It's mid-afternoon on a drizzly day in Manhattan's financial district. At the Syrian and Lebanese restaurant Alfanoose, honeyed pastries and date-filled cookies fill display cases of clouded glass. The falafels, fried to order and wrapped in thin pita with a combination of pickles and sauce, are believed to be among the best in New York.
Delectable as they are, however, the dishes themselves are not what's remarkable about Alfanoose. What's remarkable is that the place exists at all, pushing along day after day, 10 years after the terrorist attacks that felled the nearby World Trade Center and rattled this old New York neighborhood, which has fought hard since then to survive.
"We are New Yorkers," said Mouhamad Shami, who opened Alfanoose in 1999 and chose to keep the restaurant going after Sept. 11, 2001. "We couldn't just close the place and walk out."
The warren of narrow streets around Ground Zero is filled with stories like Alfanoose's. Some have happy endings; others, not so much.
Across from construction crews piecing together the September 11 memorial, the Century 21 department store throbs with shoppers looking for deals on Calvin Klein frocks. Nearby, Evelyn's Chocolates, beloved for its chocolate-covered pretzels and raisins, is unfortunately shuttered. Trinity Church Wall Street, a staging area for rescue workers after the attacks, remains a lovely Gothic Revival respite amid a thicket of towering office buildings.
This scene would have been hard to imagine on September 11, 2001. On that day, the neighbourhood resembled a war zone. Firefighters and police officers filled the streets. The closer you got to Ground Zero, the more you found yourself wading through paper that had showered out of the towers. A normal future seemed impossible then.
But the neighborhood rebuilt. Shami recalled his first months of business following the attacks. People, he said, would come in off the street and call him a terrorist, tell him to "Go back home." But his regulars rallied around him. "Some of them made it their business to come in and stay with me until I closed," he said.
Helping tourists understand the neighbourhood and its recent history is the Tribute WTC Visitors Center, where $15 will get you a guided tour of photos and paraphernalia that tell the story of September 11, 2001.
But the best way to appreciate this neighbourhood may be to take a walk along Battery Park. In the park, I wended my way past nannies on cellphones and tourists pausing every few steps to take another picture. and I stopped at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, which has a new exhibit, Yahrzeit: September 11th Remembered, that features photos from the day and documents the Jewish community's response to the attacks.
Bright sunlight flooded the room. Outside the window, in the park below, girls in bikinis sunned themselves on towels. Ferries filled with tourists inched their way across the glistening water.
Life, as it always has, went on.
(In exclusive partnership with The Washington Post)