New York is one of those cities that many people feel they know -- even if they haven't been there. Its trademark sky-scrapers have formed the backdrop to innumerable films and television series, (millions of words have been written about its characters) while its streets have been the subject of a thousand different songs. So what new can a correspondent leaving the city possibly say about it?
Well, the BBC's Stephen Evans can suggest that a Cuban café saved him from joining the September the 11th casualty list. Stephen is leaving New York to take up a new post here at Bush House in London:
Whenever people from Britain ask me why I like New York so much, I say: "It's the energy of the place" and they say, "ah, yes, the city that never sleeps". And I think no, that's not what I meant at all. It's not about clubs or bars or lights -- in fact, there's relatively little drunken carousing in New York.
Rather, it's the mental energy of the people, a wit and a wisdom on buses or in diners. People engage with each other. They're interested. They recount stories with wonder at the way we human beings behave, at the way the world turns.
I remember two classic Jewish ladies in Café Edison on 46th Street, a faded old deli that does a mean cherry blintz. They'd just witnessed, or so they maintained, a security man turn his back at a bus stop and his dog get on the bus without him, only for the bus to depart. "Well, did the dog have a ticket", one wondered. Facts, or near facts, in New York become stories.
It is a city where you learn the nuances of culture. I know now that Chinese and Hispanic people stand so their grand-children can sit on buses, something I, as a European, find shocking.
Above all, it is this cultural mix of immigrants which is so energizing. My barber is a Jew from Uzbekistan who speaks Russian and Persian fluently, the Russian from the Soviet Union, the Persian because the Jews were expelled from Persia centuries ago and they took their language to exile in Uzbekistan. He and I talk politics: "So what do you think of the war, then, Mikhail?" "It is a good war. Saddam was a beast and you must slaughter the beast to frighten other beasts". He said. We move on.
Or a moment ago, coming into the building. The doorman said to me in a thick Eastern European accent: "Are you Welsh?" He'd recognised my accent because he'd had a Welsh friend -- or mentor as he called him -- in Kosovo before coming to New York. So this city is a rich, marvellous, energizing cultural mix where people retain differences even as they unite.
It is said that in New York, even the Catholics are Jewish, and I know what they mean: there is an extravagance of gesture here.
It is a city too where kindness and despair are a block apart. From my eleventh floor window, I've watched a man in a wheelchair in the biting cold go down the line of bins opposite, flipping off the lids to search for food.
There is a whole scavenging sub-culture to this city. Early in the morning, old ladies, often Chinese, push shopping trolleys heaped with empty cans that they've collected from bins and gutters and heaped in big plastic bags which they take to a recycling centre on Avenue C where they crowd to get five cents a can. It’s Raw capitalism. When I started moving out, I had furniture I couldn't take with me -- chairs, lamps -- so I just put them on the street where they disappeared within minutes.
There is warmth too. At the bagel shop I go to, a homeless man calls for his daily free ration every morning. And there's always a show in New York. I remember the cop, the overweight cop, his muscles and smile bulging from his summer, short sleeved uniform -- who picked up a busker's guitar in Union Square and belted out a string of rock and roll classics.
So I'm grateful to this city. I'm grateful to the Sucelt coffee bar on 14th Street at the corner with Seventh Avenue. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I had a meeting in the World Trade Centre and I'd decided to have breakfast in the Windows on the World restaurant right at the top.
Fortunately, I came across Sucelt on the way. It's a cramped bar run by Cubans, right at the spot where I changed from the bus to the train. The strong smell of Latin American coffee and shrimp empanadas -- a sort of South American pasty -- lured me from a route that would have done me no good at all.
I remember, too, my local bar on 11th Street on the night of September 11. When I went in, it was crowded but utterly silent. As I crossed the room, the bar tender followed my eyes all the way, and when I reached the bar, he clasped both my hands as said: "Are you all right?"
New York has its rows and corruptions and cock-ups but still its people don't doubt that it is the ultimate city, the ultimate non-provincial city which doesn't look anywhere else.
I shall remember New York, its vibrancy and confidence. It is a city of marvellous humanity. It is a city to make you feel better about people -- and better about yourself.