New York City: Greenwich Village and Chicago the Musical


For months, I’ve been planning on visiting my brother, Tom, and his girlfriend, Gabi during my spring break.  They moved to Brooklyn during the Fall and from what they’ve told me it looks like a cool place.

On Thursday,  I took the 3:15pm train from South Station in Boston which arrived in New York’s Penn Station at 7:21pm, where Tom and Gabi picked me up. Gabi made reservations at this restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen called Bea, a great little place with a theme of black and white photographs and old movies.


Tom and Gabi at Bea


I had the macaroni and cheese; Gabi had the margarita pizza with pancetta; Tom had the pork dumplings. We shared some of our food with each other and it was delicious. As I was going to the bathroom, they were playing La Bamba by Richie Valens, one of my favorite songs of the 1950s.

I would definitely recommend Bea. The decor, food, and music were all amazing.

Gabi got a text from her friend Eva, saying that she was going to perform to a bar in Brooklyn called “Flowers for all Occasions.”  We took the subway to the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, where the bar is situated.  “Flowers for all Occasions” is exactly the type of place I wanted to go to when I decided to go to Brooklyn: a weird little, hole-in-the-wall, hipster dive bar. It is decorated like an elementary school art classroom (silver foil, cardboard traffic cones, and paper mache monster heads on the ceiling; Christmas lights and splotches of paint on the walls),  weird music is played, and it has the highest concentration of people with mullets that I’ve ever seen. It is an interesting place, very artsy and crazy and I would love to go back.


Tom and Gabi at Flowers for all Occasions


Eva Performing

After breakfast on Friday, Tom, Gabi, and I took their dog,  Tyson, for a walk in a cemetery near where they live. When we were done with the walk, Gabi and I took a train downtown to find the nearest TKTS kioks. Tom had work, so he and Tyson returned home. At TKTS, Gabi and I tried to figure out what show we wanted to see. We ruled out Anastasia, our first choice, because it was getting mediocre reviews. The tickets for Carousel, our second choice, were too expensive, so we decided to see Chicago. After getting our tickets and walking around for awhile trying to figure out what we were going to do, we stopped at an Au Bon Pain to get a snack and use the bathroom.

Tom and Gabi have another apartment that they rent through Air B&B and Gabi had to return home and it get ready for guests, so I crashed on the couch for about an hour, watching Youtube videos and cuddling with Tyson. When Gabi was done, we took the subway to the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan. We walked through Washington Square Park and under the Washington Square Arch.


Feeling Small

Gabi had a gift card for a restaurant chain called Bareburger, so we went to one in Greenwich Village for lunch. I had a hotdog in a pretzel bun which was absolutely wonderful but the service at Bareburger was terrible. Our waitress was a total space case. After lunch, Gabi showed me this bookstore called “The Strand” which has racks and racks of every book you could possibly think of. I felt like Belle during that scene in Beauty and the Beast where the Beast gives her his massive library.


I’m in Heaven

I bought A Game of Throne, the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series The Last Olympian, the last book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, some pins for my backpack, and a pair of Abraham Lincoln socks for my friend Jasmine.

Our next stop was a nail salon called “Think Pink” where Gabi got a manicure, then a consignment shop called “Beacon’s Closet” where I bought a pair of tights with a black seem a long the back which looks like stockings from the 1940s. Gabi was looking for a pair of shoes to wear with an outfit for a wedding and got these really nice black heels. We looked in an Urban Outfits until it was time for our six o’clock dinner reservation at a restaurant called Rosemary’s, where Gabi sometimes work. Rosemary’s is truly a gem; the food was fantastic and the service was exemplary. I had the rigatoni in marinara sauce and the tiramisu for dessert, both of which were wonderful.

Our tickets were for eight o’clock and we barely made it to the Ambassador Theater in time for the show. We walked in during the open number “All That Jazz.” I’ve seen the movie version of Chicago a number of times but I haven’t watched it in a while, so I’ve almost forgotten how good the music is. Gabi and I thought that the actress playing Roxie had great comedic timing but we didn’t much care for the actress playing Velma. The actor playing Amos, who sings “Mr. Cellophane” one of my favorite songs in the score, had the best voice in the main cast. One of the problems we had with this production was that we couldn’t always understand what the actors were saying. For the most part, we enjoyed Chicago. 


Where’s my exit music?

I’ve been to New York City many times but I’ve usually left before five in the evening. One of my favorite things about this trip was that I was able to stay out fairly late and experience some of New York City’s nightlife. Today I talked to Gabi about the possibility of me returning again in May after this semester is over.


A Review of The Demigod Files and The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan


The Demigod Files is a book of short stories which takes place between The Battle of the Labyrinth (the penultimate book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series) and The Last Olympian (the series finale). It contains three different mini adventures that Percy and his friends had between the events of the main story: Percy Jackson and the Stolen Chariot (where Percy teams up with his rival Clarisse, daughter of Ares, to retrieve her father’s missing chariot), Percy Jackson and the Bronze Dragon (where Percy and his capture the flag team take on a threat to Camp Blood), and Percy Jackson and the Sword of Hades (where Percy, Nico, and Thalia are sent on sent on a mission by Persephone to find her husband Hades’s stolen sword).

My favorite was Percy Jackson and the Bronze Dragon. An important part of the story is the budding romance between Charles Beckendorf (son of Hephaestus) and Silena Beauregard (daughter of Aphrodite) which is meant as a foil to that of Percy and Annabeth. Beckendorf and Silena have been crushing on each other for several years and at the end, he finds the courage to ask her out the camp’s Fourth of July fireworks. Beckendorf drops some hints to Percy that Annabeth likes him which Percy, being the seaweed brain that he is, does not quite get. Annabeth asks Percy to the fireworks in passing while gloating that her team beat Percy’s in capture the flag, proving Beckendorf’s point and the point of nearly two decades worth of pop-punk love songs: when girls act bitchy and treat boys like crap, it means that they like them and boys can’t resist girls who are awful to them.

I wasn’t originally going to read The Demigod Files but since I usually do two books in a review and there are only five main books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, so I decided to include this companion piece to make an even number. There is usually a jump of several months to a year between each book and this an interesting way fill in some of the gaps in the story. For example, Percy’s adventure with Persephone and the sword of Hades is mentioned in The Last Olympian.

As the war with Kronos escalates towards its climax, Percy finds time to spend with his friend Rachel, who complains that her father wants her to attend finishing school in the fall. This leads to the main problem I’ve had with Rachel as a character: Just when I start to like her or at least tolerate her, she does something to annoy me. Rachel is an artsy tomboy so finishing school is not her thing but can we as a society realize that the “you don’t have to act like a lady” message no longer applies since nobody is pressuring girls to act like ladies these days. In fact, I would argue the opposite.

Due to the pressure of supposedly being the demigod prophecized to save the world from Kronos, Percy enjoys spending time with Rachel because she allows him to feel like a normal kid for a while. He was he likes Rachel because she is less high maintenance than other girls (e.i. Annabeth).  My reaction was thus:


When Beckendorf from Percy Jackson and the Bronze Dragon shows up to bring Percy along on another mission, Rachel has the audacity to kiss Percy before he goes. The opening scene of The Last Olympian is found in The Demigod Files as a sneak peek, so I had to suffer through this scene twice.


my reaction to the Perchel kiss

Beckendorf is killed during the mission, leaving his girl-friend Silena broken-hearted. Despite this tragedy, Camp Half-Blood prepares for its final battle with the forces of Kronos, who are sending the titan Typhon to destroy New York, and try to figure who among them is the spy that is feeding information to their enemies.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is when it goes deeper into the backstory of Nico Di Angelo. He and his sister Bianca are the half-blood children of Hades and Maria Di Angelo, the daughter of an Italian diplomat and grew up around World War II. Because of the two world wars, Zeus decided that half-blood children of the big three gods (Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades) were too powerful and swore off having any more children (Zeus and Poseidon ended up breaking their promise and that’s how Percy and Thalia came about) and that Nico and Bianca should be destroyed. Hades wanted to keep his children safe from both the war and Zeus’s attempts to kill them after their mother was killed in an explosion, and so sent them to live in the Lotus Hotel, where time moves much slower, hence why they’re both children sixty years later.

Hades and Persephone are the closest thing Greek mythology has to a happy and functional couple and are everyone’s mythological OTP,  so it’s disappointing to hear that Hades screws around on Persephone from time to time during the six months of the year that she’s away.

giphy (1)


What I imagine was Hades’s reaction when Persephone confronted him about cheating on her with Maria Di Angelo

Luke, the series’s main antagonist, is slowly being taken over as the host for the resurrected Kronos and is conflicted by the evil that is consuming him. Like with most bad boys, the only thing that can save him is the love of Miss Right. Despite everything, Annabeth has been sticking up for Luke and hoping to save him throughout the series because he was her big brother figure/ crush growing up. She admits to Percy that Luke visited her prior to the events of The Last Olympian and basically asked her to run away with him. I can’t tell what creeps me out more: the fact that Luke is the host for an evil titan or the fact that Luke is about twenty-three while Annabeth is sixteen. Hermes, Luke’s father, blames Annabeth for not “saving” his son. Luke redeems himself in the end by killing himself to prevent Kronos from returning.

