re Boston and environs as compared to NYC



I just completed a trip to Massachusetts, including the city of Boston and the Greater Boston area.

While stuck in traffic several times (too many), both in Boston proper and on the surrounding highways, I started to muse, first, about why the traffic is so bad, and, secondly, about my old stomping grounds — namely, Massachusetts, where I grew up — vis-à-vis New York City.





Boston and, notably, Massachusetts towns, are charming, quaint and pristine. Clean. Well kept. Picturesque.

New England has a beauty that, in my opinion, is hard to match.

But, I feel that my adopted region, the New York City metropolitan region, grubby as it is, is superior.






My trip got me thinking about Boston and Greater Boston traffic. Believe it or not, it’s WORSE than New York City.

And, about the reasons this is so.

I think a major reason is that Boston is mostly a car city and the surrounding towns are totally based on automobile transportation. It’s a car culture; people don’t walk. Unlike New York City. But Boston has a good public transportation system, one might say. The T branches out to and reaches the exurbs. It’s well run and commodious.

True, it would seem, but the New York City public transit system handles much more people every day, a much larger segment of the population. A significant percentage of persons in the Tri State area (New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut) rely on public transportation instead of cars.

And, in Boston, one sees a lot less cabs and far fewer buses than in New York City.

Bottom line, public transportation is much less of a factor, plays an almost insignificant role, comparatively speaking, in the overall Boston and Greater Boston areas. New York lives, breathes, and dies by its public transit system. There is no alternative for many city dwellers.





Boston shuts down at the end of the business day. There is no one on the sidewalks at night, except for a few popular night spots, and hardly anyone after they close. New York never shuts down.

Boston proper and the surrounding towns have a lot less small stores. You will see a sub shop and perhaps one deli (except they don’t seem to call them delis) in the center of town. But, there are zillions of delis in New York city — they’re everywhere. In Boston proper, it’s hard to find one.

In Boston, it’s very noticeable, and highly significant, how little pedestrian traffic there is compared to New York. Perhaps that’s why there are less small stores to accommodate a passerby who might want to buy a Coke or bottled water. True, the central city sections such as Copley Square are crowded with pedestrians during the business day. But it’s much different later.

After normal business hours, beginning with the early evening, there is very little pedestrian traffic in Boston. Many downtown blocks seem virtually deserted. The city shuts down after the business day ends.

So different from New York. Stroll through Manhattan or the outer boroughs at almost any hour of the day, including the wee small hours, and you will find that very few streets are deserted. There is, naturally, less pedestrian traffic at 2 a.m. But, it is an appealing and actually comforting fact that there is almost always someone on the street. In the case of Manhattan, most neighborhoods never shut down.





Boston’s “culture” can’t hold a candle to New York’s. There is a plethora of cultural activities in New York year round, as everyone knows. I have never been a theatergoer, but, while Boston and Cambridge might have a theater or two, New York has scores of them showing plays and musicals all the time.

The amount of music one can find being performed in New York City on practically every day of the week year round is astonishing. Besides Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, there is a mind boggling assortment of musical performances and venues to choose from. Plus, there are innumerable amateur musical performances (including a wealth of music performed in churches) and recitals by student ensembles and so forth. The same is true of other cultural events, and also lectures.

If one goes to a museum or the public library, one can pick up a brochure listing events for a given period. One finds that museums offer many concerts and so do the libraries, believe it or not. Plus, lectures on everything from art to classical music, and, in the case of the library, literary and other cultural topics. (See example below.)

And, of course, New York is the film capital of — if not the world — indisputably the USA.





Massachusetts has Cape Cod. I don’t think the Hamptons on Long Island can come close.

But, while visiting, I got lost on back roads on the Cape and drove around for a half an hour or so trying to find my way back to a major route. During this time, I had the opportunity to observe the Cape as a year round resident might experience it. It’s still a nice place with good restaurants, a great, breezy climate, beautiful beaches and spots, and so forth. But, it has in many places become indistinguishable from your standard suburbs. Nothing special. Streets which are often cul-de-sacs. Nice but typical houses. Boring in a way that only the suburbs can be. The typical suburban pattern of streets that lead nowhere.





New England does have nature; it is preserved remarkably well. Beautiful old trees seemingly everywhere, arching alongside and over thoroughfares. They and their abundance are splendorous. Stately old trees notable for their grandeur, the proper names of which I do not know (elms?) but wish I did. There’s nothing like it in New York City or surrounding areas.





