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

Walt Whitman; eyewitness to Lincoln’s second inaugural

 

 

Walt Whitman -NY Times 3-12-1865 pg 5

 

 

The attached is a PDF of an article by Walt Whitman in The New York Times of April 12, 1865.

Note the hints (foreshadowings) of Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” “The Western Star, in the earlier hours of the evening, has never been so large, so clear; it seems as if it told something, as if it held rapport indulgent with humanity, with us Americans.”

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   July 2021

a witness at the Nurernberg trials

 

 

Bunky Morrison letter 2-17-1946

 

Posted here is a letter to my father Alan W. Smith (“Smitty”)  and my mother, Elinor Handy Smith, from my father’s good friend “Bunky” Morrison, dated February 17, 1946.

My father served in the U.S. Army from April 1942 until January 1946 with the rank of First Lieutenant. Both my father and his friend Bunky (who was from Boston) lived in Massachusetts. My father served in Panama.

Also posted here below is a photo of my father with his Army buddies taken in New York City in September 1942. Bunky Morrison is the furthest to the right; to his left is my father.

 

– posted by Roger W. Smith

   June 2021

 

Photo taken in New York City, September 1942. “Bunky” Morrison to far right. Alan W. Smith on his left.

 

 

 

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

 

забаллотирована

 

 

Если же власть категорически примет ультиматум ‒ то и этот выход не устраняет, а только отсрочивает ее падение. Достаточно будет водвориться начаткам правового строя, появиться одной вольной газете, ослабеть террору… и на другой день власть будет забаллотирована или устранена небольшой группой заговорщиков, опирающихся на общее сочувствие народных масс. Такова трагическая дилемма, перед которой очутилась власть, дилемма, в обоих случаях сулящая ее падение. С той лишь разницей, что в первом случае мы пойдем к ее ликвидации путем, способным при достаточной гибкости власти растянуться на 4-6 лет, во втором ‒ «революционно-анархическим» путем. Только война или какая-нибудь мировая катавасия могут спасти ее…

If the government categorically accepts the ultimatum, then this withdrawal does not eliminate it, but only delays its fall. It will be enough to establish the rudiments of a legal system, to appear in one free newspaper, to weaken the terror… and the next day, the government will be voted out or eliminated by a small group of conspirators, relying on the general approval of the masses. Such is the tragic dilemma that the government faces, a dilemma that in both cases promises its downfall. The only difference is that in the first case, we will proceed to its elimination by a route that can, with sufficient flexibility on the part of the government, be prolonged for 4-6 years, in the second it will be “revolutionary-anarchic.” Only war or some kind of world disaster can save it …

— П. А. Сорокин, Современное состояние России (P. A. Sorokin, The Contemporary Condition of Russia), 1922

 

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

 

I was working on this passage today as a co-translator of the above-named work; and I got to thinking what a rich language Russian is. It has continued since my college days to fascinate and challenge me.

 

… только отсрочивает ее падение

only delays its fall

отсрочивает (otsrochivayet) … delays

 

и на другой день власть будет забаллотирована ….

and the next day, the government will be voted out …,

забаллотирована (zaballotirovana) means “voted out” (as in voted out of office) … Russian makes such intricate, complex, often long, words German-style, with prefixes and endings adding complexity and specifying grammatical function and meaning.

 

… при достаточной гибкости власти растянуться на 4-6 лет

… with sufficient flexibility on the part of the government, be prolonged for 4-6 years

растянуться (rastyanut’sya) … be prolonged (passive/reflexive with perfective prefix)

 

And …

Россия ненавидит ее сейчас сильнее, чем старый режим в самые бесславные времена последнего. Да и за что любить ее какому бы то ни было классу! Исполнила ли она хотя бы одно из своих заманчивых обещаний?

Russia hates it [the government] now more than it did the old regime in the most inglorious times of the latter. And why should any class love it? Has it fulfilled at least one of its alluring promises?

заманчивых (zamanchivykh), alluring

 

Она дала вексель на постройку нового идеального общества. Вместо этого в крови и пожаре построила душную казарму, нищую, разбойничью, деспотическую, в которой население задыхалось и вы ушную мирало.

It gave a promissory note for the construction of a new ideal society. Instead, in blood and fire, it built a suffocating barracks, impoverished, thievish, despotic, in which the population suffocated and died out.

разбойничью (razboynich’yu), thievish

задыхалось (zadykhalos’), suffocated (literally, gasped); perfective passive verb

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 2021

The main purpose of reading is not to ingest or process information.

