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Letters & Essays: V-Z

Letters & Essays of the Day

Letter from Lafayette Square

By Lawrence Jackson

One Sunday in February my mom telephones at eight in the morning to remind me that the bishop of Maryland is coming to Saint James at Lafayette Square, the African American Episcopal church where I was baptized and confirmed. There will be a single service at nine thirty. I debate the shower and then don the uniform that hangs on the back of the chair: pants and a sweater with a shirt inside it. My boy Nathaniel rises easily, despite having even less reason to be keen than I had at his age. In my high school class there were a dozen regulars; younger children were taught in the basement of the church, and the upper grades were instructed in a row house on Lafayette Avenue, on the border of Sandtown. Today, he is often the lone Sunday school student in his grade. Most of the time, he sits by my side for the service.

My younger son, Mitchell, remained with his mother in Georgia when I returned to Baltimore with Nathaniel after our divorce. Our new life is in a stone cottage in Homeland, one of the city’s prestige neighborhoods, which was carved out of the estate of a slaveholding family named Perine in 1922 by the Roland Park Company. Homeland’s quarter-acre lots and neo-Georgian houses were near the top of the market even before the company fortified the neighborhood with racially exclusive covenants. My son, studying at the Jesuit high school I attended thirty-five years ago at the dawn of racial integration for my family, lives near white classmates he has known since middle school, and is connected to extracurricular life in a way that I had half desired but had not imagined possible for myself. He casually accompanies young women who are not African American to weekend events, which often require being chauffeured from a pre-party to a dance, and even to an after-party in a hotel ballroom with a DJ and games involving glow sticks. And where in my experience tobacco, beer, and wine were always in a trunk or a pack, his cohort seems in loose confederation with every “mothers against” group.

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.