Among the other casualties of the final battle is Silena, the bereaved girlfriend of Beckendorf, who is revealed to have been the spy in the half-blood ranks.  She was seduced to the enemy side by Luke. Once Silena started going out with Beckendorf, Luke threatened to hurt him to keep her on his side. Silena also gets a redemption arc; she dies fighting for Camp Half-Blood during the final battle.

But the biggest priority of The Last Olympian: Percy and Annabeth must finally admit their feelings for each other and become a couple. Percy finally realizes that Annabeth loves him when she gets stabbed trying to protect him. As a reward for saving the world, Percy is offered immortality by his father but refuses because he wants to live a normal life (be with Annabeth). Rachel is chosen to become the next Oracle of Delphi which means that she has to remain a virgin, so she is removed as an obstacle. Annabeth is pretty much like:


The book ends with Percy and Annabeth officially becoming a couple and taking Beckendorf and Silena’s place as the camp sweet-hearts.  I was fangirling so hard that I went and texted my friend Jasmine: “the Percabeth ship has sailed. This is not a drill.”

This will not be the end of my Percy Jackson reviews since I will be reading the sequel series Heros of Olympus next.

A Review of The Titan’s Curse and The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan


Roughly a month in my experience with Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, I can safely say I’m Percy Jackson trash. Lately,  I’ve been in one of those moods where I don’t feel like doing much other than laying in bed, listening to pop music from ten years ago and reading fanfiction on Wattpad and that fanfiction has been exclusively Percy Jackson related. I’ve wasted plenty of time over the past few weeks watching fan videos on Youtube where people chose songs that remind them of the various characters or set clips from the movies to pop music. I’ve been told to stay far away from the film adaptations because they are terrible and from what I’ve  seen in the videos, I imagine that they are each an hour and a half of Logan Lerman and Alexandra Daddario giving each other fuck-me-eyes.

The Titan’s Curse opens with Percy and his true companions Annabeth and Grover, along with their new friend Thalia (the daughter of Zeus who has spent the last two books as a pine tree) rescuing a brother and sister named Bianca and Nico Di Angelo, who are later revealed to the half-blood children of Hades. During this quest, our heroes have a run-in with the forces of  Kronos, the titan who has been amassing an army of monsters and renegade half-bloods throughout the series in order to overthrow the Olympian gods. Percy and Co. are aided in the battle by the goddess Artemis and her band of huntresses but Annabeth is captured by the bad guys and held captive by Luke, the half-blood son of Hermes who has defected to Kronos’s side and serves as Percy’s main enemy.  Later on, word gets to Camp Half-Blood that Artemis has gone missing while hunting a creature prophesied to be powerful enough to bring down the Olympians. Our Heroes, Percy, Thalia, Grover, Bianca, and Artemis’s lieutenant Zoë Nightshade (which is an awesome name by the way) set off to rescue Artemis and Annabeth, our distressed damsels.

I was a bit confused at one point in the story. One of the plot points is that Percy and Co. have to rescue Artemis and Annabeth by winter solstice because that’s when the villains are to perform a sacrifice. At first, I thought that Luke and the other bad guys were going to kill Annabeth as part of a virgin sacrifice. Annabeth’s virginity is brought up at several points in the story. Percy finds out that she is considering joining Artemis’s band of maiden huntresses and he takes it about as well as one would if they heard that their crush might take a vow of chastity. The title The Titan’s Curse refers to how Annabeth is tortured by having to take over Atlas’s burden of holding up the sky which nearly crushes her to death (which is nothing compared to how badly she’s crushing on Percy). Artemis chews Luke out for harming one of the maidens she is supposed to protect (b.t.w I’ve read several fanfics where Annabeth is raped by Luke).  Because it is brought up that Annabeth is a maiden, I got the impression that a virgin sacrifice might be where the story is going but the intended sacrificial victim turns out to be a cute and seemingly harmless sea creature that Percy befriended earlier.

One of the effects that the book had on me is that I now want to visit the Hoover Dam since it is one of the stops that Percy and Co. make on their quest. There’s a running joke about how dam sounds like damn (“I have to go the dam bathroom” and “Let’s go to the dam snack bar and get some dam burritos.”). The Hoover Dam is also where Percy meets Rachel, a girl who can see beyond the “mist” which prevents mortals from being able to see monsters and other mythological stuff and will become more important in later books. We also get to meet Annabeth’s father, Professor Chase, a military history buff (like my own except my dad is into the Civil War while he is into World War I) who gets an awesome scene where he swoops in to the rescue the kids in a World War I Sopwith Camel airplane.

The previously mentioned Rachel returns again at the beginning of The Battle of the Labyrinth, the fourth book in the series when Percy finds out that she is set to attend the same high as him and the two of them take on some epousi cheerleaders. Annabeth is threatened by the presence of Percy’s new artsy, red-headed friend. My feelings about Rachel can be described as this: she seems like a cool person and has an awesome name and I don’t want to hate her but she needs to go away and let Percabeth (my OTP) be together.


My reaction to Rachel

Kronos’s forces are planning on using Daedalus’s labyrinth to launch a sneak attack on Camp Half-Blood and to have Daedalus build a host body for Kronos. Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Nico (who still has a beef with Percy from when his sister Bianca was killed in the last book) descend into the labyrinth to find Daedalus before Kronos’s cronies can get to him. Among their stops along the way is Hephaestus’s forge (underneath Mount St. Helen’s), where Percy and Annabeth share their first kiss and Percy is shot out of a volcano. He ends up on the island of Ogygia where he is nursed by to help by the nymph Calypso (the brunette Veronica to Annabeth’s blond Betty and Rachel’s redheaded Cheryl Blossom). Like with Odysseus before him, Calypso develops feelings for Percy and offers him immortality if he should stay with her. It is implied that Percy’s sojourn at Ogygia is one of the obstacles that Aphrodite promised that she would put in the way of Percy and Annabeth’s love when she encountered Percy in the last book. But Percy returns to his friends to his their quest. Another of their stops on their trip through the labyrinth is an encounter with the sphinx, which is a hilarious dig at America’s standardized test system.

The Battle of the Labyrinth has a definite environmental message. Grover has been searching for the missing god Pan throughout the past three books. Pan appears towards the end of the book but he is sickly and dying because the wilderness he is supposed to protect is disappearing. When Pan dies, he passes on his spirit to Grover and the rest of the group and gives them the task of protecting what is left of the wild. 

The series is really starting to get juicy and interest and I can’t wait to see what happens next.


Bag Girl Reviews: The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordon



A common theme in my reviews is my ability to be unfashionably late when it comes to culture and media. Today’s case in point: Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. My history with these books goes back a decade to when I was twelve. The middle school I went to would give each of the students a book at the end of each school year to read during summer vacation; the summer between sixth and seventh grade the book was The Lightning Thief, the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I started reading it but never finished for some reason probably because my twelve-year-old self was uninterested because the protagonist was a boy and there was no romance or pretty dresses. Flash forward ten years: In recent months, one of the people I follow on Pinterest has been pinning a lot of Percy Jackson related content which grabbed my attention and piqued my interest in the series. I then found an audiobook of The Lightning Thief on Youtube and had it on while I was doing work. 

Strange things have been happening to troubled, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson, culminating in him killing his literal harpy of math teacher during a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After a run-in with some more monsters during a family vacation to Montauk New York, Percy finds himself at Camp Half-Blood, a training camp for the demigod children of Greek gods and claimed as the son of Poseidon, one of the three most powerful Olympians. When Zeus’s lightning bolt is stolen and Percy is framed for the theft, he must travel cross-country to find the stolen lightning bolt and return it back to Olympus with the help of Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena and the requisite haughty, know-it-all token girl/future love interest, and Grover, the satyr assigned to look after Percy and be the book’s comic relief.

The prime suspect in the case of the missing lightning bolt is Hades and our three heroes travel to Los Angeles where the entrance to the underworld is fronted by what looks like a record company (cue record companies steal souls jokes). But Hades turns out to be a red herring since the culprit is revealed to be Ares, god of war, acting under the instigation of Kronos the titan, which was a relief since I think that Hades gets a bad rap enough as it is. I enjoyed the adventures that Percy and co. have during their quest such as an encounter with Medusa and a reference to the Lotus Eaters segment of the Odyssey (it takes place in a luxurious  Los Vegas resort because of course, it world; Waking Up In Vegas by Katy Perry was playing in my head). The character of Percy Jackson is entertaining and likable; Rick Riordan’s first-person narrative perfectly captures the voice of a smart-ass twelve-year-old boy.