I have a sneaking suspicion, but cannot prove it and do not know it to be fact, that Boston might be more segregated than New York City. Patterns of de facto segregation in terms of housing still persist in New York City’s outer boroughs and can still be seen, to a lesser extent, in Manhattan as well. But, I believe that New York has always been more liberal with regard to race than Boston.



— Roger W. Smith

   June 2017







I was at the Morgan Library last weekend on Saturday, June 10 to view two excellent exhibits on Thoreau and Henry James.

I picked up a free booklet: “The Morgan / Calendar of Events / Spring & Summer 2017.”

As an example of the cultural richness found in NYC, here’s a sampling of what’s offered (besides the museum’s exhibitions).





three concerts of lieder and chamber music of Schubert, designed to elucidate certain
aspects of the works as well as entertain; pre-concert lecture/discussions

poetry reading by Eileen Myles with reception

novelist Jay McInerney and Italian artist Francesco Clemente discussing films that have influenced their works

symposium of art historians discussing Old Master drawings and prints

lecture on Henry James’s taste in painting

lecture on the so called “Indian drawings” of Rembrandt

lecture by two noted biographers of Henry James and his sister on James’s relationship to the visual arts

lecture on Thoreau by Laura Dassow Walls, author of a forthcoming biography of Thoreau

screening of three acclaimed films based on Henry James novels

screening of a new (2017) documentary film about Emily Dickinson

screening of a new (2017) documentary film about Thoreau, with a post-screening discussion with the director/producer

Posted in general interest, personal views of Roger W. Smith | Tagged , | Leave a comment

a trip to Massachusetts (and its disappointing aftermath)



During the month just ended, I took a trip to Massachusetts to attend the American Literature Association’s annual conference in Boston, and also to take photos of personal interest from the point of view of my personal history and also from a genealogical angle.

I grew up in Massachusetts, in the Greater Boston area.

Practically all of my relatives came from Massachusetts. My father’s ancestors, on his father’s side, emigrated from Scotland to Boston in 1872. His relatives on his mother’s side emigrated during the colonial period and lived mostly in Essex County, north of Boston, and subsequently in the Greater Boston area.

My mother’s relatives were originally mostly from Cape Cod; some of my relatives continue to live there.

The following is a trip itinerary with photographs.




Continue reading

Posted in Cambridge, Massachusetts, genealogy, my family, my recent ancestors (granparents, great-grandparents, etc.), photographic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thoreau’s last journal




From age 20 on, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) copiously kept a journal in which he recorded his observations about nature and his thoughts. The journal provided the grist for some of his finest writings.

The following is from “This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal,” an exhibition currently at The Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan.







“What’s in Thoreau’s Last Journal?”



“Here are a few of the things Thoreau did in November 1860 and wrote about in his final notebook:”

Built a new fence in his family’s yard

Weighed the merits of imported and native fruits

Measured acorns, tree stumps, and a raccoon skeleton

Counted the rings in a spruce plank

Studied the history of local berries

Looked up the Abenaki word for “bluets”

Argued that slavery exists wherever a man “surrenders his inalienable rights of conscience and reason”

Imagined a town committed to preserving nature

Analyzed the contents of a crow’s stomach

Cited Pliny, Gosse, and Herodotus

Paid tribute to the slowness of Nature

Examined an owl and a salamander a friend brought over

Mused on the extreme flexibility of a cat’s body

Copied extracts from Carolina Sports by Land and Water

Heard the twitter of spring’s first bluebird

Logged childhood memories of his 80-year-old Aunt Sophia

Talked to friends about slavery, turtle eggs, and the price of wood

Noticed the river’s level after the snow had melted

Listened to sparrow in March (“the finest singers I have heard yet”)

Observed water bugs, frogs, butterflies, and mouse droppings

Took a train trip to Minnesota

Watched a kitten scratch its ear for the first time



–Roger W. Smith

  June 2017







Note: Thoreau died on May 6, 1862.

Philip Henry Gosse (1810-1888) was an English naturalist and well known writer.





Continue reading

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

was Walt Whitman “politically corrected”?




As noted in a recent New York Times article

“In a Walt Whitman Novel, Lost for 165 Years, Clues to ‘Leaves of Grass

By Jennifer Schuessler

The New York Times, February 20, 2017



Zachary Turpin, a graduate student at the University of Houston, has recently discovered — which is to say found and published — the manuscript of a “lost” Walt Whitman novel.

