an exchange about political correctness, pedagogy, and LANGUAGE

 

 

A reader of a post of mine from the day before yesterday

 

“Mozart, Alexander L. Lipson, and Russian 1 with Professor Gribble”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/11/18/mozart-alexander-l-lipson-and-russian-1-with-professor-gribble/

 

sent me an email.

 

 

His response was complimentary. However, he did critique a few assertions I made, namely, the following:

I love studying grammar and cannot understand why modern day self-appointed language “experts,” as they style themselves, want to or simplify, essentially emasculate — in the name of political correctness or conforming to their misguided, benighted theories of how language and English composition should be taught — language instruction.

[Addendum] The 1960’s, a learned friend of mine once opined, was the Golden Era of American education. I would not dispute this. I experienced it in English and history courses, in foreign language courses, and in mathematics instruction. To get an idea of how low conceptions of foreign language pedagogy have sunk since Alexander Lipson’s time, one might take a look at the following article: “Toppling the Grammar Patriarchy,” by Carmel McCoubrey, op-ed, The New York Times, November 16, 2017

 

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The respondent to my post, a high school Latin teacher, wrote:

 

As one teaching a language today I do take issue with a couple of your assertions:

— to say the sixties was a Golden Era in American education is to assume it is now in a period of decline. Surely it is under assault (by the current administration, for starters), and educators have much to learn from successful models elsewhere (take Finland, for example). But there are many noteworthy successes that combine the best of traditional approaches with effective innovation.

— in the New York Times article to which you refer the teachers who ask for change on both philological and philosophical grounds raise important issues. To dismiss them as PC police with misguided and benighted theories is a straw-man argument. I, for example, will inform my students that 99 Roman women and one Roman man would normally be referred to as Romani, masculine gender. That is the fact. But this then invites a discussion of how ancient Roman society was patriarchal, as revealed in so many ways in their language, and what are issues with patriarchy then and today. The word virtus or “virtue” in ancient Rome meant manliness (vir = man) as shown, for example, in bravery in battle. In Victorian England virtue probably most often referred to a woman’s chastity. Gender as it pertains to language and grammar is a legitimate issue in constant need of review and revision, so while I might not agree with every position taken by the French women [discussed in the New York Times article], I respect what they are doing.

 

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I responded by email as follows:

 
I guess we have to agree to disagree.

I do appreciate that you read my blog post and took the time to respond and critique it.

I respect your opinions and how you present them.

My view is that

— critiquing current trends such as political correctness does not necessarily imply faulty thinking or a straw man

— languages and their grammars are organic — the product of a long evolution — and should not be messed with

— educational standards have declined out of a zeal to make the curriculum “inclusive” and palatable to all … you can see it in English and writing classes, math, social studies, etc.

I realize that you are a foreign language teacher with impressive academic credentials. It seems that you have surpassed me in the study of foreign languages and knowledge of linguistics.

Still, if it’s “la table” in French and “el mano” in Spanish and the “collective pronoun” in French for they is “ils,” masculine, I think things should remain that way and the language police should be shunted aside.

I don’t like change.

Languages have such complicated, intricate grammars. … I have read that this is true of languages of unlettered, supposedly “primitive” civilizations such as the Iroquois family of languages (which I read about in a classic work by Lewis Henry Morgan) … they are exquisite structures that should inspire reverence as the study of plants would.

To mess with languages to me is equivalent to uprooting a stately old oak tree and trying to “treat” it chemically to produce nicer foliage after being replanted.

 

— Roger W. Smith
 
  November 20, 2017

 

 

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See also:

 

“will ‘ladies and gentlemen’ go the way of the dodo?”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/11/13/will-ladies-and-gentlemen-go-the-way-of-the-dodo/

 

Posted in philology, political correctness (PC) | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

“try and catch me!”

 

 

I was walking in Central Park at 11 a.m. today.

A blustery day.

There was a girl about age 8 or 9 running with head down and long blonde hair blowing in the wind, on the pathway leading to the Fifth Avenue and 69th Street exit, shouting over and over again in a high pitched voice to her father, who was walking a few paces behind: “try and catch me!”

