Category Archives: my city and neighborhood

“Oh, For a Lodge in Some Warm Wilderness!” (a New Yorker’s dream)

 

 
OH, FOR A LODGE IN SOME WARM WILDERNESS!

The Cry of Many a New-Yorker Whose Business Worries are Aggravated by a Bad Cold.

New-York Tribune

February 21, 1904

 

 

Doubtless, this winter, when the North River,* overhung with mist and full of huge cakes of ice, resembled a scene on the coasts of Labrador, and the streets have seemed never to be free from snow and ice, many a New-Yorker with a cold has found the Psalmist’s words: “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove; for then I would fly away and be at rest,”** highly expressive of his feelings. Forgetting that one of the great characteristics of the human being which most widely differentiates him from other animals is his ability to adapt himself to the rigors of any climate, and that, therefore, he ought to give proof of his superiority by gloriously braving it out, he would gladly take wing and follow the birds to the warmer climates where there is no pneumonia, where the furnace troubleth not and the walks are fringed with green instead of covered with white. This winter has been more trying than previous winters for a number of years. The constantly recurring snowstorms and cold waves, almost clasping hands with one another, have worn down the patience of many persons who cannot get away. The very cough syrup, with its reminder of the wholesome, aromatic atmosphere of the great pine forests of the gentle tempered South, has tantalized while it performed its work of healing. If one could only adopt the mind cure and imagine himself in some semi-tropical isle in the Spanish Main, what a consolation it would be as one sits back at one’s desk, every window tightly closed to prevent draughts and keep out the fog laden air, twisting one’s nose with moist handkerchief! A vision of

 

The slender coco’s drooping crown of plumes,
The lightning flash of insect and of bird,
The lustre of the long convolvuluses,***

 

rises in one’s mind and feels how pleasant it would be to lazily loll for a few weeks in that country, with its changing tropical lights.

If the climate of New York in winter is not an ideal one, there is the consoling thought that within the confines of the United States one may experience any kind of climate one desires, from the arctic temperature of Alaska to the semi-tropical of Florida. Of course, one does not wish to think of the former, with its frozen temperatures. It is much pleasanter to dream, if one cannot realize it, of “the South where the gulf breezes blow.” To know that one may enjoy in March strawberries, ripe and red on the table; violet blossoms in the woods, the breath of jasmines in the air, and glimpses of the passion flower, scarlet trumpet creeper, wild honeysuckle, blossoming blackberry vines; delicate hued lichens, is enough to make a New-Yorker desire to sell his business and go instantly to such a favored clime with his family. While a New-Yorker is breathing the stuffy air of his office, in another part if his “native land” myriads of orchids are perfuming the air of dense forests with no man near to appreciate their beauty and fragrance. Forests of live oaks with hanging banners of Spanish moss; cypresses and blossoming magnolias invite the eye, and strange birds with tropical melodies entice the ear as they dart through the darkened recesses of the woodland. And if a little adventure is desired, it may be had by awakening an alligator lazily sunning himself at the edge of the stream.

Or, in another part of country, thousands of miles away, where once the indolent dons cultivated their ranches, flaming poppies, ranging from bright yellow to scarlet, violets, primroses, sweet clover, yellow and purple; the blue larkspur and the scarlet silene are mingling with the green of the fields and making an entrancing carpeting. There the mercury remains almost stationary in the tube. and the rain falls almost never.

 

* The North, now Hudson, River.

** I never knew where the words “wings of the dove” come from.

** * The lines are from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “Enoch Arden.”

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   December 2020

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Addendum:

 

I myself have seen the “huge cakes of ice” on the Hudson, viewed from Riverside Park, during one particularly cold winter when the river partly froze over. It was beautiful. You could hear the ice hissing as the chunks broke up.

new post – Theodore Dreiser, “My City”

 

 

It’s on my Dreiser site at

 

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2020/02/06/theodore-dreiser-my-city/

It beautifully expresses my own feelings about my adopted city.

 

 

Roger W. Smith\

   February 6, 2020

 

NYC encourages conversation (a photo-essay)

 

 

“The blab of the pave … the … talk of the promenaders”

— Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” (cataloguing the delights of the City)

 

 

 

I continuously see people on the street, in the park on sidewalk benches, in gathering places such as cafes and bars — everywhere — in pairs or larger groupings, engaged in deep conversation and repartee.

People feel less self-conscious in New York. Free to express themselves. New York encourages thought and exchange of ideas.

