The Fragile Pleasures of a Road Trip

      “Everybody’s off on their own trip,” as they said in the sixties. It is still a useful phrase, especially in a personal, interior sense. It points to the difficulties of perception and communication. I have completed an epic, 3,800-mile trip from the Midwest to the East Coast and back, on behalf of […]

Mozart Would Wince at Our Loud Pianos

    I thought I knew what Mozart’s music sounded like—until I heard how he meant it to sound. A Sunday afternoon. Thirty or so music lovers settle into seats at the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion, amid oil paintings and carved furniture of a bygone era. Precisely the sort of house concert Mozart gave. And today’s pianist, […]

What if Today’s Elite Were Forced into Exile?

    When fantasizing about courage, some of you gallop into battle astride a horse; some dive into churning waters to rescue a drowning child; some disable a crazed man who’s firing an AR-15 into a crowd. I join the French Resistance. After soaking up every episode of Transatlantic and envisioning my job with the […]

Get Ready for Roadkill

      Most of us remember well our first sight of a dead human body. Most often it is surrounded by the aura of silent respect, but also more than a little horror, as if catching sight of a ghost while singing a hymn in church. Roadkill, on the other hand, usually offers no […]

Abracadabra! The Magic of Words

    Bunnies from a black silk tophat! Doves looping through swirls of chiffon! Abracadabra is our word for magic. But there is an even lovelier etymology floating through the cultural landscape: abracadabra as a softening of ebra kedabra, meaning to speak something into existence. Which is quite a trick. Words have always made things […]

Inarticulate Jann Wenner Dislikes Inarticulate Blacks and Women

    Jann Wenner, co-founder and former editor of Rolling Stone, co-founder of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and one of the pillars of the pop culture criticism business, has succeeded in sabotaging his new book, The Masters, before it has even been widely reviewed. Wrecking the sales of one’s own […]

Poor People Go to Hell

        Much has been said and done in the past decade (also, to be fair, the past millennium) that turned Christianity upside down. But now it is doing backflips. When I read that the Most Rev. Paul Ssemogerere, archbishop of Kampala’s Catholics, had declared that God did not love the poor, I […]

Repair of the World

      The waiter has a toilet plunger over his shoulder. “He locked his keys in his car,” the bartender explains. “He’s trying to get the window down.” I feel ancient: my first thought was a coat hanger. “In my day,” I say—oh my God did I actually just start a sentence that way? […]

Plants Warn, Defend, Scream, Remember, and Plan Ahead

        Before social media, Charles Darwin relied on a global network of colleagues who corresponded with him. Before AI, he used photos to study facial expressions around the world. Before Buzzfeed, he created quizzes about what emotion was pictured. Before Fitbit, he walked daily and counted his steps by dragging a flint […]