an island … a city surrounded by WATER










photographs by Roger W. Smith







The photographs posted here above were all taken by me within the past few months in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, NYC.

I love skylines, love dense clouds. New York City has wonderful skylines. You can’t really see them from Manhattan, but you can from the waterside and from the outer boroughs, which have lower buildings.

It is wonderful that Manhattan is an island bounded by water: the ocean (New York Harbor), the East River, the Hudson River, the Harlem River.

One thing this does is prevent urban sprawl and the development of a megalopolis ending nowhere.

It also gives the city an almost enchanted quality or aspect.

As Herman Melville put it in Moby-Dick (Chapter 1, ‘Loomings”):

There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.

Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?—Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster—tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they here?

But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in. And there they stand—miles of them—leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets and avenues—north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite. Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all those ships attract them thither? … There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries—stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water. … Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.



— Roger W. Smith

   October 2017



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Beethoven, Mass in C major, opus 86





I am partial to Beethoven’s Mass in C major, opus 86. It is not as well known as Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.

The rendition here is from an old LP of mine.

The Gloria is sublime. It occurs at a point about five minutes from beginning of the first track. Especially moving to me is the part of the text of the Gloria, rendered into music, consisting of the following words:

Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam

Domine Deus, Rex coelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens. Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe. Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris.

Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram.

Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis.





Thanks we give to thee

because of thy great glory. Lord God, King of heaven,

God the Father almighty. Lord only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father.

Who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Who takest away the sins of  the world, receive our supplication.

Who sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.



— Roger W. Smith

   October 2017

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a Carnegie Hall concert



I attended a concert yesterday evening at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan. It began with Beethoven’s symphony No. 1.

I felt like I was lifted off the floor. An experience not unlike what Walt Whitman describes in Leaves of Grass: “The orchestra whirls me wider than Uranus flies, / It wrenches such ardors from me I did not know I possess’d them.”

It’s good to hear music performed live. Too much listening to recorded music can produce, in effect, what is called “stereo ear.”

Every Beethoven symphony is compelling and can stand on its own; there are no inferior ones (meaning inferior to another symphony of Beethoven’s). Beethoven’s symphony No. 8, for example, is equal to any of the others, though not that often performed.

Beethoven’s Fourth is a gem and probably equal to his Fifth.

Each symphony is unique, different – e.g., the Pastoral and the Seventh each are equally interesting, yet totally different from one another and from Beethoven’s other symphonies.

The Eroica and the Ninth are each completely original. Monumental works unlike no other symphony of Beethoven’s or any other symphony in the classical canon.

A question: I’m sure Beethoven had good teachers; no creative genius emerges ex nihilo. But, whose works are Beethoven’s modeled after?

Answer: no one. They’re completely original.

I will admit that in the first symphony, one can see indebtedness to Haydn’s late symphonies, but it already is definitely, unmistakably Beethoven.






The second work on the program was Mozart’s “Great Mass” in C minor (K. 427). The Kyrie of the Great Mass is better, I would say, then the Kyrie of Mozart’s Requiem.

Listening to a soprano singing the Laudamus te of K. 427 is to experience ecstasy. It’s like what Whitman experienced in 1855 during a performance of Verdi’s “Ernani”: “A new world — a liquid world — rushes like a torrent through you” is how he described it.







Carnegie Hall. What a venue! To think that they were going to tear it down in in the late 1950’s. There are no bad seats; you can hear perfectly and have a great view of the stage from the second tier.

I have never liked Lincoln Center. It’s a sterile “arts center” with worse seating and acoustics than Carnegie Hall. The architecture is typical 1960’s (think Shea Stadium), functional but uninspiring. Lincoln Center ruined a neighborhood; the surrounding streets have no street life. There are hardly any restaurants, watering holes, cafes, or places of interest, other than one or two rip-off restaurants on the other side of Broadway, across the street from the main entrance.

The audience at Carnegie Hall yesterday evening was a typical New York one. Rapt. Totally attentive and focused. (And, one can sense, knowledgeable.)

You could not hear a SOUND in the audience. I know there are some hacking coughs that a cougher can’t prevent or control, but, at the same time, it is my belief that most coughs by audience members at concerts are nervous coughs brought about by impatience or boredom or whatever. I swear I did not hear a single cough yesterday, not one.