To be young. How I loved to play Hide and Seek.

 

 

– Roger W. Smith

October 19, 2017

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Mozart, Alexander L. Lipson, and Russian 1 with Professor Gribble

 

 

On Thursday, November 16, 2017, I heard a performance at Carnegie Hall of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 16 in E-flat major, K. 428 by the Tetzlaff Quartet. Mozart’s K. 428 is one of his Haydn Quartets, a set of six string quartets that he dedicated to Joseph Haydn.

It is a flawless work. It exemplifies Mozart’s genius. It also brought to mind a sentence in my first-year Russian textbook — written by a famed Slavicist and foreign language teacher, Alexander L. Lipson — which was as follows: “Как и Моцарт, Пушкин написал только шедевры” (Kak i Motsart, Pushkin napisal tol’ko shedevry. Like Mozart, Pushkin wrote only masterpieces.)

The Russian word for masterpieces, shedevry, is the same as and is derived from the French. (Makes me think of the French used by the aristocracy in War and Peace.)

The Mozart piece brought to mind the comparison between Mozart and Pushkin made in the textbook from my college Russian course, and the course itself.

 

 

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I was eager and thrilled to be able to take introductory Russian in my sophomore year at Brandeis University. The course was taught by Charles E. Gribble. Professor Gribble, who held a doctorate from Harvard, began his teaching career at Brandeis. When I took the course with him, he was in his late twenties. At that time, Professor Gribble was in the preliminary phase of founding an important publishing house for Slavicists: Slavica Publishers. He was the firm’s editor for thirty years.

I was motivated to study Russian for several reasons:

I had discovered the works of the Russian émigré scholar Pitirim A. Sorokin in my senior year in high school. I was totally engrossed in books of his such as Leaves from a Russian Diary. This led to a fascination on my part with Russian culture.

At the time, the Soviet Union was regarded with outright hostility, fear, and suspicion. Being by nature a contrarian, I tended to think differently. Politics aside, I saw, as did Sorokin (to quote from one of his works), “an essential similarity or congeniality in a number of important psychological, cultural, and social values” between the USA and the USSR: vast territories with all that implies (such as various climates, topography, and regional characteristics); rich natural and human resources; major cultural and urban centers; the fact that both countries were world powers; and so on. I was a sort of Slavophil without knowing it.

Russia as I imagined it was a country with vast expanses like us and a multiplicity of nationalities and ethnic groups and with a rich, continually growing culture, including Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (whom at this stage of my educational development I had not yet read) and composers such as Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich (whose works I had already become acquainted with and admired — in fact, Shostakovich’s fifth symphony almost in and of its itself made me a Slavophil). Just like America, Russia was huge, diverse, all encompassing, culturally fertile; and with a vibrant economy. And, I felt intuitively, a rich language.

 

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My previous language study had consisted of a year or two of French in junior high school (a complete waste); four years of high school French, on the basis of which I was placed into third year French at Brandeis University; and two years of high school Latin. Romance languages.

It was a thrill for me to be studying a Slavic language and one with a different alphabet.

Learning the Cyrillic alphabet, in both cursive and print form, was a stumbling block for me, a hurdle to be overcome. It often felt like I was back in the first grade learning my letters and being taught to sound out words phonetically.

Our professor, Charles Gribble, knew the author of the textbook we used, Alexander Lipson, personally. Lipson taught at either MIT or Harvard; I forget which.

Lipson’s first year Russian textbook was in developmental form; it hadn’t yet been published. It consisted of pages that had been copied and bound, but not in book form. Without covers.

It was a clever and entertaining text, besides being well conceived from a pedagogical standpoint.

I was fascinated to find that Russian had cases — six of them — like Latin. (I love studying grammar and cannot understand why modern day self-appointed language “experts,” as they style themselves, want to emend or simplify, essentially emasculate — in the name of political correctness or conforming to their misguided, benighted theories of how language and English composition should be taught — language instruction. See Addendum below.)