It’s wonderfully liberating.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   June 2019

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Addendum: Another thought. The fact that NYC is in large part a city in which people are on foot when they are outdoors, and not in cars, but instead are walking, or resting on benches, say; and, when they are traveling, are often on subways or buses, where conversation frequently occurs, is a facilitator of conversation and interaction.

 

 

****************************************************

 

 

photographs by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

42nd Street

42nd Street

 

 

 

59th Street.jpg

59th Street

 

 

 

Battery Park City

Battery Park City

 

 

\

Bryant Park

Bryant Park

 

 

 

Central Park (2).jpg

Central Park

 

 

 

Central Park (3).jpg

Central Park

 

 

 

City Hall Park 2-58 p.m. 6-23-2019.JPG

City Hall Park

 

 

Grand Central Oyster Bar.jpg

Grand Central Oyster Bar

 

 

 

 

Hudson River Park

Hudson River Park

 

 

 

Hudson River Park (2).jpg

Hudson River Park

 

 

 

Hudson River Park (3)

Hudson River Park

 

 

 

Hudson Yards.jpg

Hudson Yards

 

 

 

Lexington Avenue

Lexington Avenue

 

 

 

 

Madison Square Park.jpg

Madison Square Park

 

 

 

Madison Square Park (2).jpg

Madison Square Park

 

 

 

Madison Square Park (3)

Madison Square Park

 

 

 

Madison Square Park (4).jpg

Madison Square Park

 

 

Madison Square Park (5).jpg

Madison Square Park

 

 

 

Madison Square Park (6).jpg

Madison Square Park

 

 

 

Madison Square Park (7).jpg

Madison Square Park

 

 

 

Madison Square Park (8).jpg

Madison Square Park

 

 

 

Madison Square Park (9).jpg

Madison Square Park

 

 

 

Madison Square Park 10-10-2019.JPG

Madison Square Park

 

 

 

Gregory's Coffee 7-7-2019

Ninth Avenue coffeehouse

 

 

 

Ridgewood, Queens

Ridgewood, Queens

 

 

 

P. J. Carney's 6-18-2019

Seventh Avenue Tavern

 

 

 

Soho

Soho

 

 

Union Square Park.jpg

Union Square Park

 

 

 

Union Square.jpg

Union Square

 

 

 

Upper West Side

Upper West Side

 

 

 

West Side 5-46 p.m. 7-19-2019.JPG

West Side, Midtown

a letter from Walt Whitman

 

 

 

What interests me about the letter of Walt Whitman posted here (text below) is his feelings about his native city, New York. They are similar to mine.

Whitman, then working as government clerk and a volunteer in hospitals in Washington, DC, was visiting New York at the time the letter was written. He was staying at his mother’ s house on Portland Avenue in Brooklyn.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   June 2019

 

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

 

Monday forenoon November 9 [1863]

 

Dear comrades, as I did not finish my letter yesterday afternoon, as I had many friends come to see me, I will finish it now—the news this morning is that Meade is shoving Lee back upon Richmond, & that we have already given the rebs some hard knocks, there on the old Rappahannock fighting ground. O I do hope the Anny of the Potomac will at last gain a first-class victory, for they have had to retreat often enough, &: yet I believe a better Army never trod the earth than they are & have been for over a year.

Well, dear comrades, it looks so different here in all this mighty city, every thing going with a big rush & so gay, as if there was neither war nor hospitals in the land. New York &: Brooklyn appear nothing but prosperity & plenty. Every where carts & trucks & carriages & vehicles on the go, loaded with goods, express-wagons, omnibuses, cars, &c—thousands of ships along the wharves, & the piers piled high, where they are loading or unloading the cargoes—all the stores crammed with every thing you can think of, & the markets with all sorts of provisions—tens & hundreds of thousands of people every where, (the population is 1,500,000) , almost every body well-drest, & appearing to have enough—then the splendid river & Harbor here, full of ships, steamers, sloops, &c—then the great street, Broadway, for four miles, one continual jam of people, & the great magnificent stores all along on each side, & the show windows filled with beautiful & costly goods—I never saw the crowd thicker, nor such goings on & such prosperity [italics added]—& as I passed through Baltimore.& Philadelphia it seemed to be just the same.