— Roger W. Smith

   October 13, 2017

Posted in my city and neighborhood, my favorite music, personal reminiscences of Roger W. Smith, Walt Whitman | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Balzac on memory



In view of the fact that I have posted several posts recently with comments about memory, I found the following passage in Stefan Zweig’s biography of Balzac to be very interesting.






The assimilation of ideas through reading had in his case assumed phenomenal proportions. His eye took in seven or eight lines at a time, and their meaning was grasped by his mind with a rapidity that matched the swiftness of his eye. Frequently a single word sufficed to give him the sense of a whole sentence. His memory was marvelous. He could remember ideas acquired through reading no less accurately than those he had thought out for himself or heard in conversation. In short, his memory was not only of one type but of all types–memory for places, names, words, things, and faces. Not only could he remember anything he wanted to remember, but with his inward eye he saw them in the situation, the lighting, the color in which they had once appeared to him in reality.

He was gifted with this same faculty so far as the incomprehensible processes of reasoning were concerned. He remembered, to use his own expression, not only the way in which ideas were arranged in the book where he had first come across them, but also the states of his own soul at various periods far back in time. His memory, that is to say, possessed the incredible power of recalling the different stages through which his mind had passed and the whole activity which had contributed to its make-up-from the first thoughts which had entered it to the most recent idea that it had grasped, the most involved as well as the most simple.

His brain, accustomed from an early age to the intricate mechanism which renders possible the concentration of human forces, absorbed from this rich storehouse an abundance of images which, in their remarkable clarity and freshness, constituted the nourishment of his mind during his hours of vivid contemplation. At the age of twelve his imagination, stimulated by continual practice, had developed to a pitch which enabled him to form such accurate conceptions of things he only knew about from books, that their image could not have been more dearly present to his mind if he had, in fact, actually seen them. He either reasoned from analogies or else was endowed with a kind of second sight which enabled him to comprehend the whole orbit of Nature. … When every fiber of his being was concentrated in this way on what he was reading, he seemed to lose consciousness of his physical existence and functioned only by means of his inner faculties, whose scope became abnormally extended. To use his own expression, he “left space behind him.”


— Honoré de Balzac, Louis Lambert, quoted in Stefan Zweig, Balzac; translated by William and Dorothy Rose (Viking Press, 1946), pp. 16-17 (Louis Lambert is an autobiographical novel; the eponymous main character is a fictional portrayal of the young Balzac)






A couple of thoughts of my own.


“He could remember ideas acquired through reading no less accurately than those he had thought out for himself or heard in conversation.”

I find that my own memory works in a similar fashion. It is very much verbal, and it works by association. It includes my past thoughts, past conversations (and, of course, others’ thoughts), and reading. And, the memories are very contextual.


“His memory … possessed the incredible power of recalling the different stages through which his mind had passed and the whole activity which had contributed to its make-up-from the first thoughts which had entered it to the most recent idea that it had grasped, the most involved as well as the most simple.”

I have experienced very much the same, memory wise. It is a texture of thoughts and associations that are recalled through association. And, recalled because of how they affected me at the time; what the situation was when someone said something or other to me; and what I was thinking at the time, all of which I usually recall. And, yes, “the most involved [memories] as well as the most simple.” Offhanded comments that were striking or intrigued me. An idea or train of thoughts comprising or embedded in a conversation.



— Roger W. Smith

   October 2017

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a valuable lesson



I have had occasion because of an unpleasant experience with someone close to me to think of something I learned once.

In the interests of confidentiality, let’s just say that the situation from my past. The “lesson” (with a different person than the one mentioned in the above paragraph), involved me and a “significant other.” It was a long time ago. It involved a relationship which began auspiciously and which endured.

I had previously had a horrible relationship with someone else which caused me great pain. It took me a long time to get over it; caused lasting damage to me emotionally; and prevented me for quite a while from being able to trust someone and get involved in a new relationship.

But then I met Miss Right. I learned from this newfound relationship something that I had hitherto not been able to see or recognize for myself, even dimly: namely, a sixth sense which she had about how to avoid emotional damage to oneself and how to protect oneself from it; an awareness of when it is advisable to step aside, get out of the way, and extricate oneself; an ability to know when conditions warrant this.