The novel, Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, was published anonymously by Whitman as a serial in a newspaper, The New York Atlas, in 1858. The novel has been published online by The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review and in book form by the University of Iowa Press. I have read it already. It’s a good read.

While I was reading the novel and subsequently, I had the following exchange of emails with Mr. Turpin, whom I have had the good fortune to since meet.



— Roger W. Smith

    June 2017



See emails below.








Roger Smith to Zachary Turpin

March 13, 2017

Dear Mr. Turpin,

I am currently reading “Life and Adventures of Jack Engle.” What a find!

A real reading pleasure for a Whitman lover such as myself.

On the third line of page 53, I noted the words, in quoted dialogue: ‘the world to some’

Shouldn’t it be the world to come?







Zachary Turpin to Roger Smith

March 13, 2017




Roger — Many thanks for your email! It should indeed be “the world to come”—good eye.

Call it a coincidence, but a friend and fellow Whitmanian just emailed me to say the same thing, shortly after you. Great minds. Anyway, I’ll forward this along to the University of Iowa Press, since I know they’ll want to hear about it.

Thank you for your kind message.






Roger Smith to Zachary Turpin

May 30, 2017



Dear Zack,

Hello. I consider it my good fortune to have met you briefly at the American Literature Association conference on Thursday.

I am still wondering about a couple of words on page 95 of “Jack Engle”: “… the reader must supply it from his or her imagination.”

It’s bothering me — perhaps it shouldn’t. But, I keep wondering, is that what Whitman really wrote? Seems very uncommon for a nineteenth century writer, even one such as Whitman who could be considered to have been ahead of his time on many (but not all) issues, to have used “him or her.” But, then it’s entirely possible that he did. Or, did a zealous copyeditor change “his” to “his or her”?





Zachary Turpin to Roger Smith

May 30, 2017




Yep, I hear you, it seems uncommon—but then Whitman was anything but common for his era. His egalitarianism extended to men and women right from the very first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855):

To pass among them . . to touch any one . . .. to rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a moment … what is this then?

And again:

Each has his or her place in the procession.

Three more instances appear in the 1856 edition:

Each of us limitless—each of us with his or her right upon the earth,…..

They bring none to his or her terminus, or to be content and full,….

Of authors and editors I do not know how many there are in The States, but there are thousands, each one building his or her step to the stairs by which giants shall mount.

And so on. There are many others. 1881:

Who holds duly his or her triune proportion of realism, spiritualism, and of the aesthetic or intellectual,….

Or in 1892, in “A Backward Glance O’er Travel’d Roads”:

The reader will always have his or her part to do, just as much as I have had mine.

And that’s just in his poetry! His journalism, reminiscences, interviews, and fiction contain more.

So, I think one of two things may be at issue here. Either (1) this construction came about earlier than it may seem to have, or (2) when it comes to even the smallest gender-equality issues, like pronouns, Whitman was still more conscientious and forward-thinking than his contemporaries. Or both, of course!

In any case, I bet you could write a very interesting piece on the “his or her” construction in 19th-century American writings, especially in its relation to democratic poetics.






Roger Smith to Zachary Turpin

May 30, 2017





You’ve convinced me.








Roger Smith to Zachary Turpin

June 3, 2017




I told you I would get back to you again.

I am finally getting around to it.

I want to thank you again for you reply, which was very informative and so thorough. Much appreciated.

I now see that Whitman was way ahead of his time when it came to “gender inclusive” grammatical constructions. A very cumbersome way to put it. Sorry.

I guess I should have known better when it comes to the poet who wrote:

Think of womanhood, and you to be a woman;
The creation is womanhood;
Have I not said that womanhood involves all?
Have I not told how the universe has nothing better
than the best womanhood?

I guess what one might say that, for someone completely original and also possessing intuitive genius, as was true of Whitman, grammatical norms don’t necessarily account for that much. He was capable of inventing his own “grammar” when it suited him.



