Category Archives: my city and neighborhood

why New York is one of the greatest (in my opinion, the greatest) cities in the world

 

The water has a lot to do with it. It is a city surrounded and bathed by water: the Hudson and East rivers, the Atlantic Ocean. New York Harbor is one of the largest and most beautiful natural harbors in the world.

All five boroughs have shorelines and ocean or river views.

Having river and ocean boundaries prevents urban sprawl. It makes the City, as big as it is, contained.

It is a city made for walking. Sidewalks are wide, and pedestrians are seen everywhere at all hours of the day. Cars do not dominate. Many streets are clogged with traffic, notably at the bridge and tunnel crossings and on cross streets in Manhattan. But, elsewhere traffic is relatively moderate. This is true on major thoroughfares such as Fifth and Park Avenues.

It has a world class transit system that runs 24 hours a day, every day.

It is a city seemingly devoid of nature, one where nature doesn’t matter, where a rain or snow storm is a nuisance. This is true. And yet, there are ample parks everywhere; and some of them are magnificent. No other city has a park to match Central Park.

It is a city of neighborhoods: the Lower East Side, Hell’s Kitchen, Soho, Inwood, Astoria, Ridgewood, Williamsburg, Park Slope.

The admixture of races and ethnicities (in a polyglot city), the visibility and importance of the immigrant population, the concentration of people of varying educational and income levels who have many opportunities to interact continually is notable.

Show me a city that has richer cultural offerings. Take music. Several major concert halls (not just one, as is the case in most American cities), and this doesn’t count concert venues in museums, churches, etc.  Splendid concerts almost daily by the best musicians.

And art museums and galleries — I can’t keep track of them.

 

— posted by Roger W Smith

   July 2021

Suffer little children …

 

 

I am in our living room this afternoon, thinking about going out.

Beautiful day. My wife was out.

A light tapping at the thick front door. Not a knock. Tapping. So faint; rare. Almost never occurs. Usually they ring bell. My wife will knock loudly sometimes if she’s coming home with groceries.

I open door and there are three little girls probably age seven to eight to preadolescent standing there. So cute and innocent looking — true is it not of most kids?

They live next door. A family from Yemen. One of the older girls had a head scarf. The father runs a deli/bodega on the corner that his father started.

There are a few adult women living there whom I rarely see. It seems that Muslim women remain indoors unless business calls them outside.

One day I encountered them standing on the front steps. They had head and face coverings. I thought they might not be willing to speak to me. Instead, they returned my greeting politely with friendly smiles.

The three girls explained to me that they had lost three (!) balls on our garage roof. I often hear them playing (rare with kids in NYC … music to my ears) in our common back yard or in the narrow space between our house and theirs.

Is there any way we could get access to the garage roof and retrieve the balls? I thought we could, but wasn’t sure.

If we can’t do that, they said next — before leaving — if, by any chance, we have a tall ladder, they would be willing to climb up it and get the balls themselves.

I told them I would see what I could do. They said thanks and left.

Except the youngest girl hesitated. She stood there with a fixed gaze, so innocent. Beautiful black eyes. Then she said bye and left too.

The world of childhood. Psychoanalyst Selma Fraiberg called them “the magic years.”

What preoccupies them. Their lack of guile. Their innocence.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 17, 2021

 

Walt Whitman, “Our City”

 

 

Walt Whitman, ‘Our City’

 

 

Our City

NEW YORK is a great place — a mighty world in itself. Strangers who come here for the first time in their lives, spend week after week, and yet find that there are still hundreds of wonders and surprises, and (to them) oddities, which they have not had a chance of examining. Here are people of all classes and stages of rank — from all countries on the globe — engaged in all the varieties of avocations — of every grade, every hue of ignorance and learning, morality and vice, wealth and want, fashion and coarseness, breeding and brutality, elevation and degradation, impudence and modesty.