The Sea of Monsters picks up a year after the beginning of The Lightning Thief. After a run in with some dodgeball playing, cannibal giants, Percy Jackson and his new friend Tyson return to Camp Half-Blood which is in trouble because the magical pine tree (known as Thalia’s Tree because it marks the spot where a girl named Thalia died trying to protect the camp) that creates a protective field around its borders has been poisoned and is dying. The only thing that can heal Thalia’s Tree is the mythical golden fleece which can be found on an island in the sea of monsters (the Bermuda Triangle), guarded by the cyclops Polyphemus of The Odyssey fame. Percy has been having dreams telling him that his friend Grover is being held captive by Polyphemus and finds out that he has a half-brother, Tyson, who is revealed to have been a cyclops, therefore another son of Poseidon, all along. Despite the fact that the quest to go to the Sea Monsters has been assigned to their rival Clarisse, the daughter of Ares, Percy, Annabeth, and Tyson set out to find the golden fleece and rescue Grover.

One of my favorite stops on this quest is when Percy and Co. join forces with Clarisse, who has commandeered a resurrected Civil War ironclad manned by undead Confederate soldiers, who are hostile towards Percy because he’s a northerner, which I got a kick out of because my father is a Civil War buff. Percy and Annabeth later on wind up on the island of the sorceress Circe, where Percy is turned into a guinea pig (Odysseus’s men are turned into pigs by Circe in the Odyssey and Circe says that she switched to guinea pigs because they are cleaner and easier to manage) and Circe tries to recruit Annabeth as her apprentice. The two escape from the island by stealing the Queen Anne’s Revenge (Blackbeard and his crew are among Circe’s captives), which is pretty awesome if you ask me.  The Sea of Monsters is another enjoyable adventure.

Reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series made me wonder which Greek God would be my parent if I turned out to be a demigod. I took five “Which Greek God are You” quizzes and “Camp Half-Blood Parentage” tests online and four out of five came up as Athena which fits because blondness, bookishness, and stubbornness are notable traits of mine and those I share with Annabeth, the series’s heroine (one mark in its favor is that it is one of the few stories where the blonde girl is smart). But with my luck, it could also be Hestia, who is the goddess of the hearth and home who spends her days at home tending the sacred fire of Mount Olympus which sounds like a typical day in my life when I’m not away at school except my sacred fire is my house telephone.

What often surprises me about the tween fiction genre is the harshness of the worlds its authors create, especially when you look at how negligent the adult characters looking after the very young protagonists are.  The administration of Camp Half-Blood is a prime example of this. A directorship position at the camp is used as a punishment (Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry, was sentenced to be head of the camp as punishment for chasing after one of his father Zeus’s old girlfriends; this leads to another question: how could the gods possibly think that leaving Dionysus in charge of a group of children would be a good idea?), so those in charge have little interest in the well being of their charges. Only Chiron, the centaur who acts as a mentor and trainer for the main characters, seems to have the best interest of the campers in mind. The most morally questionable occurrence at Camp Half-Blood is the sending of teenagers and pre-teens on life-risking quests. My suspension of disbelief is taxed the most by the fact that Percy and his companions are saving the world at an age when I was lucky if my parents let me go to Friendly’s by myself. It makes me wonder if my twelve or thirteen-year-old self could have handled a task such as retrieving and returning a stolen lightning bolt or gold fleece if the need ever arose.


Downton Abbey: The Exhibition


Lady Rose’s Pink Evening Dress

The present I got from my mom this year for my birthday/Christmas was a ticket to the Downton Abbey Exhibition in New York City. I learned about it on Thanksgiving while I was watching the National Dog Show and it was advertised frequently during the commercials. This morning, my grandfather drove Mom and me to Perth Amboy, where my mom’s friend Kathy lives. We went to the Perth Amboy train station from Kathy’s house. I have to say that Perth Amboy is a total shit-hole; everything looks rundown and is covered in trash, specifically the train station.

We, me, my mom, Kathy, and her daughter Kimberly, took the train to New York City’s Penn Station. From there, we took a cab to where Downton Abbey: The Exhibition is held. We were about an hour early, so we went to a nearby Prêt à Manger for a snack. It was bitingly cold today. Standing outside on the platform at the Perth Amboy train station or in line to get into Downton Abbey: The Exhibition were more than I can handle. At Prêt à Manger, I drank a cup of Earl Grey to help myself warm up.


Downton Abbey Servants Uniforms

The exhibition began with a short video of Mr. Carson, Downton Abbey’s butler, welcoming us and saying, in the politest way, that he finds our interest in seeing the servant’s quarters, and the clothing we are wearing, odd. Its first floor is set as “downstairs”: the world of the servants; the kitchen, the staff dining room, and Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes’s sitting room. There were displays of props and costumes from the show such as servant’s uniforms. Mr. Carson’s desk, and Mrs. Hughes’s keys.


The Kitchen and Uniforms Belonging to Daisy and Mrs. Patmore


Servants Dining Room and Outfits Belonging to Anna and Mr. Bates


Office/ Sitting Room and Outfits Belonging to Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes

My mom badly twisted her ankle a few weeks ago and so was pushed in a wheelchair by Kathy today. One of the guides helped us out when we took the elevator up to the second floor. I thanked him for his assistance and said that Mr. Carson would be proud of him. 


Downton Abbey Dining Room

We sat through a video of clips from Downton Abbey which show its central theme of the preservation of tradition in the face of changing times before we went into the second part of the exhibition which was set up as “upstairs”, the world of the aristocratic Crawley family. There were areas set up to look like rooms in Downton Abbey such as the dining room and Lady Mary’s bedroom. Props and costumes such as the Crawley family jewels and the beautiful evening dresses worn by Lady Grantham and her daughters.


Lady Mary’s Bedroom


Countess of Grantham’s Pearl Tiara and Necklace


Flapper dresses worn by Lady Rose, Lady Edith, and Lady Mary


Flapper dresses worn by Lady Mary and Lady Edith


Turquoise and Bronze Evening Dress worn by Lady Mary


Evening Dresses worn by Lady Mary and Lady Edith


Crawley Family Jewels


More Jewelry

My Favorite part of Downton Abbey: The Exhibition was the third floor which was dedicated to costumes from the show. The costumes I liked best were Lady Edith’s beaded blue evening dress, Lady Rose’s presentation gown, and the wedding dresses. Mr. Carson, along with Lord and Lady Grantham, appeared again to bid us goodbye.


Evening Dress Worn by Lady Edith, Lady Mary, and Lady Sybil


Lady Rose’s Presentation Gown


Wedding Gowns Worn by Lady Mary and Lady Edith


Wedding Gown Worn by Lady Edith


Wedding Accessories

Like with a Disney World attraction, we exited through the gift shop. There were two Debrett’s etiquette books that I wanted but they were fifty dollars each and I only had thirty, so I bought a beautiful pair of earrings. Kathy’s son William met us outside of the exhibition and called an Uber to take us to Penn Station. While we were waiting, I took pictures of the costumes in the display windows. 


Dress and Coat Worn by Lady Edith


1920s Evening Dresses


Flapper Dress Worn by Lady Rose

From Penn Station, we took a train back to Perth Amboy.


Lafayette and the Beginnings of America’s Relationship with France


America’s relationship with France has always been complex. France is our traditional ally, on our side from the beginning and our supporter in World Wars I and II and yet we often dismiss them as effete, cowardly, fickle, and untrustworthy. This love-hate relationship was cemented during the American Revolution with the arrival of a young French nobleman named Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette.

Born in 1757, the Marquis de Lafayette was a member of one of France’s wealthiest and most distinguished families. His ancestors had established a proud family tradition of service in the French military and his father had died fighting against the British during the seven years war. From his childhood, Lafayette had dreamed of military glory and with the arrival of the American Revolution, he found his chance. Lafayette appears as a major character in the smash-hit Broadway musical Hamilton. In the musical number “My Shot” which serves as an “I want song” for Alexander Hamilton and his circle of young revolutionaries, Lafayette, played by a flamboyant and motor-mouthed Daveed Diggs, tells about what he hopes to get out the upcoming American Revolution: “I dream of life without a monarchy, the unrest in France will lead to ‘ornarchy? ‘Onarchy? How you say, how you say, ‘anarchy?” (Miranda 1:3).  As a young man who had grown up on the ideals of the Age of Enlightenment, Lafayette saw the revolution brewing in the Americas as the embodiment of these ideals and hoped that this fight for liberty would extend to his own country. His words in Hamilton foreshadow how France’s involvement in America’s war of independence is one of the factors that will lead to the French Revolution.

Factions in France were eager to aid the Americans in their war for independence as a way of getting back at Great Britain after France’s disastrous loss in the Seven Years War which resulted in the loss of most of its colonies. Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, France’s comptroller general of finance, warned Louis XVI that the realm’s diminished treasury could not take the strain of another military engagement: “The king knows that situation of his finances. By making premature use of our strengths, we risk the perpetuating of our weaknesses” (Vowell 52). Turgot’s worries would prove to be well founded since the economic collapse caused by France’s involvement in the Seven Years War (after which they were booted out of Canada and Louisiana) and the American War of Independence (on which they spent one billion livres) helped create the social unrest which lead to the French Revolution (52).