 

 

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The genitive case (possessive) in Russia was introduced early, as follows. There would be an entertaining reading with a lot of words ending in –ого (-ogo), indicating the Russian form for a noun such as doctor’s used in a phrase such as “the doctor’s office.” Even Russian proper nouns have a possessive form, so that “Tolstoy’s house” becomes “Дом Толстого” (dom Tolstogo).

In the next or a subsequent chapter of Lipson’s textbook, the genitive case and its usage and endings would be formally introduced and explained. Since one already had a rudimentary familiarity with it in the previously encountered reading, one assimilated the grammar point with ease. This is sound pedagogy. It’s how we learn the grammar of our native language.

 

 

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Despite being motivated, I had difficulty with the course.

Some of the students had already taken Russian in high school, which, in the case of a language like Russian with a steep learning curve, put me at a competitive disadvantage, so to speak.

Nevertheless, I persisted. I tried very hard. I spent hours in the language lab, but — despite my best efforts — I always seemed to be a couple of lessons behind the rest of the class.

Professor Gribble said he would take into account class attendance and effort in grading. He kept his word. I got D on practically every quiz and exam. My final grade for the 6 credit course was C.

I have always had a very high aptitude for foreign languages. In French and Latin classes in high school, I was usually (but not always) the best student in the class. The same was the case when I took Spanish as a postgraduate student at Columbia University.

So how does one account of my struggles with introductory Russian? My former therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp, Jr., had an explanation. He regarded it as a case of what one might call “learning inhibition.” When a student feels uncomfortable with the classroom setting and the instructor. This was true of my experience with Professor Gribble. Strangely enough, he was actually a good guy. I went to a web site containing his obituary at

https://slavic.osu.edu/news/memoriam-charles-edward-gribble-1936-2016

and it was clear that this was the case. (The obituary mentions his concern for and rapport with students.) In the following year (I did not enroll for second year Russian), I would occasionally run into Professor Gribble in the snack bar. He was always pleasant and seemed interested in how I was doing.

 

 

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Alexander Lipson died in 1980 at the age of fifty-one. He was the author of a three part textbook, A Russian Course, which in its prototype/preliminary form, we had used as our text in Professor Gribble’s course.

In a review published in The Slavic and East European Journal of the book Alexander Lipson in Memoriam (1994), Catherine V. Chvany refers to Lipson as follows:

… language pedagogue extraordinaire, maverick entrepreneur, linguist’s linguist, travel tour designer, and enfant terrible. Though Lipson never completed his own Ph.D., members of his now gray-haired cohort have claimed in my hearing they learned more from Alex Lipson — about language, about Slavic, and about teaching — than from any of their professors.

She also notes “Lipson’s broad interests [which reflected] Lipson’s profound if irreverent knowledge of Russian literature and culture.” One could sense this in the text of his we used, which was much more fun and informative than most language textbooks. And, often, downright funny.

For instance, I will never forget how Chapter One began:

Хулиганы сидят в парке весь день и курят. (Khuligany sidyat v parke ves’ den’ i kuryat; Hooligans sit in the park all day and smoke.)

This was a mockery of Soviet attitudes towards deadbeats.

Another chapter had a reading devoted to the topic of навозные мухи (navoznyye mukhi): manure flies. This was a satire on life on the Soviet колхоз (kolkhoz; collective farm). After this chapter, the Russian word for fly, муха (muka),  was permanently implanted in my mind.

Then, there was the aforementioned chapter with a reading on Pushkin. It included a short poem by Pushkin, “Ты и Вы” (“Thou and “You,” 1828) that was accessible to first year students and from which I got a feeling for the enchanting musicality and the sensuality and power of Pushkin’s verse.

 

Пустое вы сердечным ты
Она, обмолвясь, заменила
И все счастливые мечты
В душе влюбленной возбудила.
Пред ней задумчиво стою,
Свести очей с нее нет силы;
И говорю ей: как вы милы!
И мыслю: как тебя люблю!

 

Pustoye “Vy” serdechnym “Ty”
Ona, obmolvyas’, zamenila
I vse schastlivyye mechty
V dushe vlyublennoy vozbudila.
Pred ney zadumchivo stoyu,
Svesti ochey s neye net sily;
I govoryu yey: kak vy mily!
I myslyu: kak tebya lyublyu!

