No idea why, but recently Connecticut Public Radio has started running This American Life in the 11 O’clock hour–perfect for my drive home. As I turned on the radio tonight Sarah Vowell was beginning to tell the story of Revolutionary War hero Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de la Fayette, aka General Lafayette.
Sarah (I don’t know her, but I’ll be socially informal and use her first name) has a quirky voice that sounds like it’s been plucked from an unsuspecting young girl. Her writing quirkily matches her voice.
General Lafayette wintered in a hut at Valley Forge “though he could have easily afforded to wait for spring in a mansion the size of Newark,” while “Alexander Hamilton wrote him letters that read like mash notes.”
You don’t hear a lot about Lafayette any more. Jackie Kennedy christened a submarine in his name but that was around 45 years ago¹. There was an ill fated electronics stores with his name too.
Maybe we just don’t feel warm and fuzzy toward the French–even those French who helped free us from British tyranny. It could also have to do with my tragic 7th grade French class debacle. Merci Mademoiselle Gobstein. Who can tell?
Back to Sarah.
It was a great seven minutes with more info on Lafayette than I’d heard before. This was a character profile more than a straight bio. If you get a chance, punch it up. The Lafayette story is around 3/4 into this podcast. Just listen for the quirky voice of a little girl.
¹ – In my life as a radio actor I appeared on a show where another actor, playing Mrs. Kennedy, said, “I christen the Lafayette. Je d’baptiste Lafayette.” I remember that line being spoken as if it were yesterday.