I am quite fond of crossing on the Fulton ferry, or South ferry, between Brooklyn & New York, on the big handsome boats. They run continually day & night. I know most of the pilots, & I go up on deck & stay as long as I choose. The scene is very curious, & full of variety. The shipping along the wharves looks like a forest of bare trees. Then there are all classes of sailing vessels & steamers, some of the grandest & most beautiful steamships in the world, going or coming from Europe, or on the California route, all these on the move. [italics added] As I sit up there in the pilot house, I can see every thing, & the distant scenery, & away down toward the sea, & Fort Lafayette &c. The ferry boat has to pick its way through the crowd. Often they hit each other, then there is a time—

My loving comrades I am scribbling this in my room in my Mother’s house. …

 

 

— Walt Whitman, The Correspondence: Volume I: 1842-1867, edited by Edwin Haviland Miller (New York University Press, 1961), pp. 180-181

Walt Whitman … profoundly a New Yorker

 

 

In his sprawl, his vaunting ambition, and his humanity, Walt Whitman was profoundly a New Yorker. His poetry bore no little resemblance to the “mettlesome, mad, extravagant city” that he called home, and to the end of his life, he remained “a Manhattanese, free, friendly and proud.”

Whitman was born in the small community of West Hills in Suffolk County, and he returned often to the rural scenes of “fish-shape Paumanok,” as he called Long Island. But he grew up in Brooklyn, at a time when it was growing explosively, and proudly called himself a “Brooklyn boy.” Like his father, he found occasional work in carpentry and contracting, and that may have affected the way he thought about his poetry–with “the preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising, the hoist-up of beams the push of them in their places, laying them regular.”

New York’s expansion resembled Whitman’s own during the “seed-time years” that preceded Leaves of Grass. He later claimed that the poems “arose out of my life in Brooklyn and New York from 1838 to 1853, absorbing a million people, for fifteen years, with an intimacy, an eagerness, and an abandon, probably never equaled.” Although he moved to Washington during the Civil War and then to Camden, New Jersey, he never stopped revisiting the New York of his imagination. In a letter from 1868, he wrote, “I sometimes think I am the particular man who enjoys the shows of all these things in New York more than any other mortal–as if it was all got up just for me to observe and study.” [italics added]

 

– exhibit label, “Walt Whitman: Bard of Democracy”; exhibition at the Morgan Library, New York, NY

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

CITY OF SHIPS.

 

CITY of ships!
(O the black ships! O the fierce ships!
O the beautiful sharp-bow’d steam-ships and sail-ships!)
City of the world! (for all races are here,
All the lands of the earth make contributions here;)
City of the sea! city of hurried and glittering tides!
City whose gleeful tides continually rush or recede, whirling in and out with eddies and foam!
City of wharves and stores—city of tall façades of marble and iron!
Proud and passionate city—mettlesome, mad, extravagant city!
Spring up O city—not for peace alone, but be indeed yourself, warlike!
Fear not—submit to no models but your own O city!
Behold me—incarnate me as I have incarnated you!
I have rejected nothing you offer’d me—whom you adopted I have adopted,
Good or bad I never question you— love all—I do not condemn any thing,
I chant and celebrate all that is yours—yet peace no more,
In peace I chanted peace, but now the drum of war is mine,
War, red war is my song through your streets, O city!

 

Leaves of Grass (1881-1882)

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

But I was a Manhattanese, free, friendly, and proud
I was called by my nighest name by clear loud voices
of young men as they saw me approaching or passing,
Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat,
Saw many I loved in the street, or ferry-boat, or public assembly, yet never told them a word,
Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping,
Played the part that still looks back on the actor or actress,
The same old rôle, the rôle that is what we make it, as great as we like,
Or as small as we like, or both great and small.

 

— Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” (excerpt)

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

The house-builder at work in cities or anywhere,
The preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising,
The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their places,
laying them regular

 

— Walt Whitman, “Song of the Broad-Axe” (excerpt)

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

The exhibit label is vague about where Whitman actually lived during his years in what now comprises New York City. (Brooklyn and Manhattan were separate municipalities when Whitman lived there. Jamaica, Queens, where Whitman was a schoolteacher briefly, was then part of Long Island, where Whitman was born.) He grew up in Brooklyn; and, in the years of his adulthood prior to the Civil War, he resided in both Brooklyn and Manhattan at various times. When in Manhattan, he lived downtown in boarding houses in or near what is now the Financial District. When he was residing in Brooklyn, he often took the ferry to Manhattan. He was a regular at Pfaff’s beer cellar in Manhattan, which was located on Broadway near Bleecker Street.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

  June 2019

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Addendum:

In 2017, University of Iowa Press published a lost Whitman novel (its existence was unknown to scholars):  Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, which was originally published by Whitman in 1852 under a pseudonym and was serialized in a New York newspaper, the Sunday Dispatch. Zachary Turpin, who wrote an introduction to the 2017 edition, made this remarkable discovery.