 

She substituted,
by a chance,
For empty “you” — the gentle “thou”;
And all my happy dreams, at once,
In loving heart again resound.
In bliss and silence do I stay,
Unable to maintain my role:
“Oh, how sweet you are!” I say —
“How I love thee!” says my soul.

 

Russian — as with the French tu and vous or Spanish tu and usted — has two forms (formal and familiar) of the second person pronoun.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 18, 2017

 

 

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Addendum :

 

The 1960’s, a learned friend of mine once opined, was the Golden Era of American education. I would not dispute this. I experienced it in English and history courses, in foreign language courses, and in mathematics instruction. To get an idea of how low conceptions of foreign language pedagogy have sunk since Alexander Lipson’s time, one might take a look at the following article:

“Toppling the Grammar Patriarchy,” by Carmel McCoubrey, op-ed, The New York Times, November 16, 2017

 

Posted in college (my courses & professors), general interest, language (vocabulary, usage); language in the abstract as it pertains to writing, political correctness (PC) | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

philosophy class

 

 

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in a press conference on November 17, 2017, asked about why President Trump tweeted ridiculing and criticizing Al “Frankenstein”

(but had no comment about Roy Moore)

was asked to elaborate on this in view of the fact that more than a dozen women have accused Trump of groping.

Sanders: “Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn’t. I think that’s a very clear distinction.”

Sound reasoning?

What would Socrates say? … I. F. Stone (a worshipper of Socrates)?

Where did Sanders go to school? What was her major?

Does it matter?

 

 

– Roger W. Smith

November 18, 2017

 

Posted in general interest, politics | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New York sunlight (and New York joys)

 

 

The grass that grows by absorbing the life-giving energy of the sun becomes a metaphor of *the ceaseless springing forth of life from death.’” — David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman: A Cultural Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), pg. 240

 

 

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My longtime friend Bill Dalzell, who for many years lived in New York but now lives in Massachusetts, introduced me to so many things when I first came to New York in the late 1960’s. Bill was a mostly self educated but highly cultured person who was then a self-employed printer.

Among other things, Bill introduced me to cinema and art. We made several trips together to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bill, a New York transplant from a suburb of Pittsburgh, where he grew up, was — like many having adopted New York City as their home, including myself — an enthusiast of all New York had to offer. He knew all the inexpensive, interesting things to see and do in the City.

Bill used to say: “Would you care to hear me sing the praises of New York?” He used to marvel at the fact that so many people of all races and nationalities lived cheek by jowl in harmony. At the richness of culture. At the convenience of things such as getting around. At how much the City had to offer at what were then modest prices.

Admission to the Metropolitan Museum of Art was free. The main branch of the New York Public Library was open 365 days a year. The subway and bus fares were 20 cents. So was the Staten Island ferry, one of the fun, vivifying, and inexpensive things he enjoyed doing. (We would get off on the Staten Island side, walk around a bit, have a cup of coffee, and take the ferry back to Manhattan.) A meal of wholesome, plain food at the Automat (where Bill used to love to sit and drink coffee while lost in thought) could be had for less than a dollar. Films cost less than two dollars. Rents were cheap. Bill paid twenty-nine dollars a month for a one bedroom apartment on East 5th Street.

 

 

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Bill introduced me to the paintings of Edward Hopper, one of his favorite painters. (Hopper’s paintings are, for the most part, exhibited in New York museums.) Bill and I, at his suggestion, made a one day excursion to Nyack, NY to view Hopper’s birthplace.

During our museum trips, he pointed out how Hopper made use of light.

“The light is different in America,” Bill would say. (He had traveled practically everywhere in the world on a limited budget, including places people rarely went then, such as Alaska, Newfoundland, and the Orkney and Aran Islands.) By “different,” Bill meant brighter. More brilliant. Yes. Brilliant light. An observation which I do believe to be true. I have observed and thought about this often.