Coming up Broadway, from the Bowling Green, an observer will notice, on each side, tall, quiet looking houses, with no great aspect of life or business. These are mostly boarding houses; and notwith­standing their still look, they no doubt contain within their walls no small number of occupants. Here the sidewalks and the street pre­sent hut few passengers. After passing Trinity Church, however, the crowd thickens, and the ground stories of the buildings are prin­cipally occupied as shops. Along this section of Broadway are sev­eral crack hotels. If you pass at the latter part of the day, you will see little groups of well dressed men, picking their teeth lazily, and enjoying an after dinner lounge. Near here, there are two shops which deserve especial notice. Judging by their capacious windows, they are for the sale of knicknacks, and fancy articles of all descrip­tions, from a chess board or an escritoire to a toothpick. From a glance at these treasures, a person can hardly help reflecting how many thousand wants, altogether imaginary, one may he led to have through the refinements of civilization.

Directly afterward, you will notice two crowds gazing at the prints in the windows of a book store. This is Colman’s. If you chance to stop there for the same purpose as the rest, look out for the contents of your pockets. We mean this in a double sense; for if you are not incited to purchase some of the alluring literary beauties to be had at Colman’s, it is quite possible that you may he otherwise relieved of your cash by some of the swells who there do congregate.

Then you come to where the Park thrusts out as a kind of wedge between Broadway and the beginning of Park Row. If you take the left, you have to make way against a great current of fashion, idleness, and foppery. Suppose you turn to the right.

Down you walk — first stopping to gaze a moment at St. Paul’s, which, with its steeple the other way, seems as if it wanted to walk off from amid so much tumult and din — and at that very respectable small city, the Astor House. A few rods, and you are in front of an ambiguous structure, of a dirty white color, and which you internally set down in your mind as the most villainous specimen of architecture you ever beheld. This is the Park theatre — or, as some of our people, with a very untasty habit of copying whatever is foreign, term it, the Old Drury. You will not wonder, when you hear that the manager has been very unsuccessful of late, maugre all his ener­getic and liberal catering. What benignant spirit could ever plume his wings on the top of such a temple?

By and by, you arrive at an open space, whereabout, if you look sharp, you will behold the name of one of the wonders of the city — that is, the “New York Aurora.” In all probability your ears will be greeted with the discordant notes of the newsboys, who generally muster here in great force. A door or two further is Tammany Hall, the Mecca of democracy — the time honored, soul endeared holy of holies, to all who go for anti monopoly, and the largest freedom of the largest number.

The City Hall on the left, with its redundance of marble tracery and ornament, will not probably strike you as being anything very extensive — so pass we on.

Now you come into the region of Jews, jewelry, and second hand clothing. Here and there, the magic “three balls” hold out hope to those whose ill luck makes them grasp at even the smallest favors.

Passing the Pearl street crossing, and the Chatham theatre, you are in the large triangle which people call Chatham square. In the middle are dray carts, coaches, and cabs: on the right loom up small hills of furniture, of every quality, with here and there an auctioneer, standing on a table or barrel top, and crying out to the crowd around him, the merits of the articles, and the bids made for them.

Then up the Bowery, which presents the most heterogeneous melange of any street in the city: stores of all kinds and people of all kinds, are to be met with every forty rods. You come by and by to the Bowery theatre; this is one of the best looking buildings in the city.

If you keep up the Bowery, you will lose yourself at last in the midst of vacant squares, unfenced lots, and unbuilt streets.

If you turn to the right, you will come into some of the dirtiest looking places in New York. Pitt, Ridge, Attorney and Willett streets, and all thereabout, are quite thickly settled with German emigrants.

If you wind your steps leftward, you will have a chance of promenading to suit any taste you may he possessed of. You can lead off into some of the most aristocratic thorough-fares, or some of the lowest, or some of a medium between both.

 

— Walt Whitman, The New York Aurora, March 8, 1842

 

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Walt Whitman’s 1842 walk took him from the Battery (where I often start my walks) — the southernmost point of Manhattan — uptown to the area of Delancey Street on what is now the Lower East Side. I have walked the same route so many, many times.

