hand, is constantly being torn down and rebuilt. Its 400-year history is there, but you have to dig for it, literally or in museums and books. You have to push aside the heavy crust of present-day culture, commerce, and architecture to reach the lower layers of the past. Otherwise you could walk the city for days and see precious little that predates the 20th century.
New York has been a center of commerce for its whole history. Before landfill extended lower Manhattan several blocks into the rivers that frame it to the east and west, Wall Street ended at Water Street, at the river's edge, and here stood the Meal Market. But grains weren't the only commodities sold here - the Meal Market was also the Slave Market.
Few of us think about the heavy presence of slaves in our city's history. In fact, slavery wasn't completely abolished in New York until 1827. A major exhibit at the New-York Historical Society helped educate a lot of us about that a few years ago. But how many Wall Street wizards - many of them now walking the streets looking for work, but hardly in danger of being sold at auction - think about the evil trade that was conducted at that very spot for two centuries?