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Brief Friends

From the May 2021 Print Edition

The sight of old men huddled around outdoor tables, drinking coffee with one another, is familiar. In Italy, Turkey, Tunis, Buenos Aires, even fading parts of New York City—what are they talking about, in crumpled jackets and faded caps? Mostly, according to my limited eavesdropping (and . . . . Continue Reading »

Music That Is Never Heard

From the April 2021 Print Edition

One of the most haunting images I know of comes from the last days of James ­Simon, a German Jewish composer who perished at Auschwitz. Having survived ­Theresienstadt, he and others were sent off to their final destination. Witnesses say that the last time they saw him, Simon was waiting for the . . . . Continue Reading »

Unsolitary Grandeur

From the March 2021 Print Edition

“The mountains are my church.” So said an old parishioner of mine who tended cattle in the Wet Mountains of Colorado. He meant this hackneyed comment (you can still see it on bumper stickers) to explain his infrequent Sunday visits. I recalled it as I embarked with my family on a long December . . . . Continue Reading »

Seeing the Whole

From the February 2021 Print Edition

A few years ago, I visited Albi, a small town in southern France famed for its Cathedral of Saint Cecilia. Constructed of the rose-colored brick typical of the region, the building was begun in the thirteenth century, about a hundred years after the Albigensian Crusade against the region’s . . . . Continue Reading »

L’affaire Voltaire

From the January 2021 Print Edition

Americans know little of Voltaire. French high-schoolers, by contrast, know him the way we once knew Thoreau and Whitman, before social justice eclipsed history as the rationale for our syllabi. Like America’s Liberty Bell, Voltaire’s tomb in Paris’s Panthéon is still visited by school groups . . . . Continue Reading »

Down to Earth

From the December 2020 Print Edition

Gertrude Stein characterized the young men and women emerging from the wreckage of World War I as the “lost generation.” I had Stein’s words in mind while reading Vera Brittain’s memoir, Testament of Youth, published in 1933. The book is a classic of the period, written from the . . . . Continue Reading »