If one reads the novel, which is set in Manhattan at around the time of Whitman’s boyhood — i.e., the early nineteenth century —  one can readily perceive Whitman’s familiarity with the City, which provides a setting and backdrop for the events and gives the story verisimilitude.

on photography (MINE; an exchange of emails, with apologies to Susan Sontag)

 

 

The following is an exchange of emails I had within the past day with my friend Ewa from the Bronx. Her email from yesterday evening contained what I regard as very insightful comments.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

May 29, 2019

 

Dear Roger,

I appreciate all the pictures you send me. Sometimes I have no time to give them the right amount of attention, but when I do, I go over all of them carefully.

They are very nice and show different and sometimes surprising City views.

It’s interesting how people play suggestive roles in the pictures, making natural gestures look theatrical (like the one from May 19th). I sometimes get surprised by unusual framing like with the photo where the Statue of Liberty peaks from between the trunks, or fronds of greens in the park. Frozen crowds and some of the places that I have never been to make the pictures distant, but knowing the fact that I could experience them on my day off makes looking at them like at goods at the store that I could afford.

I don’t have time to walk around the city, but it gives me an insight into New York City’s architecture and landscapes and life of the city in general.

I admire the style and cropping. Once again, thank you, Roger.

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

May 30, 2019

 

Thanks for your emails from last night, Ewa.

Thanks for complimenting my photos

I have never been good at hardly any technical, hands on skill. I never seemed to have any aptitude for photography. I was pleasantly surprised to find that several people seem to like my photos a lot.

I have gotten a little bit adept at things like cropping and tweaking photos, but I am far from being a pro.

I appreciated your email because it showed an awareness of certain key things.

My photos are a sort of paean to Manhattan, my city. My feelings about it are similar to what Walt Whitman’s were.

Your comment “It’s interesting how people play suggestive roles in the pictures making natural gestures look theatrical (like the one from May 19th)” is very much on target. I find that a photo of, say, Central Park or Fifth Avenue is enhanced by having people in it.

I have acquaintances who have much more expertise in photography than I do and who own expensive cameras. Often their photos do not engage me. A splendid photo of the Taj Mahal in the evening; a photo of whales taken from a whale watching expedition or of a moose in a national park often leave me sort of detached. I feel that if I wanted to see such photos, I could find them on an internet site for tourists or in National Geographic.

A further thought: A relative of mine, noticing that I not infrequently include photos of myself (on my City walks) in Facebook posts, posted a critical comment about this on Facebook a while ago. When I complained to the relative, the relative replied: “Don’t understand why you post a picture of yourself almost every day in the same pose.”

Well, my hero Walt Whitman loved to have his photo taken — he was fascinated by the new invention of photography — often in a photo studio on lower Broadway. Posting pictures of myself may be a form of self-flattery, but the intent is also to show myself as being part of the scene: that I was at such and such a spot in the City on a particular date and time. In different parks, on the Brooklyn Bridge, on the steps of the New York Public Library, in front of some famous Manhattan building, and so on. I think it adds verisimilitude to a sort of photographic travelogue or diary of a City walker (me).

 

Roger

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 30, 2019

 

 

 

Central Park 2-47 p.m. 5-19-2019

Central Park, May 19, 2019; photograph by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

Walt Whitman (3)

Walt Whitman

It’s gone.

 

It’s gone.

They’re gone.

The past. Our lived history. Past times. The particulars. What made them unique.

This past, our past, dies with people. As they pass away. Dies as well as the people themselves.

An era. A generation. Gone irretrievably.

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

My friend Bill Dalzell.

I think of him often. Of New York as he knew it.

When the City was affordable, actually cheap. When it was hospitable to artists, writers, and editors; to independent types who loved culture, the arts, and the life of the mind and who didn’t want the buttoned down life.

The New York of art film houses, the Automat, McSorley’s Old Ale House, and the Blarney Stones; of the Metropolitan Museum of Art when admission was free; of the New York Public Library when it was open 365 days a year. When First Avenue bars held Sunday afternoon poetry readings.

When the subway fare was a dime, a glass of beer was twenty cents, and flats in the Lower East Side rented in the 30 to 50 dollar a month range.

Dr. Ralph Colp, Jr., my therapist.

He practiced when psychiatrists did talk therapy and were intellectuals rather than pill pushers; when (as was the case with me) they charged 30 dollars for a session scheduled for 50 minutes that usually lasted an hour; when a writer such as Dr. Colp used a Royal manual typewriter; when a Sunday afternoon or holiday recreation for him and many Manhattanites, such as myself, involved seeing a foreign film.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

This melancholy, mournful train of thoughts occurred to me today when for some reason or other I thought of Bill, when something reminded me of him.

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 22, 2019