I have come over the years to be myself fascinated by light. Early morning light, daylight, late afternoon light. The light hitting the grass. Different shades of light and degrees of brightness. Summer light. Autumn light. Winter light.

While I would and could never aspire to be an artist — I have no innate talent and only a limited appreciation of the visual arts — I have been taking photographs in the City in parks, on the shorelines, and of houses and streets on my walks, I have posted below some photographs of mine in which an appreciation of sunlight as viewed from ground level is expressed in the photo.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 2017

 

 

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Addendum:

 

Some relevant information about Edward Hopper.

Most of Hopper’s figure paintings focus on the subtle interaction of human beings with their environment–carried out with solo figures, couples, or groups. His primary emotional themes are solitude, loneliness, regret, boredom, and resignation. He expresses the emotions in various environments, including the office, in public places, in apartments, on the road, or on vacation. … In many Hopper paintings, the interaction is minimal.

The effective use of light and shadow to create mood is central to Hopper’s methods. Bright sunlight (as an emblem of insight or revelation), and the shadows it casts, also play symbolically powerful roles in Hopper paintings such as Early Sunday Morning (1930), Summertime (1943), Seven A.M. (1948), and Sun in an Empty Room (1963).

Hopper always said that his favorite thing was “painting sunlight on the side of a house.”

Although critics and viewers interpret meaning and mood in his cityscapes, Hopper insisted “I was more interested in the sunlight on the buildings and on the figures than any symbolism.” As if to prove the point, his late painting Sun in an Empty Room (1963) is a pure study of sunlight.

 

“Edward Hopper,” Wikipedia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Hopper

 

It should be noted that the American landscape painter Winslow Homer did similar things with sunlight in his remarkable paintings.

 

 

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photographs by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted here below are some famous paintings of Edward Hopper that show his preoccupation with light and his mastery of representing it visually.

 

 

 

 

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Edward Hopper’s birthplace

 

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will “ladies and gentlemen” go the way of the dodo?

 

 

 

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is replacing the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” in announcements with gender-neutral words in an effort to be more inclusive.

Instead you’ll likely hear, “Good morning, everyone,” or, “Hello, passengers.”

It’s just one of the changes to the conductors’ script that started earlier this month.

… This morning you may hear the train conductor say something like: “Good morning, riders.”

 
— “New York Today: Subway Announcements Get a Human Touch,” by Jonathan Wolfe, The New York Times, November 13, 2017

 

 

 

 

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The language commissars are pernicious. Yes, pernicious. Defined as “having a harmful effect, especially in a gradual or subtle way.” They are gradually eroding and stripping of its vitality our precious English tongue.

What, in God’s name, is wrong with saying “ladies and gentlemen”? It’s a polite phrase. It needs to be replaced with something “gender-neutral”? Meaning, no words or phrases that indicate gender will henceforth be permitted?

Language is a living, breathing thing. It’s organic, just like nature. Don’t let the over the top, politically correct language czars ruin it. Not only are they totally wrong in their excessive zeal and fanaticism to eradicate words in the language as it is spoken, they are ignorant, and their stupidity is dangerous.

George Orwell was prescient in inventing a language, Newspeak, in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, that would replace English, getting rid of supposedly superfluous words, so that a word such as bad would be replaced with “ungood.”

I can just see it, an announcement or sign on the subway or in a subway station: “Be careful with perambulators carrying passengers under age five to avoid the possibility of their getting caught in an escalator or being too close to the edge of a subway platform.”

I thought baby was a gender-neutral world, but perhaps it will someday be deemed politically incorrect and will have to be replaced by an alternative such as “parentally supervised minor.”

God only knows.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 2017

Posted in language (vocabulary, usage); language in the abstract as it pertains to writing, musings (random daily thoughts), political correctness (PC) | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

a Manhattan jaunt

 

 

Yesterday, Sunday, November 12, I set out from my house, intending to walk the whole perimeter of Manhattan. It is a walk of around 32 miles and is said to take 12 to 15 hours. I started from 63rd Street and Second Avenue at around 7:30 a.m.