Despite Turgot’s warnings, Louis XVI agreed to send money and weapons to the American insurgents but this needed to be conducted in secret as to not alert the British. The plan that Louis and his ministers came up with involved the celebrated playwright Pierre Beaumarchais, who moonlighted as a spy and diplomat, setting up a fake company through which arms deals with the Americans could be transacted (54-5). Beaumarchais was the author of the smash hit plays The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro and because of his celebrity and the fact that he was the mind behind the crafty servant character Figaro, the French government trusted him with covert intelligence missions such as apprehending the cross-dressing secret agent the Chevalier d’Eon (39-40). This would be the equivalent of Lin-Manuel Miranda having a sideline as a C.I.A agent and participating as a go-between in secret government arms deals. Louis XVI publicly banned all French soldiers from volunteering in the American cause. When it came to the attention of his government that the Marquis de Lafayette, a high profile aristocrat, was planning on offering his military service to the Continental Army, they feared that their secret deals with Continental Congress would be exposed to the British and forbid Lafayette from going to America. Being an impetuous nineteen-year-old, Lafayette went behind the backs of the French government, and his own family, and set sail for the thirteen colonies. In Hamilton, Lafayette describes his journey during the musical number “Aaron Burr, Sir” as “I came from afar just to say bonsoir, tell the king: Casse-toi” (Miranda 1:2). Casse-toi roughly translates to  “go away” or “beat it” and carries the same weight as “fuck you.” Lafayette was a very young man when he left to fight for the American cause and his disobedience of orders from the French establishment was essentially an act of youthful rebellion.

Lafayette arrived in the Americas during the summer of 1777 with the promise of a major general’s commission in the Continental Army from Silas Deane, the first American diplomat sent to France. He was not the only French noble to join the American cause but was the most prominent. The American Continental Congress was skeptical of these haughty aristocrats, believing their commitment to the cause of independence was insincere and self-serving. George Washington complained about them on several occasions: “These men have no attachment to nor ties to the country” (Vowell 76), “This evil, if I may call it so, is a growing one; for, from what I learn, they are coming in swarms from old France” he wrote in a letter dated February 20th, 1777, “….Their ignorance of our language and their inability to recruit men, are insurmountable obstacles to their being ingrafted into our continental battalions; for our officers who have raised their men, and have served through the war upon pay that has hitherto not borne their expenses, would be disgusted if foreigners were put over their hands” (76). But Lafayette’s wealth and connections, as well as the fact that he offered to work for free, gained their attention and they granted him the commission he wanted.

At twenty years old, Lafayette was the youngest general in the Continental Army. He distinguished himself militarily at the Battle of Brandywine (September 11th, 1777) rallying his troops into an orderly retreat. Though he was shot in the leg and badly injured, Lafayette refused to leave the battle. George Washington told the doctor who was tending the wounded to take care of Lafayette “as if he were my own son.” This was due to Washington’s paternal affection for the young Marquis as well as a fear that if anything happened to Lafayette, it would jeopardize America’s possible alliance with France, of which Lafayette was symbolic (Bridgers).

Lafayette’s exemplary behavior at the Battle of Brandywine and the Continental Army’s subsequent military successes turned public opinion in France in favor of aiding the cause of American independence (Vowell 127). The Comte de Ségur, a friend of Lafayette’s who would later serve in the French forces in the Americas, wrote: “When Paris heard rumors of the first battles in which Lafayette and his companions did honor to the name of Frenchmen, there was general approval. The very persons who had blamed him the most for his bold enterprise now applauded him. The court showed itself almost proud of him and all the young men envied him. Thus public opinion, turning more and more towards war, made it inevitable and inevitably dragged a government too weak to resist in the same direction” (127).

Benjamin Franklin, America’s senior-most diplomat, had been secretly dispatched to France in 1776 in order to secure an official alliance. The seventy-year-old Franklin’s American contemporaries had inherited that traditional British antipathy towards the French but he quickly took to life in France (Hovd). His reputation as a scientist and philosopher gained him admittance into Parisian high society and his charisma and carefully crafted image of rustic simplicity charmed them, specifically the flirtatious, sophisticated, and well-connected ladies of the Parisian salons. Portraits of Franklin and other Franklin memorabilia were popular with the French public and the beaver fur hats he was known to wear became a much-copied fashion accessory.  Franklin approached the Comte de Vergennes, Louis XVI’s foreign minister, with the prospect of an alliance. Vergennes and the French government were doubtful of the ability of the Continental Army to win against the British, especially after the Continental Army lost the strategically important Fort Ticonderoga on July 5th, 1777) and refused a formal alliance but agreed to covertly send aid. Franklin continued diplomatic negotiations with Vergennes for over a year.

As a person of interest, Franklin was watched by a network of spies and informants set up by the British, which included his own secretary, Edward Bancroft, alternated his loyalties between the British and the Americans. The urbane Franklin wrote of this situation: “It is impossible to uncover the falsity of pretended friends. If I was sure that my valet was a spy, which he probably is, I wouldn’t dream of discharging him for that fact, if, of course, he was a good valet” (Hovd).  A British diplomat was sent to meet with Franklin in Paris to discuss a possible peace. Franklin masterfully played the British and French against each other. His meetings with both sides allowed each to think that he would side with the other. The possibility of an Anglo-American rapprochement forced Vergennes’s hand (Hovd).  After a significant American victory at Saratoga, the French became to take the Americans seriously as a potential ally (Blumer Episode 4).

The treaty of Alliance between France and America was signed on February 6th, 1778 and promised mutually military aid. It was celebrated with a dinner hosted by Vergennes at which Franklin was given the chair traditionally reserved for the British ambassador ( Vowell 176-7). Franklin gloated to an acquaintance: “This alliance will serve to keep the English bull quiet and make him behave himself. His horns have been shortened” (Blumer Episode 4). Louis XVI later regretted the decision to aid the Americans due to the financial demands it made on him. Over a decade later, when he was asked by the Indian leader Tipu Sultan of Mysore for help in his conflict with the British East India Company, Louis wrote “This occasion greatly resembles the American affair of which I never think without regret. On that occasion, they took advantage of my youth, and today we are paying the price for it.”

Louis XVI dispatched Admiral the Comte d’Estaing to North America in April of 1778 with a fleet of twelve ships and four thousands troops. The first joint military effort between the Continental Army and its French allies was the Battle of Rhode Island; the colony of Rhode Island had been under British occupation since 1776. D’Estaing and General John Sullivan were unable to coordinate their plans for the invasion of Rhode Island and d’Estaing chose to withdraw his forces in order to combat a fleet commanded by Lord Richard Howe. Both fleets were damaged by a storm, rendering d’Estaing’s forces unable to assist in the Rhode Island campaign and caused them to retreat to Boston for repairs. John Sullivan and Nathaniel Greene, the generals in charge of the Rhode Island campaign, feared that d’Estaing’s withdrawal would threaten the Franco-American alliance. Sullivan complained to Henry Laurens, a continental congressman from South Carolina, that d’Estaing’s letdown “has raised every voice against the French nation, revived all those ancient prejudices against the faith and sincerity of that people, and inclines them most heartily to curse the new alliance,” (Vowell 201). Lauren’s son, John, wrote to his father: “I saw very plainly when I was at Boston that our ancient hereditary prejudices were far from being eradicated” (205). The American colonies had disassociated themselves from Great Britain only a few years earlier but the distrust and animosity towards the French that they had inherited from their English forebears went as far back as William the Conqueror.  

During his sojourn in the Americas, the Marquis de Lafayette formed close relationships with a number of prominent, and soon to be prominent, Americans, most notably George Washington who, being childless, was known to take a paternal interest in his young aids-de-camp whom he referred to as “my family,” which included Alexander Hamilton (future first US treasury secretary), John Laurens (the son of South Carolina congressman Henry Laurens),  and Benedict Arnold (who would later betray the American cause by defecting to the British ). Hamilton, Lafayette, and Laurens were inseparable friends and were referred to as the “gay (meaning happy and lighthearted) trio.” Washington affectionately referred to Lafayette as “my boy” and Lafayette saw Washington as a father figure. As a favored son of George Washington and a high ranking French aristocrat, Lafayette was an important symbol of the Franco-American alliance. Lord Cornwallis, a British general, vowed to capture Lafayette saying “the boy will not escape me,” (Vowell 223).

In January of 1779, Lafayette returned to France. Despite a brief house arrest as punishment for disobeying the French government, he was treated to a hero’s welcome. “I had the honor of being consulted by all the ministers,” he described, “and of being kissed by all the ladies,” (210). With the help of his devoted and well-connected wife, Adrienne de Noailles, he persistently lobbied for continued French aid of their American allies. Lafayette and Washington affectionately wrote to one another about what life might be like after the war:

“Be so kind, mon cher général,” Lafayette wrote,

“As to present my best regards to your lady and do not tell her, but, I have a wife who is madly in love with you. My feelings for you are too strong that I cannot object to her feelings and indeed all of Europe wants to see you, so much that I have boldly affirmed that after peace is settled, mon cher général, how happy I will be to embrace you again.”

