Thursday, October 4, 2012


I ventured to the opposite edge of the roof yesterday evening and looked down and up. I usually don't walk on that side as I don't want to disturb our nice next door neighbors, with whom we share a landing; feet on the roof sound loud in the apartment below. But they have told us that we are quiet as mice (very tall mice) and I am also bribing them with leaves from the rooftop salad bar. They have christened them Henry Street Leaves.

So, these are some neighboring spaces. Or The Lands of Squandered Opportunity. Starting with the exception, and the most respectable, up there, with the trees, and climbers growing over the black pergola, is Nora's elegant rooftop. It's Coco's rooftop, too. Coco would like me to say that. Coco is a pretty cat and goes up on a leash. I never see anyone on the roof beside them under all that wooden pergola. Unused.

Above. Two doors to our right and the north is the backyard of a rental townhouse (like ours). Great use of space. And I see a lot of knotweed on the other side of that fence.

And now, next door:

This, above, was yesterday. The land of striped mosquitoes.

Two generations of owners live in the building - the old man, Italian, on the ground floor, with his wife - their grown children on the parlor level. Don't think warm and cuddly. I used to greet him, the old man, and he would look straight at me and ignore me. For years. He once let me enter their building so I could reach our rooftop from theirs in a rainstorm - it was pouring and I was wet and locked out. I went back to thank him the next day with some home made jam and he shouted at me to go way. Interesting. He also used to stomp about on the rooftop next door and fling disused beer bottles that a tenant in their building left up there, onto our roof,  shattering them. I am not a fan. They stapled their roof hatch shut and so now their tenants can't get to the roof. Or out that way if there is a fire. And there are fires.

And this was the scene today! No pool.

Above these back lots, 'cos gardens they ain't, are the little balconies:

Below us, the ground floor apartment  of our building: 

One door south, to the left, is the backyard of Raccoon House. Thus named because of the raccoon that used (?) to live on the top floor, entering and leaving through the non existent top floor windows. The owner lives on the parlor floor. A lot of knotweed. I needn't travel far in spring for my shoots...So close, and yet so far.

Our neighbor two doors south. The white flowers are snakeroot. What killed Mrs Lincoln's cow. Allegedly. He is a naturalist* so perhaps they don't garden.

*Uh, I need to clarify, judging by some Facebook comments: by naturalist I mean not one who wanders starkers, but one versed in nature, who studies natural life: insects, plants, birds, and the like.

And Raccoon House's other property, under construction and stalled and deep in lawsuits, for years, an old coach house.

I am not sure what exactly I would do with a back lot.

But in a word: More.


  1. Thanks for the peek into the hidden green spots in our neighborhood. As a gardener (and a semi-naturalist), my heart aches for all that space with too many weeds (and possibilities). Oh each their own.

  2. If only they realised just what could be achieved in all that space - as you say - what a waste.

  3. You are lucky to have naturalists in the backyards. We have a naturist. And it's not pretty.

  4. I can't imagine living this way - the way so many people in the cities live. I've always lived in the country & the views out my windows are such an important part of my life. Getting out in my yard & woods are a pretty big part of every day too - working with my flowers & garden.

    It doesn't matter where you live though, people are the same. I have neighbors with acres of land that do nothing with it as well & neighbors who do amazing things with all that grand space. I'm in the middle, some years I get a lot done & some years not much at all. It's hard to keep up with it all.

  5. Love this voyeuristic sneak peak into the backyards of New York...we certainly don't have views like this in Sydney! Your old-man neighbours sounds like a right...git!

  6. Henry James wrote that good writers are those "on whom nothing is lost." That's you, Marie. Nothing escapes your eye (and lens), and we are the richer.

    The old Italian guy reminds me of an apt description conveyed by a staff officer of General Phil Sheridan : "His gentlemanly qualities are few."

    And like the old man, Sheridan never improved.

    Been around lots of those types in my work. But they are the losers, not we (you) who seek a more elegant relationship with our fellow travelers..

  7. That was fun! What an interesting brick wall that is until you look through or over it.

  8. This post is a little like watching "Rear Window" in blog post form. Cool.

  9. Really enjoyed a wander thru your neighbours' outside spaces - thanks Marie, very interesting...! :)

  10. Sort of sad they have not added a colorful cushion, a painted wall, or even a flowering shrub to soften their view.



  11. It would seem a little invasive to be sharing their spaces (however ugly) without their permission on the internet. These are not public parks.

  12. When we bought our apt, which we picked for the terrace, we were lucky to inherit the trees that lived there. We have filled in with herbs, flowers and vegetables and also looked in wonder at unused roofs in our neighborhood. BUT I will say we spend a lot of time and money (we do all the work ourselves) on our "garden". When we go away, I have to have a garden sitter. It is not everyone's love as it is mine. It is too bad that community gardens have waiting lists while these spaces languish. Perhaps "Adopt a Yard"?

  13. Possibly, oh brave Anonymous, but with one exception these are all rental properties, with impermanent residents, and it's not as though I tag them with names and addresses. Just as you are not tagged with name and address :-)

    Mostly, though, I am interested in backyards as a state of mind. Which speaks to Julie N's observation, too. The disparity between front and back of house was one of the first things that struck me about the US. The front looked neat and nice and great, and often the back was a disaster. Even the siding on houses was different at the back. Because no one could see the back, and presumably the owners couldn't "see" it, either... English and Dutch back gardens, by contrast, even modest, are usually used and gardened in. Even if it's a few rows of vegetables (That's why I love catching trains into cities, anywhere - you get to see the Back).I think it's fascinating.

    Of course, I generalize, broadly.


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