 

 

The following is a recent comment on the website

cas d’intérêt

https://casdinteret.com/

April 28, 2021

 

One of the outcomes of our computer-based lives is that fewer people are doing sustained reading. In fact, many people who once were avid readers complain that they just don’t enjoy reading as much, get frustrated when they have to read closely for specific information, and don’t read as long as they once did. All of that is science fact discovered by real live scientists doing sciencey things.

Moreover, though, is that there are some of those wacky scientists who think it might be better for us since it more closely matches how we evolved to acquire and process information. Reading is unnatural, so sustained concentration is not required much outside of it. Now, that we don’t have to read as much anymore, people are losing the habit.

One thing all that truncated more to the point writing does for us, though, is make it possible to access more information in a shorter amount of time.

It’s a fascinating modern world we live in, isn’t it? But, I still prefer books to e-readers, newsprint to online papers, and sustained reading. I just wish there was more time for it.

 

Roger W. Smith, response:

I hope I don’t sound snide. I too prefer print books to e-books — in fact, I don’t like e-books (my sons seem to). But I disagree with several points here, or their implications. Yes, reading is an acquired skill, but one that is acquired early by most children. To nitpick: To me, it is not “unnatural” (I may be misconstruing what you meant). It is very relaxing and pleasurable to curl up with a book. And, also for me, the main purpose of reading is not to ingest or process information — it is something else, basically, aesthetic enjoyment (often) of good writing and being able to immerse myself in thoughts of great minds. To me, the only kind of reading is “sustained reading” — page by page. It is by definiiton a slow process, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I am talking about the reading of BOOKS.

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

  April 30, 2020

true Christianity

 

 

The jurors had left the courtroom by the time Mr. Chauvin was handcuffed and led away, but when Mr. Mitchell saw video of him being taken into custody, he said he felt compassion for him. “He’s a human too,” he said.

“I almost broke down from that,” he said. “We decided his life. That’s tough. That’s tough to deal with. Even though it’s the right decision, it’s still tough.”

— “Derek Chauvin Juror: ‘We All Agreed at Some Point That It Was Too Much’; Brandon Mitchell, a basketball coach, says video of George Floyd’s death and prosecution medical expert witness were crucial evidence,” By Joe Barrett and Deena Winter, The Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2021

 

Brandon Mitchell was one of four blacks on the Chauvin trial jury.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

    April 2021

the music of languages

 

This morning.

Russian among the barbers and employees of the barber shop. Spanish, spoken rapidly and with a distinct “New York” accent, on the sidewalks.

Only in New York.

 

– Roger W. Smith

April 10, 2021 (my father’s birthday)

 

Hemingway

 

 

I dutifully watched the three-part Ken Burns documentary “Hemingway” on PBS this week.

At times, I felt restless and wished the segments would end. But I learned a lot from the series, and the comments of critics and Hemingway biographers were illuminating.

Learning more about Hemingway’s life, his struggles as a writer, his failings as a person and husband, his devotion to this craft, his times was not a waste.

That said, something came to me at the end of the series tonight.

Why have I never particularly cared for — perhaps never cared, really — for Hemingway? Because, it struck me, his writing is monotonous and “anti-intellectual.” It does not engage the mind.

I read primarily for intellectual stimulation and enrichment. Words do have a powerful emotive aspect. I take delight in them. Embedded in passages of narration or description. And, yes, there is a rhythm to good prose, an authorial voice, the effect that good music also has, a cadence. But in the case of Hemingway, that cadence, that rhythm — unvarying, continual — becomes for me monotonous and unfulfilling. At times, if not often, it seems to be an affectation.

Compare the following “specimens” from Hemingway and two great writers — one American and the other English: Herman Melville and Daniel Defoe.

 

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

 

When I came back to the front we still lived in that town. There were many more guns in the country around and the spring had come. The fields were green and there were small green shoots on the vines, the trees along the road had small leaves and a breeze came from the sea. I saw the town with the hill and the old castle above it in a cup in the hills with the mountains beyond, brown mountains with a little green on their slopes. In the town there were more guns, there were some new hospitals, you met British men and sometimes women, on the street, and a few more houses had been hit by shell-fire. It was warm and like the spring and I walked down the alleyway of trees, warmed from the sun on the wall, and found we still lived in the same house and that it all looked the same as when I had left it. The door was open, there was a soldier sitting on a bench outside in the sun, an ambulance was waiting by the side door and inside the door, as I went in, there was the smell of marble floors and hospital. It was all as I had left it except that now it was spring. I looked in the door of the big room and saw the major sitting at his desk, the window open and the sunlight coming into the room. He did not see me and I did not know whether to go in and report or go upstairs first and clean up. I decided to go on upstairs.

