Rooms for Lafayette
Memories and memorials to the last men of the Revolution
There are rooms full of furniture, but empty of people. Furniture I once sat on, or slept in. These rooms are set up like props, waiting for someone to walk in and fill the dull air with life. I can tell you, these rooms were full of joie de vivre when I was there!
Rooms dedicated to me are located all over France, and all over the United States, too. There are no rooms for me in England, not that I would ever have gone there — I would not have been welcomed, even long after the conclusion of the glorious révolution which set men free but which made Britannia buckle.
In the end, though, it was I who was not free — incarcerated by my own countrymen for five years. I shudder to think of la Terreur. I kept my head, but my heart was wounded. Instead, nowadays, I choose to remember America. My esteem and respect are with its people. Most especially with the old men of the révolution. They wear their rumpled, crusty ill-fitting military jackets and sit in empty rooms like me. They served the people without asking for much in return. They understood me. During war and after, I was serving the people, and that was always my desire, even from boyhood in the rooms of my beloved grand-mère in France.
In America, whenever and wherever I came to inhabit a friend’s home or a hotel, that room became my room forever, no matter who stayed there afterwards. I am grateful there are many rooms dedicated to me. I enjoy these rooms much more than I like the bronze monuments. Monuments in the shape of men are for dictators and kings. Why shouldn’t a room serve as my monument? To my mind, American rooms are democratic. Rooms of all shapes and sizes and décor. Believe me, I have have seen the Louvre and Versailles. But, American rooms of révolution were messy and stank from my boots. I pissed in a pot under the chair where I wrote my dispatches. These were rooms for living and working, for playing over ideas in my head.
After weeks in a field camp, a room, any room felt glorious and decadent. Following Washington, I slept for years upon on a folding field cot of canvas. Revolutionary men had no such luxuries as cots under tents. I saw them huddled together sleeping fitfully during the bitter winter snow in 1778. I will never forget. The Last Men of the Revolution deserve memory rooms, too.
Washington is a favorite of mine. The city and the man. Although this city on the Potomac is nothing like Paris (no matter how hard they tried), here, I can see the fruit of Liberty come into blossom. I float by the stink of the canal, but it doesn’t bother me. A water rat senses my presence, but, no matter, no one pays attention to a dingy grey water rat. I am here because my visage lures me to Tudor Place, propped in the corner, surveying the scene.
I am shown young, but with enough of la gravité to earn respect from my new brothers-in-arms. Not quite a monument yet, this plaster cast of me is dirty from age. Visitors come to this house for its situation in Georgetown, named for the King but easily transferable to the President. An elegant home, amidst a garden of green, small rabbits run through the yard. It’s a pleasing place, even if the carpets are fading and the paint is peeling. This is not my room, but I am here nonetheless and have been for many years. Visitors are taken aback when I appear in the corner of their eye as they peer into the room. I’m glad the candles are not lit — a séance in the making. I wouldn’t want to conjured up by anyone. I’m not much of a conversationalist these days, left with my memories.
Outside of Washington is just as nice as inside of Washington. On my way to revisit Washington (the man and not the place), I think about my visit to Woodlawn. From a young man memorialized in plaster, to an old man memorialized in paint. I was content when I visited America for the last time in 1826. I survived imprisonment and was able, again, to serve my country. But, I returned to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of our eternal triumphant bond. Although I traveled the length of the country from north to south, Virginia was my second home (and the name of my beloved daughter). The home of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Mason. Most were gone, but I went to their homes anyway. Empty rooms greeted me. I did not care. I was home.
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