I learned, quickly, from my new partner that one doesn’t have to submit to being dumped on and abused.





Prior to this, my habitual way of dealing with emotional abuse — abuse of any kind — was to stand there, so to speak, and submit to it.

From my new significant other, I learned that there was another way.

If she felt (this was, as I said, early in our relationship) that our relationship was starting, in the least, to becoming abusive emotionally, or “trending” in that direction, if she got a hint that I was going to be mean to her, she was quite prepared to leave, to exit, right then and there. With no further discussion. Without having to plead with me to change my behavior. She had apparently done this in the past.

Her approach and instincts were that no relationship was worth the trouble of being disrespected and abused. Better to have no relationship than to have an abusive one.

I quickly picked up on this, and it cured me of any misogynist instincts or tendencies I may have had. I knew that if I mistreated her, froze her out emotionally, it would be sayonara. She would be gone fast.

A valuable lesson she taught me. It was a lesson that worked both ways. I learned not only the strategy of beating a fast exit whenever I got an inkling that someone was having fun being nasty at my expense. I learned that it works both ways, and that no one should have to put up with abusive behavior from me.





Please note: I don’t intend to imply that at the slightest hint of a disagreement, it is advisable to terminate a relationship. People in intimate relationships (e.g., married couples) or in close quarters quarrel all the time.

What I am thinking about in this post are situations where there is an ongoing pattern of hatred or emotional cruelty, or perhaps an intermittent pattern, but where, when it rears its head, one knows instinctively that it’s more than just a disagreement. It could be a situation where what seemed at first like a mere disagreement has led to festering anger, causing the other person to wish to hurt and degrade you. When you can sense hatred or vindictiveness, chronic surliness, and the like, then, it seems, it’s time to exit, so to speak, in order to protect oneself. This can happen with friends, lovers, and close relatives. I have experienced it.

To me, a good yardstick might be: are you and the other person inclined to bicker? well, so what? It may or may not be serious; perhaps one or both you are crotchety. But, be alert for cases when a person whom you were once close to and on good terms with (and more) — so you thought — suddenly seems to be looking constantly for ways to undermine you. That’s a bad sign. You seemed to be in their good graces. Now they are constantly finding fault and won’t cut you any slack. Their face is set in a continual glower, their demeanor towards you is one of outright anger, or barely concealed anger — chronic anger, that is — which consumes them. They are constantly looking for things about you to take offense at.

You can see this in people who are constantly looking for opportunities to attack. You make what seems to be an innocuous remark; they pounce on it. They enjoy finding fault with you in matters and using standards of measure large and small. (For example, they may say they find you obnoxious, a “big” measure; or, they noticed that your tie isn’t knotted properly or your shoelaces have come undone, a “small bore” measure.)

These are the kinds of situations I’m talking about.





In my opinion, such situations can occur with persons with whom one has been intimate or had a long time relationship. Things change, and suddenly they are inimical to you. Or, present you with something you can’t endure.

In such cases, no matter who it is, it may be advisable to completely cease communications. You may find that you feel better despite the pain of separation, and despite the thought: I can’t believe it’s come to this. Having no relationship is better than having an abusive relationship, than having one in which one finds oneself being attacked and degraded, no matter who the other party is. Perhaps a rule of thumb might be — I have found it helpful — is to ask oneself: is damage control or damage repair possible? is the other person willing to be reasonable and listen to you? When you realize that discussion will only lead to more attacks upon you or degradation, and continual “hostilities” — when you realize that anything you may try to do by way of extenuation will be met with more unpleasantness and negativity — with no possibility of agreement, meeting of minds, or resolution foreseeable, then it’s time to get out with as much of you is still intact.



— Roger W. Smith

  August 2017; updated October 2017

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The following is an email of mine sent this morning to an acquaintance.






Scott —


I’m on a jaunt.

I had a sort of epiphany just now (actually at about 7 a.m., when I was in the park).

As you know, I purchase audio courses. Recently, my wife asked me to purchase a course on chemistry for her. She wanted the video version (a series of lectures).

I was kind of surprised. She has never expressed or demonstrated any particular interest in science or chemistry. The course was expensive in comparison to the lectures in audio format which I purchase.

