Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Loving & Longing: Lafayette and Gravy

It turns out that biographers fall a little bit in love with their subjects while writing about them, or so said Marc Leepson at today's Library of Virginia lecture.

"So if I sound a little gee-whizzy, just listen to the facts," he joked earnestly about his book "Lafayette: Lessons in Leadership from the Idealist General," before admitting that he'd made up that word.

He was honest enough to admit that in trying to write a concise biography of a man who lived 77 years and accomplished a tremendous amount, he'd left out the leadership lessons promised in the subtitle, adding them in only after his editor pointed out the omission.

Born into a family of warriors, Lafayette's father was killed by the British when the boy was two, ensuring a life-long hatred of the Brits. He had an arranged marriage at 14 and by 19 set sail on his own ship to come to this country, studying English on the way over. Months later, he was writing letters in English.

His accomplishments during the American Revolution are substantial and well-documented, but I learned of his work with Jefferson on trade agreements with France as well as his lifelong interest in abolitionism.

I know I personally would have found the man fascinating because a) he established a salon when he returned to France, inviting visiting Americans as guests to discuss ideology and philosophy and b) for all the time he spent away from his wife, he always corresponded with her in a loving and longing manner.

Lafayette helped storm the Bastille and even got one of the keys which he later gave to George Washington; it's still at Mount Vernon today. Leepson spoke of the thrill of seeing the letter to GW from the marquis sending the key.

After the French Revolution, he was imprisoned in Austria for five years, the last two of which he was joined by his wife and daughter. Willingness to spend time in a dungeon shows true familial devotion.

When released, he was invited by President Monroe to visit the U.S. and a ship was dispatched to bring him here, where he was greeted like a rock star (which sounds better than war star). His impression and legacy were such that 30 states have cities, towns and counties named after the man (hello, Fayetteville).

And in one of those instances where we can take pride in being Americans, the man who had served without pay for his extraordinary efforts during the Revolution was awarded $200,000 by the U.S. government at a time when he was virtually penniless.

I left Leepson's lecture with a new appreciation of Lafayette, a clear understanding of why the American flag flies over the man's Parisian grave 24 hours a day and a growling stomach.

I picked up a photographer friend on a street corner (Madison and Grace, should it matter) and he chose 821 cafe for our mid-day meal. We got prime parking directly in front of the restaurant, so you know it's spring break.

Walking in, I ran into another photographer friend (and the source of my profile photo); bonus friends are showing up everywhere lately. Today it was amid the many mimosas at 821.

My friend ordered a big, old breakfast (eggs, hashed browns, fruit, biscuit and sausage gravy)while I went the BLAT route (bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato). While we awaited our food, a Brentburger went by (one-pound burger between two grilled cheeses) and I turned to see its recipient, knowing before I did so that it had to be my friend.

He's a big guy, but that didn't stop me from giving him a hard time about his plate o' excess. The funny part was that our food arrived and when we turned around a moment later to check on his progress, there was one bite left. How can a person eat one pound minus one bite of beef that fast?

We, on the other hand, took our time with our eats and my friend was kind enough to share part of his biscuit with me, but a part sans gravy. I slathered it with enough butter to choke a horse and enjoyed it after my sandwich while he extolled the virtues of gravy. Like I need to be sold.

If I decide to write my memoir in the third person like Lafayette did, there will be just such an acknowledgement.

"Karen loved her gravy, whether on fried chicken or pork chops. One would almost think she had been born a Southerner."

Maybe all it takes is being born south of the Mason-Dixon line. And that I was.


  1. sorry K you'll never be "from" the South..but you should've been. You're doing jus' fine here. [cw]

  2. No, I'll always be a come-here Southerner despite a Richmond-raised father.

    Thanks for the support!