Category Archives: photographic

the music of the spheres (linguistically speaking)


I live in the borough of Queens in New York City.

In a metropolitan area with the most ethnically diverse zip codes in the nation, and in a City where far more languages are spoken than in any other city in the world — in public; on the streets and in parks; in stores and restaurants; on buses and the subway; and so on.

To hear the variety of languages spoken in NYC is exhilarating.

I love to hear foreign languages.

Their musicality.

To hear the wonderful sonorities of Spanish being spoken. To hear Russian, and to be able to recognize it. To be able to recognize Polish, which I hear spoken very often in my neighborhood.

To guess at other languages that I hear being spoken during my peregrinations.

To me, it’s just another reason to WELCOME IMMIGRANTS. If only others — some do, but I fear, and in fact know, it’s far too few — could see this.



—  Roger W. Smith

    August 2018







photos taken in Manhattan by Roger W. Smith




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New York sunlight (and New York joys)




“The grass that grows by absorbing the life-giving energy of the sun becomes [in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass] 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





My longtime friend Bill Dalzell, who for many years lived in New York City, introduced me to so many things when I first came to New York in the late 1960’s.

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. A glass of beer in a bar was 20 cents, and usually every third beer was on the house. 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.





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.) 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. I am fascinated by the quality of sunlight in different seasons and at different times of the day.



— Roger W. Smith

   July 2018







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


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






photographs by Roger W. Smith



1 - Woodside, Queens

Woodside, Queens



2 - Murray Hill

Murray Hill



3- Madison Square Park

Madison Square Park



Madison Square Park 2-23 p.m. 7-27-2018

Madison Square Park



4 - Central Park

Central Park



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Central Park



5 - Riverside Park

Riverside Park


6 - Inwood Hill Park

Inwood Hill Park


7 - Inwood Hill Park

Inwood Hill Park




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Isham Park



All of these photos were taken in New York City.






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



1-hopper-early-sunday2 - Cape Cod3 - stoop, summertime4- Cape Cod evening5- seven am6 - house by sea





Edward Hopper’s birthplace



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Edward Hopper birthplace, Nyack, NY

“What is the grass?”




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photograph by Elisabeth van der Meer



A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it
is any more than he.


I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
green stuff woven.


Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?


Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe
of the vegetation.


Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the
same, I receive them the same.


And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.


Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and
from offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps,
And here you are the mother’s laps.


This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.


O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths
for nothing.


I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men
and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring
taken soon out of their laps.


What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and


They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait
at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . . and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and


— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass







I wish to thank Elisabeth van der Meer for sharing the above photograph with me, and for giving me permission to post it.



— Roger W. Smith

   July 6, 2018


the ferry








photographs by Roger W. Smith







The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings—on the walk in the street, and the passage over the river;
The current rushing so swiftly, and swimming with me far away;

Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d;
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood, yet was hurried;
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships, and the thick-stem’d pipes of steamboats, I look’d.

I too many and many a time cross’d the river, the sun half an hour high;
I watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls—I saw them high in the air, floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,
I saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies, and left the rest in strong shadow,
I saw the slow-wheeling circles, and the gradual edging toward the south.
I too saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water,
Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams,
Look’d at the fine centrifugal spokes of light around the shape of my head in the sun-lit water,

Look’d on the haze on the hills southward and southwestward,
Look’d on the vapor as it flew in fleeces tinged with violet,

The scallop-edged waves in the twilight, the ladled cups, the frolicsome crests and glistening,

Now I am curious what sight can ever be more stately and admirable to me than my mast-hemm’d Manhattan,
My river and sun-set, and my scallop-edg’d waves of flood-tide,
The sea-gulls oscillating their bodies, the hay-boat in the twilight, and the belated lighter*;

Flow on, river! flow with the flood-tide, and ebb with the ebb-tide!
Frolic on, crested and scallop-edg’d waves!

Gorgeous clouds of the sun-set! drench with your splendor me, or the men and women generations after me;
Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers!
Be firm, rail over the river, to support those who lean idly, yet haste with the hasting current;
Fly on, sea-birds! fly sideways, or wheel in large circles high in the air;
Receive the summer sky, you water! and faithfully hold it, till all downcast eyes have time to take it from you;
Diverge, fine spokes of light, from the shape of my head, or any one’s head, in the sun-lit water;
Come on, ships from the lower bay! pass up or down, white-sail’d schooners, sloops, lighters!


— excerpted from Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”



* A lighter is a flat-bottomed barge used to transfer cargo to and from ships in harbor.



— Roger W. Smith

   January 2018

the awfulness of Lincoln Center: photo essay



Yes, awful!

See my previous post


“Lincoln Center; the ruminations of a ‘genius’ ”



The following photos of Lincoln Center and the immediate neighborhood/surrounding streets prove my point.



— Roger W. Smith

   December 2017; updated February 2018






photographs by Roger W. Smith





Ugliness and inaccessibility go hand and hand. The Broadway steps leading to the plaza, which is usually nearly empty of live people.





A desolate block right behind Lincoln Center: the east side of Amsterdam Avenue between 66th and 67th Streets. There are two large retail stores on this block that are empty with for rent signs — an indicator that rents are too expensive and the neighborhood cannot support commercial establishments (hence, they are going out of business).





An “inviting” “arts center”? Entrance to Lincoln Center at 65th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway.





Welcome! The steps from Amsterdam Avenue.





Warm and fuzzy. Entrance passageway, with 67th Street on left.





Ramesses II would have been proud.





A public friendly space? (“All are welcome.”)





62nd St between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues. (Lincoln Center on left.)  Note the vibrant street life.





Happy clusters of people congregate like flocks in front of Lincoln Center.




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art befitting an “arts center”



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an enchanted forest







Addendum: The construction of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, which was opened in 1959, destroyed a neighborhood on New York City’s West Side. The project encompassed 53 acres and involved demolishing 2,100 households as well of hundreds of businesses. Something very similar happened with the United Nations headquarters, which created another urban dead zone with no vitality or street life. Jane Jacobs put it best when she described Lincoln Center as “a piece of built-in rigor mortis.”

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.







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






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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York Avenue at 90th Street









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





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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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





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