I was asking myself, is she really going to “complete” the course? But, far be it from me to stand in her way.

I purchased the course on line with my credit card. My wife managed to bollix things by using the wrong password for my account with The Teaching Company (when streaming the lectures), causing my account to be disabled for a while.

After a couple of weeks, I asked my wife: “How are the chemistry courses? You watching them?”

She said they were a disappointment, for several reasons (which seemed valid).

I thought of this this morning when my mind was wandering. Instead of thinking how stupid (or that it was a waste of money), I felt a rush of affection and love for my wife.






Our life, others’, the experience of those closest to us is made up of INCIDENTS, ranging from the seemingly non important to those which we deem to be of significance.

Actually, none of our own experiences –- or none of our loved ones’ — is unimportant or insignificant. William Blake taught us that.

Our lifetime is limited; our experiences, in aggregate, are finite as well as distinct. So are shared experiences. The very fact that they are finite and distinct makes them precious.

To be intimate with someone is to share all their experiences. The time my father toasted marshmallows, which he walked over a mile in a snowstorm to purchase, over the fireplace in our living room for us. When my mother asked me, on her deathbed, to purchase a book about Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn that she was eager to read for her. When my maternal grandmother, sitting in the kitchen with my mother, heard some medieval music on my record player upstairs and said, “That music is beautiful.” I had never known or appreciated that she was gifted musically.

My wife’s aborted chemistry lessons.

If you love someone, you love everything new, different, or unanticipated they say or do; every time they reveal a new interest or enthusiasm or facet of their personality. Including dead ends.

But, beyond the theorizing, you love them for being themselves. It’s what they do from day to day, every day, that makes them special — unlike no one else.

It’s the funny little things they do that make us love and remember our loved ones in the here and now and remember those departed.

Cherish them.



— Roger W. Smith

   October 9, 2017

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horse intelligence (can animals think?, redux)



In a recent post of mine

“the forlorn cat”


I posed the question: “Can and do animals with whom we are familiar, such as dogs, cats, and horses, have emotions similar to our own? Can they feel a sense of neglect and abandonment?” I answered my own question with a qualified yes (qualified in the sense of my not being in a position to be able to say for sure, despite believing it to be so).

I have recently been reading John Steinbeck’s novella The Red Pony. It is the story of a boy and his horse; in writing it, Steinbeck must have drawn upon his own experience growing up in California.

In Chapter I of The Red Pony, “The Gift,” Steinbeck writes as an omniscient narrator who enters into and identifies with the impressions and feelings of the boy, Jody, who is the central character.

[Jody] unlatched the rusty hasp of the barn door and stepped in, and no matter how quietly he opened the door, Gabilan [the pony] was always looking at him over the barrier of the box stall and Gabilan whinnied softly and stamped his front foot, and his eyes had big sparks of red fire in them like oakwood embers.

Sometimes if the work horses were to be used that day, Jody found Billy Buck [the stable hand] in the barn harnessing and currying. Billy stood with him and looked long at Gabilan and he told Jody a great many things about horses. He explained that they were terribly afraid for their feet, so that one must make a practice of lifting their legs and patting their hoofs and ankles to remove their terror. He told Jody that horses love conversation. He must talk to the pony all the time, and tell him the reasons for everything. Billy wasn’t sure a horse could understand everything that was said to him, but it was impossible to say how much he understood. A horse never kicked up a fuss if some one he liked explained things to him. Billy gave examples, too. He had known, for instance, a horse nearly dead beat with fatigue to perk up when told it was only a little farther to his destination. And he had known a horse paralyzed with fright come out of it when his rider told him what it was that was frightening him.


— Roger W. Smith

   October 2017








I was very attached to our family dogs when I was growing up, and, somewhat like Jody, spent a lot of time caring for them and getting to know dogs fairly well, though not as well as the stable hand in The Red Pony knows horses. I talked to my favorite dog all the time. She would sit there staring at me and seemingly listening. I am sure that my dog experienced contentment, if nothing else, from knowing that I was paying attention to it and from the cadence of my voice — I spoke in a measured, “friendly” tone, the way one speaks when one is trying to take someone into his or her confidence and gently assure them of something.

I had the feeling of auditory intelligence on the part of our dog Bambi.

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