“My dear Marquis,” Washington replied,

“You invited me to visit France after independence. Remember my friend, I do not speak your language and I am too old to learn it. I cannot bear the idea that I would appear awkward and insipid in front of the ladies, especially in front of your young wife. Convey to her in any event, my most tender affection, and don’t be afraid of a rival. Alas, in all of history, there is no example of a young woman preferring an old man if she follows her own real inclinations.”

(Blumer Episode 5)

During this time, Adrienne gave birth to a son named Georges Washington de Lafayette, after her husband’s beloved mentor. Vergennes ordered Lafayette back to America in March of 1780, promising to send along reinforcements.

On July 10th, 1780, a French fleet under the command of the Comte de Rochambeau arrived in Newport carrying six thousand troops. Lafayette expected to be put in command of these troops but command was given instead to Rochambeau, a much more experienced commander. He acted as an interpreter between Rochambeau (who did not speak English) and Washington (who did not speak French) during their first meeting. The cautious Rochambeau was hesitant to commit his because it was still uncertain whether or not the Americas had a chance of winning the war but the French continued to send aid in money, supplies, and troops (Bridgers). Rochambeau was unimpressed with the Continental Army and wrote to the French minister of war:

“Monsieur, the country is ruined. They have nothing, not a single coin. Washington’s army grows and shrinks from moment to moment. Sometimes, he claims to have fifteen thousand troops, sometimes, only three thousand. Send men, money, and ships but do not count on any help from these people.”

(Blumer Episode 5)

Stuck in Rhode Island for reinforcements, Rochambeau’s forces were able to do little except drill. Lafayette wrote to Rochambeau, urging him to take action:

“Monsieur le Comte, here I find myself in the middle of a foreign land with the French army sitting idle in Rhode Island. The talk among the Tories and the English is that France has come to stir up fire but not fight themselves. How am I to answer them when you are guarding an Island that nobody in America cares about. Whatever troops you are expecting next year from France, whatever plans you have for the future will not make up for the fatal harm of your inaction now. We must do battle and my vanity makes me believe that we French can never be beaten.”

Rochambeau responded with a biting put down of Lafayette’s overzealousness and inexperience:

“My dear fellow, I’ll let you in on one of my great secrets learned from years of experience: Frenchmen aren’t invincible. Our troops are easily beaten when they lose confidence in their leaders and they do it very quickly when they see that their lives are being risked to satisfy some general’s personal ambition. Perhaps the warmth of your spirit has, for the moment, gotten the better part of your sound judgment. Keep this fire for when we actually go into battle.”

(Blumer Episode 5)

Washington and his generals speculated as to whether or not the decisive battle of the war would take place in New York or Virginia. The decision was made when Lord Cornwallis’s troops found themselves stranded in Yorktown, Virginia, giving Washington and Rochambeau an opportunity for a conclusive victory. They moved their troops south to Yorktown and a French fleet under Admiral de Grasse left the Caribbean (where it had been protecting France’s valuable sugar islands) into the Chesapeake Bay. Due to an obligation in the Caribbean and the upcoming hurricane season, de Grasse’s fleet was only available for two weeks in early October. On October 9th, 1781, Washington ordered his artillery to bombard Cornwallis’s encampments. Lafayette was given overall command of an assignment to capture two heavily fortified British redoubts. He divided up command of his two brigades between his friends John Laurens and Alexander Hamilton. The signal to begin the attack was “Rochambeau” which sounded like “rush-on-boys” when pronounced quickly. Lafayette’s French forces attacked redoubt number nine while Hamilton’s American forces attacked redoubt ten. The mission was a success and accomplished within thirty minutes.

On October 17th, the Siege of Yorktown ended with a British surrender. Lafayette wrote to the Comte de Maurepas, the French prime minister “The play, sir, is over-and the fifth act has just been closed” (Vowell 255). He returned to his wife’s family home, the Hôtel de Noailles, in  Paris on 21 January 1782. His wife Adrienne was a lady in waiting, or dame d’honneur, to Queen Marie Antoinette, who gave Adrienne a ride to the Hôtel de Noailles in her own carriage and graciously welcomed Lafayette back to France, despite the fact that she personally disliked him, having given him the nickname “blondinet” because of his red hair and had mocked his clumsy dancing in the past (Fraser 319). In response to Marie Antoinette’s generosity, Lafayette sniped that the cost of a subsequent court ball could have equipped a whole regiment in America (194). Louis XVI gave Lafayette the Cross of Saint-Louis, France’s highest military honor, and Lafayette was also given the title of “Hero of the Two Worlds.” Among Lafayette’s parting words in Hamilton are “I go back to France, I bring freedom to my country if I’m given the chance” (Miranda 1:19). After the storming of the Bastille Fortress in Paris on July 14th, 1789, Lafayette was named head of France’s national guard and one of the leading members of the New French Republic’s National Assembly.

Peace negotiations between the Americans and Great Britain were complicated and took two years to work out. They were finalized with the Treaty of Paris of 1783. The American delegation struck a deal with Britain, which violated their treaty with France. In exchange for its help, France was given control of the island of Tobago. Vergennes predicted that “We shall be but poorly paid for that we have done for the United States, and for securing them a national existence” (Vowell 257).

Thomas Jefferson succeed Benjamin Franklin as the American ambassador in France and was stationed in Paris from 1784-9. After their involvement in the American Revolution, factions in France were eager to see reform in their own country. Jefferson wrote home to George Washington: “The nation has been awakened by our revolution, they feel their strength, they are enlightened, their lights are spreading and they will not retrograde” (Chernow 316). Among Jefferson’s accomplishments as ambassador was to help Lafayette draft the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which established the new French Republic in 1789.

After the ratification of the Constitution in 1787, the former American colonies officially became the United States of America but they were united in name only. Two political parties had formed with vastly different ideals of how the new country should be run. The Federalists (also known as Hamiltonians, after party head Alexander Hamilton) wanted a strong central government, mercantile based economy, and for US foreign policy to align with Great Britain as a useful trading partner. The anti-federalists (also known as Democratic-Republicans of Jeffersonians, after their leader Thomas Jefferson), wanted an agriculture-based economy, government run at local and small-scale level, and for US foreign policy to be aligned with the French, our closest ally. With the onset of the French Revolution, Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians were divided further. Jeffersonians saw the French Revolution as an extension of America’s own fight for liberty and that since the French were our allies, we had an obligation to help them. They referred to themselves as Jacobins, France’s radical left-wing party, and greeted each other as “citizen” and “citizeness”, the preferred form of address among French revolutionaries. Hamiltonians feared the revolution’s radical nature and thought that their newborn nation was too weak and unstable to get involved in foreign conflicts. They saw the revolution as violent and destructive in how it dealt with the ancien regime aristocracy  (Hamilton and his wife, Elizabeth, socialized with and provided financial aid to aristocratic refugees from revolutionary France). The idealism that some Americans felt when it came to the French Revolution was disillusioned by the Reign of Terror, which claimed Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, among its thousands of victims. John Adams warned that “Danton, Robespierre, Marat, etc. are furies. Dragons’ teeth have been sown in France and will come up as monsters” (434).

In the musical number “Cabinet Battle #2” from Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton wins a debate against Thomas over whether or not the US should get involved in the French Revolution. Hamilton’s argument is that they made the treaty that supposedly bound them to France with a king that the revolutionaries executed, making said treaty null and void “We signed a treaty with a king whose head is now in a basket, would you like to take it out and ask it? Should we honor our treaty, King Louis’s head? Uh, do whatever you want, I’m super dead” (Miranda 2:7). George Washington agrees with Hamilton for the reason that the fledgling United States is not strong enough to get involved in another war: “We’re too fragile to start another fight” (2:7). Jefferson then says to Hamilton: “Did you forget Lafayette?…Have you an ounce of regret?…yet in their hour of need you forget” (2:7).

As the French Revolution became increasingly radical, it eventually turned against Lafayette, blaming him, as head of the National Guard, for several lapses in security such as the royal family’s flight to Varennes. He fled from France and was captured by the Austrians, who were at war with France due to the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette, who had been born an Austrian archduchess. Adrienne was imprisoned in France and was spared the guillotine due to the lobbying of future president James Monroe and his wife Elizabeth, who visited her in prison. The Monroes helped secure passage for Adrienne her daughters to join Lafayette in Austria. Georges Washington de Lafayette came to the United States where he lived for a while with his namesake’s family at Mount Vernon and attended Harvard University.

The US government was divided as to whether or not it should support the new French Republic, which was at war with its monarchist neighbors, including Great Britain, who the Federalists wanted to do business with. George Washington’s administration issued an official policy of neutrality. Debt repayments to France were stopped for the reason that the US had made an alliance with the Kingdom of France, not the new French Republic. Edmund Genêt, a French emissary, arrived in the US in 1793 to gather American support for the French Revolution and started hiring American ships to fight the British Navy. Both the French and British navies impressed American ships and soldiers during the 1790s. Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians came to an agreement that this violated America’s policy of neutrality. Diplomat John Jay was sent to London to negotiate what would later be called the Jay Treaty, a weak truce between the US and Great Britain which attempted to resolve lingering issues between the two countries left over from the War of Independence. It granted Great Britain most favorable trade nation status. The French were offended by the Jay Treaty because they felt that it violated the Franco-American Treaty of 1778 and perceived it as the US being too friendly with Great Britain, its longtime rival and started attacking American merchant ships in response.