Continue reading

Posted in editorial work, literature, Walt Whitman | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

a great letter (from an elementary schooler)



“Here is a letter written in 1992 by a ten-year-old girl to her parents. Countless girls write such letters from camp every summer. … We can make no claim of fame or masterpiece status for Elizabeth’s letter. This is but a scrap of writing, a page grown from the welter of human life like a leaf on a tree, born with countless others to be borne away by winter’s first blast. Elizabeth repeats herself, she misspells, and she’s focused on home, not art. Yet Elizabeth is sublime, and her letter glows with life; Shakespeare would be hard put to surpass her girlish passion. No matter how inexpert or unknown the pen, such writing will never die.” — Michael Lydon, Bad Writing (Patrick Press, 2001)


(Note: I have quoted from Michael Lydon’s book to corroborate the point of this post, but I have not posted the girl’s letter, discussed by Lydon, here. The letter which the title of this post refers to is posted below and is a different one.)



“The best letters are often not ‘literary.’ Simplicity and directness are keys. Plain, homely, everyday details make a letter a live piece of human tissue instead of a bloodless specimen.” — Roger W. Smith, “A Walt Whitman Letter; and, What Can Be Inferred from It about Letter Writing in General”







Posted below is a letter I received about fifteen years ago from my older son’s best friend. He was spending the summer in Poland with his grandparents, who had a farm in Poland. He emigrated to the United States in the 1980’s and met my son in the first grade. After receiving his letter, I sent my son’s friend some books to help relieve his boredom. He told me later that he  reed and enjoyed them.

I feel that my son’s friend’s letter illustrates perfectly the points about letter writing made by Michael Lydon and myself, as enumerated in the above quotations.

What I liked and appreciated most about the friend’s letter were his use of telling details and his directness, as well as his honesty.



— Roger W. Smith

   May 2017








Adrian's letter to Roger_Page_1.jpg

Adrian's letter to Roger_Page_2


Posted in epistolary (letter writing as a genre; letters as examples of good writing) | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“Hávamál” (“Sayings of the High One”; translated from Old Norse)




‘Sayings of the High One’



“Hávamál” (“Sayings of the High One”) is contained in the Codex Regius, a collection of Old Norse poems from the Viking age.

Codex means an ancient manuscript in book form. The Codex Regius (Royal Book) is an Icelandic codex in which many Old Norse poems are preserved.

“Hávamál,” itself a combination of different poems, is largely gnomic, presenting advice for living, proper conduct, and wisdom.

It is believed that the Old Norse poems preserved in the Codex Regius date from the ninth century.  They were written down and compiled in the thirteenth century.

Downloadable text of selections from “Hávamál” is provided above as Word document.



— Roger W. Smith

   May 2017







A relative of mine who saw this post today commented on it.

I wrote the following email in reply to him.

The email explains how I came to read and admire Hávamál.”


— Roger W. Smith





Dear ________:

I recently wrote a tribute to my former medieval history professor, Norman. F. Cantor, at

In my senior year at Brandeis University, I took a two semester proseminar with Professor Cantor. Each student had to give a paper in a given class on a given date, which would be followed by discussion.

I proposed the subject “frontier societies” to Cantor. The “frontier” regions of Europe then (early Middle Ages) were regions of Europe to the north and west.

He was a very supportive, yeah saying prof — he said to me “great topic.”

Professor Cantor was like a walking bibliography — seemed to have read everything. He said that I should take a look at the Codex Regius, which had just been published in English translation.

The Brandeis library had the book.

From it, I was introduced to the “Sayings of the High One,” which were at the front of the book. They blew my mind.



Posted in literature, Old Norse Poetry, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, “Platero y yo”




Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1968; b. Italy; d. USA) was an Italian composer. He was regarded as one of the foremost guitar composers of the twentieth century.

Posted below as a downloadable music file is his musical setting of the Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez’s book in the form of a prose poem Platero y yo (Platero and I). The book is a simple, semi-autobiographical account about a poet and his donkey. It evokes the region of Andalusia in Spain and the town of Moguer, the author’s birthplace.

The musical setting by Castelnuovo-Tedesco was originally published in 1960 as “Platero y yo, per voce recitante e chitarra.” In other words, it was intended to be performed by guitar player with a narrator speaking the text. It is performed here on guitar without narration.







It consists of ten sections:


1 – Platero

2 – Golondrinas (Swallows)

3 – Angelus

4 – Retorno (Return)

5 – El Pozo (The Well)

6 – La Primavera (Spring)

7 – El Canario Vuela (The Canary Flies)

8 – La Arrulladora (Lullaby)

9 – Melancolia (Melancholy)

10 – A Platero en el cielo de Moguer (To Platero in the heaven of Moguer’s heaven)



— Roger W. Smith

    May 2017




Continue reading

Posted in Juan Ramón Jiménez (Spanish poet), my favorite music | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment