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Letters & Essays: V-Z

Letters & Essays of the Day

The Mirror Test

By Melissa Febos

1.

 

always squeeze bread to make sure it’s fresh; but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?; you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?

—Jamaica Kincaid, “Girl”

 

In the eighteenth century, “slut’s pennies” were hard nuggets in a loaf of bread that resulted from incomplete kneading. I imagine them salty and dense, soft enough to sink your tooth into, but tough enough to stick. What could a handful of slut’s pennies buy you? Nothing—a hard word, a slap in the face, a fast hand for your slow ones.

A slut was the maid who left dust on the floor— “slut’s wool”—or who left a corner of the room overlooked in her cleaning—a “slut’s corner.” An untidy man might occasionally be referred to as “sluttish,” but for his sloppy jacket, not his unswept floor, because a slut was a doer of menial housework, a drudge, a maid, a servant—a woman.

A slut was a careless girl, hands sunk haphazardly into the dough, broom stilled against her shoulder—eyes cast out the window, mouth humming a song, always thinking of something else.

Milking the Moon

By Eugene Walter

Eugene Walter was one of those personages who turn up in life and leave, well, an indelible impression in which all personal characteristics—manner, speech, dress and so on—are memorably distinctive. The first time I saw him was in the spring of 1952—an apparition standing in the doorway of the cramped Paris Review office on the rue Garanciere. He was wearing a faded linen suit, the kind plantation owners traditionally wore, at least in the movies, set off with a white panama hat.

A War of Religion?

By Simone Weil

Men have often dreamed of putting an end to the problem of religion. It was the dream of Lucretius: “How many crimes have been inspired by religion!” (1). The Encyclopedists thought they had done it, and in fact their influence made itself felt in every country and across every continent.

And yet there is scarcely a human being now in the world who does not experience every day in his own inner life the reverberations of a great single religious drama that has the whole planet at its theatre.

 

Sketches of Paris

By Edmund White

One of our neighbors is the famous couturier Azzedine Alaia, the minuscule “architect of the body’ as he’s often called because he creates his garments directly on his models, whereas someone like Christian LaCroix dashes off a sketch which he tosses at a trained team of seamstresses who interpret and realize even his most far-fetched inspirations. Alaia works sometimes late into the night, his mouth full of pins, as he drapes and pulls and turns and twists and dances around the dais like Pygmalion dressing an already transformed and fully alive Galatea.