John Adams was elected the second president of the United States in 1796. In 1797, Adams sent representatives, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry, over to France to negotiate a peace agreement. Three French representatives known as X, Y, and Z (their true names were left out of the official reports of the incident because Adams knew that he might have to use them again the future) approached them and demanded a bribe of $250,000 in exchange for them being allowed to meet with Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, the French foreign minister. The United States government was incensed and refused these demands. John Adams wrote in a June 1798 message to Congress: “I will never send another minister to France without assurances that he will be received, respected, and honor as the representative of a great, free, powerful, and independent nation.”  Federalists and those who supported war with France adopted that slogan “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute!” On July 7th, 1798, the United States Congress authorized the Navy to seek and destroy French vessels. Over the next two years (1798-1800) the US military, specifically its navy, engaged in an unofficial conflict with France known as the Quasi-War which mostly consisted of naval warfare in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. To weaken the French, the US supported a revolution in Haiti, one of the France’s most valuable colonies. During this unofficial war, the US Navy captured eighty-five French ships, only losing one, the USS Retaliation, which faced off against two French ships off of the West Indies on November 20th, 1798, and surrendered because it was greatly outnumbered. The Quasi-War saw the establishment of a permanent US Navy and Marine Corps. In 1798, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts which made it more difficult for immigrants to become US citizens, gave the president the authority to deport any immigrant from a hostile foreign power or who was seen as a threat to national security and made speaking out against the government an offense punishable by imprisonment. The Alien and Sedition Acts had repercussions which resonated throughout the first half of the nineteenth century.

John Adams wanted to avoid a bigger war with France which the US was unprepared for. The new leader of the French Republic, Napoleon Bonaparte asked Adams to send over new representatives. The Convention of 1800, also known as the Treaty of Mortefontaine, ended the Franco-American alliance and the Quasi-War.

In 1824, the sixty-seven-year-old Lafayette returned to the United States and was feted as a national celebrity. His visit was commemorated with the very American phenomenon or souvenirs. Lafayette encountered a lady at a ball wearing gloves with his face on them and was reported as saying “a few graceful words to the effect that he did not care to kiss himself “ (Vowell 6). During his year-long tour of the United States, Lafayette paid a tear-filled visit to George Washington’s tomb at Mount Vernon, called upon Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, and dropped in to see Elizabeth Schuyler, the widow of his old friend, Alexander Hamilton.

The Marquis de Lafayette died in 1834 at the age of seventy-seven and was buried in Paris’s Picpus Cemetery. His son, Georges Washington de Lafayette, sprinkled dirt from Bunker Hill on his casket, fulfilling his wish that he be buried in both French and American soil. Eighty-three years later, when the American Expeditionary Forces arrived in Paris, Colonel Charles E. Stanton made an address on July 4th, 1917 in front of Lafayette’s tomb:

“America has joined forces with the Allied Powers and what we have of blood and treasure are yours. Therefore it is that with loving pride we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great republic. And here and now, in the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying this war to a successful issue. Lafayette, we are here.”

(Vowell 260-262)

The phrase “Lafayette, we are here” was repeated by Evelyn Wotherspoon Wainwright of the National Women’s party in her September 16th, 1918 speech addressing the bronze statue of Lafayette in Washington DC’s  Lafayette Square:

“We, the women of the United States, denied the liberty which you helped to gain, and for which we have asked in for sixty years, turn to you to plead for us. Speak, Lafayette, dead these hundred years but still living in the hearts of the American people. Let that outstretched hand of yours pointing to the White House recall to him (President Woodrow Wilson) his words and promises, his trumpet call for all us, to see the world is made safe for democracy. As our army in France spoke to you there, saying here we are to help your country fight for liberty, will you not speak here and now for us, a little band with no army, no power but justice and right, no strength but in our Constitution and in the Declaration of Independence; and win a great victory again in this country by giving us the opportunity we ask to be heard through the Susan B. Anthony amendment (the name of the 19th Amendment granting American Women the right to vote before it was ratified) Lafayette, we are here.”


The name of Lafayette was used during the First World War to conjure up images of Franco-American unity and the continuing fight for democracy but the relationship between the United States and France has been fraught in recent decades, since in 2003, France refused to support preemptive military action in Iraq, the repercussions of which ranged from a proposed bill to repatriate the remains of US soldiers buried in France to the renaming of  french fries to freedom fries. Florida representative Ginny Brown-Wait, who proposed the American Heroes Repatriation Act of 2003 argued that:

“The remains of our brave servicemen should be buried in patriotic soil, not in a country that has turned its back on the United States and on the memory of Americans who fought and died there. It’s almost as if the French have forgotten what those thousands of white crosses at Normandy represent” (238)

Americans have a tendency to see the French as arrogant, effete, fickle, cowardly, and untrustworthy and their relationship with them as all take and no give. The role that they played in helping the United States become a country in the first place is often glossed over or ignored due to ignorance or xenophobia. Americans liked to joke that the French are cowardly and surrender easily and say that we saved them during world wars one and two and forget that they saved us during our war for independence.

Daveed Diggs and any other who played Lafayette in Hamilton was double cast as Thomas Jefferson, the play’s France loving antagonist. Lafayette/Jefferson sings the line “we fought with him” (Miranda 1:1) and the audience are left wondering if this was as a comrade in arms or as a political enemy. The double casting of the same actor as both Lafayette and Jefferson shows the dichotomy of how Americans view France: Lafayette, the loyal friend and ally, and Jefferson, the untrustworthy rival. Lafayette (an America loving Frenchman) and Jefferson (a France loving America) are a distorted mirror of each other and the fact that Lafayette becomes Jefferson reflects how Americans started off trusting the French but then turned against them.

Whether it was the Quasi-War or the Freedom Fries era, anything French is viewed with suspicion. Vergennes’s prediction that “We shall be but poorly paid for that we have done for the United States” continues to be true.

Works Cited

Benjamin Franklin. Dir. Pro. Hovd, Ellen and Meyer, Muffie. Perf. Feore, Colm. PBS, 2002. Film.

This PBS special on the extraordinary life of Benjamin Franklin. Among the many accomplishments of Franklin’s long life was to act as the diplomat who negotiated the alliance with France which help America win in its war against Britain. Franklin used his considerable genius, charm, and diplomatic tact to win over the French people and convinced their government to send aid to the American cause.

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. London: Penguin Books, 2004. Print.

In this comprehensive biography, Ron Chernow goes into depth about the life and career of founding father Alexander Hamilton. In the early decades of the United States, Hamilton’s federalists clashed with Jefferson’s democratic republicans over man issues including how the US should deal with the French Revolution. Tensions with France lead to the Quasi-War, the first international conflict that the US found itself engaged in.

“Episode 4: Oh Fatal Ambition!” Liberty! The American Revolution. Pro. and Dir. Ellen Hovd and Muffie Meyer. Writ. Ronald Blumer. Perf. Edward Herrmann. PBS, 1997. Web.

Episode four of the PBS series Liberty! The American Revolution tracks the escalation of the American Revolution. Benjamin Franklin is sent to Paris to secure an alliance with France and uses his charm and celebrity to accomplish this objective. France is hesitant to formally support the American cause but is convinced to do so by an American victory at Saratoga.

“Episode 5: The World Turn Upside Down.” Liberty! The American Revolution. Pro. and Dir. Ellen Hovd and Muffie Meyer. Writ. Ronald Blumer. Perf. Edward Herrmann. PBS, 1997. Web.

Episode five of the PBS series Liberty! The American Revolution follows the end of the American war for independence, specifically the involvement of America’s French allies. Washington’s young and impetuous protege, the Marquis de Lafayette, clashed with the Comte de Rochambeau, the commander of the French forces in the Americas but French intervention was crucial in the American victory.

Fraser, Antonia. Marie Antoinette: The Journey. New York: Anchor Books, 2001. Print.

Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette, France’s doomed final queen, goes into great detail about the social and political context of the French Revolution. Among Versailles’s courtiers were the Marquis de Lafayette, hero of the American Revolution, and his wife, Adrienne de Noailles. Marie Antoinette personally disliked Lafayette and they clashed when Lafayette became an important figure in the French Revolution.

Hamilton. Directed by Thomas Kail, performances by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Daveed Diggs. Produced by Jeffrey Seller. 2015.

The Tony Award winning musical Hamilton focuses on the life and career of Alexander Hamilton. Among Hamilton’s circle of friends is Frenchman, the Marquis de Lafayette, who hopes that he can bring the spirit of the American Revolution to his homeland. Later on, Hamilton clashes with Thomas Jefferson over whether or not the newly United States should support the French Revolution.

“Marquis de Lafayette.” Washington’s Generals. Pro. and Writ. Raymond Bridgers. Dir. Robert M. Wise. Perf. Edward Herrmann. History Channel, 2006. Web.