I take the same delight — and experience the same perpetual wonder — in the City that Whitman did. He is my Doppelgänger. I feel such kinship with him.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2020

“Beautiful — the water is so calming to me.”

 

 

 

 

New York Harbor, September 20, 2020; photo by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

I had the following exchange on Facebook with Barbara (Harris) Churchill yesterday. Barbara was the kid sister of my best friend Johnny Harris when I was growing up in Massachusetts. Barbara lives in the Midwest now.

 

Barbara Churchill:

Beautiful – the water is so calming to me.

 

Roger Smith:

Me too, Barbara. When I am downtown, in this part of the City, I often feel such peace. It is surprisingly uncrowded, especially on weekdays. Wall Street is nearby, but no one seems to go a few blocks more downtown. A lot of the activity and people are further uptown and in Midtown.

 

Barbara Churchill:

Your photos always amaze me. I know nothing about NYC really, and subconsciously think noisy, crowded, city, and you capture so much beauty and green (and blue) space!

 

Roger Smith:

Barbara — When I first came to NYC from Mass. — a long time ago — I experienced a sort of “street shock”: everyone seemed in such a hurry; the people on the subways looked kind of pale and pasty; no one seemed to have time for you … It was all cement and steel: high rises and crowded sidewalks. Slowly, I got to like it. It turns out that most of the people are really friendly and will go out their way to help you. And, then I discovered how enjoyable it was to explore the City; and the beautiful parks and the river, etc. I don’t think most people, even many New Yorkers, appreciate how much natural beauty (i.e., nature) contributes to making New York so great — they don’t know it’s there, right in front of them, so to speak; and then the people are another “natural resource.”

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

    September 21, 2020

“In testimony of ancient and unbroken friendship this flagpole is presented to the City of New-York by the Dutch people”

 

 

monument, Battery Park, New York City

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following are the inscriptions on the above-pictured flagpole monument in Battery Park in Manhattan. The monument was erected in 1926, the tricentennial of the founding of New Amsterdam by the Dutch.

In testimony of ancient and unbroken friendship this flagpole is presented to the City of New-York by the Dutch people 1626.

 On the 22nd of April 1625 the Amsterdam Chamber of the West India Company decreed the establishment of Fort Amsterdam and the creation of the adjoining farms. The purchase of the Island of Manhattan was accomplished in 1626. Thus was laid the foundation of the City of New-York.

Nadat de Kamer Amsterdam der West Indische Compagnie op 22 April 1625 last had gegeven tot den aanleg van het Fort Amsterdam en tien bouwedten daardnevenes heeft de koop van het Eiland Manhattan in 1626 dien aanleg bevestigd welke de grondslag werd van de stad New-York.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

an island … a city surrounded by WATER II (update of a previous post)

 

 

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.

 

— Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; Chapter 1 (“Loomings”)

 

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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. It leads to dreamy speculation and reflection, as Herman Melville noted.

My departed friend Bill Dalzell alerted me to this special aspect of New York City some fifty years ago.

I love the curve of the bay at the bottom of Manhattan Island. Such a beautiful harbor.

Today, I walked along the water’s edge from 14th Street to the Battery. Such a wonderful stiff breeze off the river. Such a wonderful walk at a time of despair,

 

— Roger W. Smith

    May 4, 2020

 

 

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photographs by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

New York Harbor 11-42 a.m. 10-7-2019

 

 

 

New York Harbor 11-11 a.m. 5-29-2018

 

 

New York Harbor 4-54 p.m. 5-4-2020

 

 

 

New York Harbor 3-28 p.m. 3-17-2020

 

 

 

Hudson River 2-52 p.m. 5-4-2020

 

 

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“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

 

 

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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

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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photographs by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

42nd Street

42nd Street

 

 

 

59th Street.jpg

59th Street

 

 

 

Battery Park City

Battery Park City

 

 

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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

 

 

 

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Hudson Yards

 

 

 

Lexington Avenue

Lexington Avenue

 

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

Madison Square Park (3)

Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

Madison Square Park (6).jpg

Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

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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