I was riding a rickety taxi down a leafy boulevard, and I was in Buenos Aires, but — Porteño friends, please do not take offense — I could just as well have been in Shanghai. All big cities have rickety taxis and leafy boulevards. They have monumental plazas and upscale shopping malls. Fine arts museums and sporting arenas. Boutique hotels and gentrified lofts. Concept stores and literary cafes. Fusion restaurants and multiplex theaters. Skyscrapers in various stages of construction and old quarters where the height of buildings is restricted to preserve traditional character. Parks and gardens. A lead-gray or muddy yellow river, a waterway or a shoreline. Transportation, sewer and waste management systems. Millions of people, their crushed hopes and their broken dreams.
All big cities are essentially the same. It is just by minor details — the particulars of street foods, the alphabets on street signs — that we are able to tell ourselves: I am in Bangkok. I am in Paris. I am in Tel Aviv. The essence of the big city as a human artifact is identical; the essence of an anthill is the same, regardless of the particular colony of ants that built it.