This episode of the History Channel series Washington’s Generals discusses the Marquis de Lafayette, a young French aristocrat who joined the cause of American independence and became a trusted ally and of George Washington and a symbol of America’s alliance with which was crucial in winning the war with Britain.

Vowell, Sarah. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. New York: Riverhead Books, 2015. Print.

Historian Sarah Vowell describes the involvement of the Marquis de Lafayette in the American Revolution and its place in the large narrative of American history and America’s relationship with France. Americans by nature are a disunited people, rarely agreeing with one another let alone with other countries but Lafayette has always be a unifying figure, specifically for America and France.  


Bag Girl Reviews: Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell.


Sarah Vowell is an American historian and author known for her snarky and irreverent writing style and unconventional way of handling non-fiction prose. My father is an admirer of her and her work and that is how I am aware of it. When I decided to write my term paper on the Marquis de Lafayette and the beginnings of America’s relationship with France, I was reminded of this book and chose to use it as one of my sources. Vowell’s writing is unique among history books in that they have a much less formal and pedantic tone than is typically associated with the genre. Her books read more like Jack Kerouac’s On The Road than the history texts students are made to read in school. The structure of Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is based around Vowell’s trips to sites associated with her subjects and she often goes into descriptions of the people and places she encounters on her excursions. As someone with a penchant for history related vacations, I find this format enjoyable.

Vowell begins the book with the question “How did the Marquis de Lafayette win over the stingiest, crankiest tax protestors in the history of the world?” The most fascinating question to ponder about this unlikeliest of founding fathers is why and how did a teenage French aristocrat end up becoming an important figure in the cause of American independence and wholeheartedly embraced, and was embraced by, a country so different from his own. Vowell’s central theme is what Lafayette, as one of America’s first national celebrities, was one of the few unifying figures in American history, which is riddled with social and political division.

During the research period for this book, Vowell visited a number of Lafayette related sites such as the Chateau de Chavaniac in the Auvergne region of France, Lafayette’s childhood home and the Brandywine Battle Site, where Lafayette fought his first battle as a general in the Continental Congress, and the sites of other battles where Lafayette fought such as Monmouth and Yorktown. Because Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is as much a travel narrative as a historical one, Vowell finds ways of incorporating these experiences into the narrative she is telling. Vowell describes her approach to history as thus “Having studied art history, as opposed to political history, I tend to incorporate found objects into my books,” she writes. “Just as Pablo Picasso glued a fragment of furniture onto the canvas of ‘Still Life With Chair Caning,’ I like to use whatever’s lying around to paint pictures of the past — traditional pigment like archival documents but also the added texture of whatever bibs and bobs I learn from looking out bus windows or chatting up the people I bump into on the road.” The final product is a hodgepodge of historical fact and amusing anecdote.

Vowell explores Lafayette as both a person and as symbol for both the Americans and the French of a relationship that was tense and complex from the beginning. Lafayette managed to form an alliance between two vastly different countries (the curmudgeonly and puritanical Americans and the haughty and effete French) which lasted over the centuries. He tried to use his revolutionary credentials to cool the worst excesses of the French Revolution but barely managed to get out of it with his head intact. In 1824, the sixty-seven year old Lafayette visited the now United States and was met with a superstar’s welcome. The 1824 American tour elicited the equivalent of a modern day media frenzy with crowds of thousands appearing to see the elderly Lafayette wherever he went. Entrepreneurs profited from the Lafayette mania through the very American phenomenon of commemorative souvenirs.

The title Vowell chose for her book Lafayette in the Somewhat United States refers to the main theme of the text, that Americans have been traditionally a divided people, broken up into a number of social, political, religious, and racial factions, and unwilling to cooperate and agree amongst themselves and other countries but Lafayette was one of the few things that united the American people and united them with France. Lafayette embraced America wholeheartedly and the feelings were mutual as the Lafayette mania of 1824 shows.

Almost as soon as the first Europeans arrived on North American soil, they began to squabble pettily with one another and their relationship with the outside world was marred by misunderstanding and outright xenophobia. The decision to break away from Europe and form their own society was much easier than coming to a consensus as to who should run that society and how it should be run. In today’s socio-political climate, the growing pains of the New United States feel familiar, relevant, and perhaps comforting. Viciousness, pettiness, and conflict are far from anything new in American political life and the country has gone through some nasty periods of strife but always come through it. One of the few things that can bring its diverse peoples with their diverse values together is a shared reverence for its founding fathers.

One of the things I find fascinating about studying the founding fathers, and I get the impression that Sarah Vowell does too, is that once you get past the image of wise and infallible sages that posterity created for them, you find that they are relatably flawed. Vowell enjoys affectionately taking her subjects down a peg. Washington and Lafayette were great men but even they had their shortcomings. Lafayette’s disobedience to the orders of the French government and departure for the Americas was the ultimate act of teenage petulance and rebellion and Washington was saddled with a position that no mere mortal could possibly handle without a lot of strain. We find stories of their outbursts and petty infighting interesting and amusing because such behavior is understandable and relatable. Who has not talked smack about someone they do not like.  

As much as I love history, I struggle with reading history books as do many people. The genre has a not totally undeserved reputation for being dry, intimidating, and unapproachable. This is why Sarah Vowell’s books come as a breath of fresh air. Her snarky, rambling prose filled with slang and pop culture references is the exact opposite of the textbooks I had to slog through for my history classes. I am also reading W.E Woodward’s biography of Lafayette as research for the term paper I am writing and saying that getting through the book is a chore to get through is putting it mildly. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is an ideal book for people with an interest in history but struggle with five hundred page biographies filled with footnotes, annotations, and other appendices.

Vowell’s informal and irreverent writing style makes the book more accessible than those of her peers but does not feel dumbed down. Her prose has the feeling of a casual conversation with an intelligent, interesting, and eccentric person. The road trip format of Lafayette in the Somewhat United States I find enjoyable as someone who loves to travel and whose childhood family trips were to historic sites such as Gettysburg and Colonial Williamsburg. The text is cobbled together from both the highbrow discourse of historians and conversations with the random people one encounters during a road trip. This style is effective because it shows how history relates to the world outside of academia. Vowell enjoys taking digs at America’s intertwined reverence and ignorance of its own history. She is tackling a well known but not understood subject. Most people have a vague knowledge of the American Revolution or the Civil War but have little interest in studying deeper into the subjects.  Yet we trot out our god-like adoration of the founding generation each Fourth of July and the Civil War still evokes violent feelings even today. Historic sites are popular and lucrative tourist destinations yet no one seems to want to pay tax money for their upkeep.

I would recommend Lafayette in the Somewhat United States especially if you are interested in the Revolutionary War Era and or Franco-American relations.


A Bag Girl Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving Traditions

Because I am a huge fan of Broadway, I have watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade for years because Broadway frequently features into the parade’s yearly lineup. Musical numbers from shows such as Wicked and Hairspray are some of the highlights from past parades I can remember off the top of my head. Broadway stars like Cheyenne Jackson and Jonathan Groff have also made appearances. You just have to shift through all the annoying talking heads and screaming crowds.

Today when I tuned into the parade, the first thing I saw was a filmed performance of a song from the musical Waitress which I was in and out of because I have no interest in Waitress.

Cue the usual giant balloons shaped like cartoon characters (Pikachu from Pokémon was always my favorite), marching bands, pop stars on floats, and two minutes of content before five minutes of commercials. As usual, I just want the talking heads to shut up. Imagine being a small town high school marching band or cheerleading team who finally makes it to the big time and their entire community tunes in the watch them, only to have two morons talk through it. People want to watch the parade not listen to idiots yammer about the parade.

Christopher Jackson from Hamilton made an appearance talking about a television show he’s on right now. Other Hamilton cast members Leslie Odom jr. and Mandy Gonzales also showed up. Odom was riding the Sesame Street float and Gonzales was also talking with the heads.

The month or so between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of my favorite time of year and the arrival of Santa Claus at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the perfect way to kick off this most joyous of seasons. I confess that I felt rather emotional when Santa showed up this year.

As an unashamed dog lover, watching the National Dog Show is one of my best loved Thanksgiving traditions. My mom and I were squealing over how cute the dogs are.

My favorite in the hound group was a whippet named Anna. The announcer said all of the dogs in her litter were named after characters from Downton Abbey which was what made her my favorite. Anna took home the prize for the best hound dog.

My favorite herding dog was an Old English Sheepdog named Sofia and she won her category.

The dog I was rooting for in the working category was the Samoyed because that’s such a beautiful breed of dog but the Portuguese Water Dog won instead.

I was rooting for the West Highland White in the terrier group because my aunt owns a dog in that breed. Louis, the American Staffordshire Terrier won and I was glad of the because the announcer was talking about how Louis’s owner brings him to visit V.A. hospitals. Louis was ecstatic when he won and was jumping up and down.

Chevalier King Charles Spaniels and Japanese chins are among my favorite dog breeds, so I wanted either of them to win the Toy Category but I was also rooting for the Yorkshire terrier since another of my aunts owns one of them. The Brussels Griffon took home the prize.