I was alone in the room. It was cool and did not smell like a hospital. The mattress was firm and comfortable, and I lay without moving, hardly breathing, happy in feeling the pain lessen. After a while I wanted a drink of water and found the bell on a cord by the bed and rang it, but nobody came. I went to sleep.

When I woke I looked around. There was sunlight coming in through the shutters. I saw the big armoire, the bare walls, and two chairs. My legs in the dirty bandages stuck straight out in the bed. I was careful not to move them. I was thirsty and I reached for the bell and pushed the button. I heard the door open and looked and it was a nurse. She looked young and pretty.

‘Good morning,’ I said.

‘Good morning,’ she said and came over to the bed. …

 

— Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell To Arms

 

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

 

By this time it blew a terrible storm indeed; and now I began to see terror and amazement in the faces even of the seamen themselves. The master, though vigilant in the business of preserving the ship, yet as he went in and out of his cabin by me, I could hear him softly to himself say, several times, “Lord be merciful to us! we shall be all lost! we shall be all undone!” and the like. During these first hurries I was stupid, lying still in my cabin, which was in the steerage, and cannot describe my temper: I could ill resume the first penitence which I had so apparently trampled upon and hardened myself against: I thought the bitterness of death had been past, and that this would be nothing like the first; but when the master himself came by me, as I said just now, and said we should be all lost, I was dreadfully frighted. I got up out of my cabin and looked out; but such a dismal sight I never saw: the sea ran mountains high, and broke upon us every three or four minutes; when I could look about, I could see nothing but distress round us; two ships that rode near us, we found, had cut their masts by the board, being deep laden; and our men cried out that a ship which rode about a mile ahead of us was foundered. Two more ships, being driven from their anchors, were run out of the Roads to sea, at all adventures, and that with not a mast standing. The light ships fared the best, as not so much labouring in the sea; but two or three of them drove, and came close by us, running away with only their spritsail out before the wind. …

Any one may judge what a condition I must be in at all this, who was but a young sailor, and who had been in such a fright before at but a little. But if I can express at this distance the thoughts I had about me at that time, I was in tenfold more horror of mind upon account of my former convictions, and the having returned from them to the resolutions I had wickedly taken at first, than I was at death itself; and these, added to the terror of the storm, put me into such a condition that I can by no words describe it.

 

— Daniel Defoe, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe

 

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

 

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

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? …

Now, when I say that I am in the habit of going to sea whenever I begin to grow hazy about the eyes, and begin to be over conscious of my lungs, I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger. For to go as a passenger you must needs have a purse, and a purse is but a rag unless you have something in it. Besides, passengers get sea-sick—grow quarrelsome—don’t sleep of nights—do not enjoy themselves much, as a general thing;—no, I never go as a passenger; nor, though I am something of a salt, do I ever go to sea as a Commodore, or a Captain, or a Cook. I abandon the glory and distinction of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I abominate all honorable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever. It is quite as much as I can do to take care of myself, without taking care of ships, barques, brigs, schooners, and what not. …

No, when I go to sea, I go as a simple sailor, right before the mast, plumb down into the forecastle, aloft there to the royal mast-head. True, they rather order me about some, and make me jump from spar to spar, like a grasshopper in a May meadow. And at first, this sort of thing is unpleasant enough. It touches one’s sense of honor, particularly if you come of an old established family in the land, the Van Rensselaers, or Randolphs, or Hardicanutes. And more than all, if just previous to putting your hand into the tar-pot, you have been lording it as a country schoolmaster, making the tallest boys stand in awe of you. The transition is a keen one, I assure you, from a schoolmaster to a sailor, and requires a strong decoction of Seneca and the Stoics to enable you to grin and bear it. But even this wears off in time. What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom and sweep down the decks? What does that indignity amount to, weighed, I mean, in the scales of the New Testament? Do you think the archangel Gabriel thinks anything the less of me, because I promptly and respectfully obey that old hunks in that particular instance? Who ain’t a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea-captains may order me about—however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way—either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other’s shoulder-blades, and be content.

Again, I always go to sea as a sailor, because they make a point of paying me for my trouble, whereas they never pay passengers a single penny that I ever heard of. On the contrary, passengers themselves must pay. And there is all the difference in the world between paying and being paid. The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us. But being paid,—what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!

Finally, I always go to sea as a sailor, because of the wholesome exercise and pure air of the fore-castle deck. …

 

— Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

  April 7, 2021