I didn’t make it. I stopped a couple of times for coffee breaks. This extended the length of my walk. By late afternoon, as darkness was coming on, I had only gotten about halfway. I was also getting tired. I would guess that I did around half the distance, a bit less. Maybe 13 or 14 miles.

If I had kept going, I would not have gotten back to my starting point, 63rd Street and Second Avenue, until probably around midnight.

Below are some photos from my jaunt.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  November 13, 2017

 

 

Addendum: I have commented in several posts about what I perceive to be the beneficial health effects of walking. Yesterday was a very nice day, cold but clear and sunny. I had been feeling under the weather. For me, the best medicine for a cold is exercise and, especially, fresh air.

 

 

 

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photographs by Roger W. Smith

 

 

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starting point; Second Avenue at 63rd Street

 

 

 

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East River, early Sunday morning

 

 

 

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East 74th Street

 

 

 

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Carl Schurz Park and Gracie Mansion; Yorkville

 

 

Carl Schurz Park is located in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan. The mayor’s residence, Gracie Mansion, is located there.

 

 

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Carl Schurz Park

 

 

 

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Carl Schurz Park

 

 

 

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Gracie Mansion

 

 

 

 

 

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Yorkville

 

 

 

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York Avenue at 90th Street

 

 

 

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Harlem

 

As one progresses along First Avenue, one eventually runs into a roadblock of sorts. Not an actual roadblock, but at around 125th Street, the Harlem River impedes one’s northerly progress. One has to start veering west following the curvature of Manhattan Island. One proceeds northerly through Harlem, continually veering west.

The area of First Avenue (and avenues slightly to the west) from around 90th Street to 125th Street is very bleak. There are hardly any restaurants, business establishments, or places of interest. The occasional gas station (a rarity in most of Manhattan).

One might expect such an area to become gradually gentrified, as the rest of the City has. What seems to prevent this are the bleak housing projects, built during the 1950’s in the “slum clearance” era when the poor and minorities were as a matter of policy moved to Soviet style housing projects favored by misguided (to put it kindly) city planners. These housing blocks have no personality and are grim architecturally. There are no commercial establishments nearby.

Harlem proper, which is to say the blocks in the part of Harlem further west, is a very nice area; it is becoming (and already has become, for the most part) gentrified.

 

 

 

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Polo Grounds Towers

Around 155th Street as I kept veering west, I took what I thought was a through street and ended up in a cul-de-sac. I realized I was in the midst of housing project. It turned out to be the Polo Grounds Towers, site of the home of the former New York Giants baseball team. The Polo Grounds stadium, home of the Giants, was demolished in 1964.

As I emerged from the housing project, I walked up a long, very steep stairway on which were painted the following words: “The John T. Brush Stairway Presented by the New York Giants.” John T. Brush (1845-1912) was one of the first owners of the New York Giants baseball team.

At the top of the stairway was Edgecombe Avenue. There was no traffic and not a pedestrian in sight. Across the street was a promontory which, though I had never been in this area before, I realized had to be Coogan’s Bluff. As noted in a Wikipedia entry, “A deep escarpment descends 175 feet from Edgecombe Avenue to the river, creating a sheltered area between the bluff and river known as Coogan’s Hollow. For 83 years, the hollow was home to the legendary Polo Grounds sports stadium.” Sportswriter Red Smith called Bobby Thomson’s homerun to clinch the 1951 pennant for the New York Giants “the miracle of Coogan’s Bluff.”

 

 

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Coogan’s Bluff

 

 

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Washington Heights

 

 

 

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Fort Tyron Park

 

 

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Broadway, Washington Heights; Broadway extends the whole length of Manhattan, and further

 

 

 

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Inwood

 

 

 

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Dyckman Street

 

 

 

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Inwood Hill Park

 

 

 

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Hudson River from Inwood Hill Park

 

 

 

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The Capuchin Franciscans of Good Shepherd church, Inwood

 

 

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Isham Park, Inwood

 

 

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Isham Park

 

 

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Broadway and 218th Street; the northernmost point of Manhattan, at the boundary between Manhattan and The Bronx

 

 

 

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