My mom said that the Red and White Irish Setter was pretty and that one became my favorite in the Sporting Category. Mom then said that I should choose from the ones the show walking around the ring because those are the ones with the best chance of winning. So I choose the golden retriever because golden retrievers are perhaps my favorite dog breed, and this particular dog, Gunner, is also a therapy dog but the springer spaniel won.

My favorite non-sporting dogs were the Dalmatian, Seven, the Boston Terrier, Prince, and French bulldog, who won with the Dalmatian in second place.

Our two favorites to win best in show were Anna the Whippet and Babe the French Bulldog, who appeared to be the frontrunners and audience favorites but the Brussels Griffon, Newton, won best in show.


High School Musical, Heathers, Spring Awakening, and Young Broadway


I recently discovered a Youtube channel called Musical Theater Mash which uploaded a video entitled “The High School Musical Conspiracy” whose thesis was that the High School Musical franchise, love it or hate it, made musical theater “cool” and brought it to a younger audience. I myself am a perfect example of the phenomenon that Musical Theater Mash illustrates. High School Musical came out when I was in elementary school, so I was the perfect age for it. This was around the time when I was getting interested in Broadway musicals and High School Musical was probably how a lot of kids my age became theater fans. We would move onto shows like Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, and Les Miserables which are the gateway drugs of the theater world.

Each age has its edgy and transgressive theater. The turn-of-the-center had Puccini’s La Boheme. The 1950s had Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story and the 60s and 70s had Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. The theater kids who were slightly older than me had Rent and Avenue Q. When the High School Musical age bracket hit their teens, the big shows were Next to Normal and America Idiot. We had just about missed Spring Awakening (which would make a brief resurgence in 2015 due to it short-lived revival) and a few holdovers from our predecessors, such as Rent and Wicked were still around along with perennial theater kid staples like Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. The theater kid scene during my adolescence, roughly 2007-2014, was a time between times. It was after things like Rent, Avenue Q, and Spring Awakening, which we liked in spite of, perhaps because of, the fact that we were told that they were too adult for us, and before smash hits like Hamilton, and Dear Evan Hansen, a large portion of whose fan bases are made up of teens and young adults.

The conclusion of “The High School Musical Conspiracy” is that the most noteworthy musicals of the past several decades, such as Rent and Hamilton have been geared towards younger audiences and have themes like rebellion and dissatisfaction with society which resonate with adolescents and young adults and use a more contemporary style of music. I was fortunate enough to a part of the Itunes/Youtube generation and live a world where one can have access to the cast recording of shows they might otherwise never get to experience. It is much easier to search up bootlegs on Youtube than spend several hundred dollars on theater tickets. This has lead to the rise of cult hits like Bonnie and Clyde (which famously closed after a month) and Heathers (which never made it past off-Broadway). Most of their fanbases never got to see them live and only know about them through bootlegs and original cast recordings. Bootlegs are controversial in the theater world but it is strangely appropriate that these tales of youthful criminality be experienced through a technically illegal activity.



Heathers and Spring Awakening are musicals that I experienced in similar ways. I started off by listening to a few of the songs before finally getting to see a bootleg several years later. They both have a dark tone and deal with the uglier side of being a teen. Spring Awakening is a melodramatic cautionary tale while Heathers finds sardonic humor in even its most messed up moments.

Both musicals take place in the past (Spring Awakening is set in 1891 while  Heathers is set in 1989) and are very much stories of their time yet speak to timeless issues that young people (Spring Awakening specifically focuses on burgeoning sexuality and overly strict parenting while Heathers is about clique and popularity culture and how psychologically damaging it can be). Veronica Sawyer and Melchior Gabor, the snarky, diary writing protagonists respectively, each directly or indirectly cause the deaths of several characters (Veronica and her boyfriend J.D. manage to off Heather Chandler, the head of the Heathers, and jerk jocks Ram and Kurt while Melchior is unable, despite his best efforts, to prevent his best friend Moritz’s suicide and gets his lover Wendla pregnant, leading to her death from a botched abortion). The two stories also share a theme of teenage suicide (Moritz commits suicide and Veronica and J.D.’s m.o is making the deaths of their victims look like suicides). 

The characters of Heathers are fortunate enough to live in a more permissive time (the late 1980s where premarital sex and booze and drug-fueled parties are facts of high school life) than the characters of Spring Awakening (the straight-laced, buttoned-up 1890s where such debauchery would have been unthinkable). But adults in both eras appear to be equally out of touch and hypocritical: the adults in Spring Awakening are cruel (the teachers) or at least overbearing (Frau Bergmann, Wendla’s mother, and Herr Stiefel, Moritz’s father) while their counterparts in Heathers are either abusive (Big Bud, J.D.’s father), self-serving (Miss Fleming, the flaky hippie English teacher), or absent (Mr. Sweeney and Mr. Kelly, Ram and Kurt’s fathers).  The few positive parental figures (Frau Gabor, Melchior’s mother, and the Sawyers, Veronica’s parents) are unable to prevent the tragedies which befall their children.

Both musicals follow High School Musical’s lead: a story about teenagers set in a high school about the pressure to conform to society’s expectations feature recognizable teenage types and un-understanding parents. High School Musical, as insufferable as it is another over the age of twelve, may have contributed something positive to the world: the rise of musicals like Spring Awakening, American Idiot, Heathers, and Dear Evan Hansen.


Heathers film and musical: a Bag Girl Comparison


I have an unfortunate habit of discovering popular culture too late, especially when it comes to musicals. I discovered Rent and Spring Awakening in 2007, when both musicals were set to close, Bonnie and Clyde in 2014, two years after that musical met its demise, and Pierre, Natasha, and the Great Comet of 1812 last summer when it was on its way out. 2014 was also when I fell down the dark, scary rabbit hole that is tumblr. Some of the people I followed were talking about a musical version of the 1989 cult hit Heathers that was playing off-Broadway. Heathers is a sort of edgier proto Mean Girls, an immensely quotable look at teenage girl drama. A black comedy which satirizes high school popularity culture and how people sensationalize and glamorize youth related tragedies such as teen suicide and school shootings.

Veronica Sawyer (played by Winona Ryder in the 1989 film and Barrett Wilbert Weed in the musical) is on the outs with her group of friends, the most popular clique at her high school, known as the Heathers, when she meets J.D. (Christian Slater and Ryan McCartan respectively) an edgy outsider with plans to end the tyranny of the Heathers and their ilk. Veronica and J.D’s m.o. is dispatching their victims and making it look a suicide. The film’s dark comedy comes for the extreme behavior of its characters and how the community reacts to the supposed suicides of Heather Chandler (the head of the Heathers) and Ram and Kurt (two ass hole jocks) are treated in a shallow, overblown way. These students who were hated while alive are deified after their deaths and Miss Fleming, the school’s flakey English teacher uses these events as an excuse for touchy-feely “togetherness”. Heathers mocks how something as tragic as teenage suicide is rebranded as a trendy cultural phenomenon, exemplified in how there is an in-universe hit song called Teenage Suicide: Don’t Do It, a catchy new wave tune by a fictional group called Big Fun.

This is a film that I discovered at precisely the right time. I was in eighth grade and in the middle of the closest thing I had to an edgy outsider phase. This was a dark period in my life and I was bullied a bit but the kids who were my tormentors were the punk kids that no one liked rather than the popular ones. When I got to High School, the kids who would be the stereotypical populars were cordial to me. I pretty much flew under the radar during my teen years; indifferent to the world and it was indifferent to me. Heathers is a movie I have always enjoyed though I would not say it’s one of my favorites.

Heathers the musical follows the plot of the movie fairly closely with a few changes. It’s opening number Beautiful shows how Veronica fell in with the Heathers, events which happened in the past by the beginning of the movie. It is mentioned in Beautiful that Veronica is senior in high school while in the movie she’s a junior. The party where Veronica runs afoul of Heather Chandler is thrown by Ram and Kurt rather than being held at a college. This is also the scene of the humiliation of Martha Dunnstock (an obese minor character in the film who is promoted to Veronica’s former best friend in the musical). In the following scene, the movie has J.D climb in through Veronica’s Bedroom window and they have their first sexual encounter in the backyard. The musical has Veronica climb through J.D.’s window and they have sex in his bedroom in the both hilarious and romantic Dead Girl Walking.  The second act funeral for Ram and Kurt, who J.D and Veronica made people think were romantically involved with each other and killed themselves in a suicide pact, features their fathers confessing to being in a homosexual relationship with each other and sharing a public kiss.

Barrett Wilbert Weed as Veronica comes across as more dorky and awkward than her screen counterpart played by Winona Ryder. Ryan McCartan as J.D seems more fanatically earnest than how Christian Slater’s slick and sarcastic performance portrays the character.  J.D appears as a more sympathetic character in this version. His death at the end due to throwing himself in Veronica’s place onto a bomb he had previously intended to use to blow up the school appears as a redemptive act.

The musical’s 80s rock-inspired score is well done and goes from being highly comic to being achingly tragic and romantic, often at the same time. I would recommend it, especially if you are a fan of the original movie. If you have not seen the movie, then I would recommend that as well.