I discovered Gertrude Stein my senior year in high school when I was taking an Art History class. I was told to write a paper on something to do with art and I couldn’t think of anything so my teacher gave me a book called “Matisse, Picasso and Gertrude Stein with Two Shorter Stories” by Gertrude Stein. I think I wrote my paper on Picasso but what grabbed my interest was Gertrude. I was hooked. I had never read anything like it. I asked my teacher why they didn’t tell us about her in English class. I was informed not everybody appreciated Gertrude.
Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. When someone commented that Stein didn’t look like her portrait, Picasso replied, “She will.” Stein wrote “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso” in response to the painting.
Gertrude was born 140 years ago on February 3, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Her father and her uncle owned a textile business with stores in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Maryland. The brothers did not get along so in 1875 her father took the family to live in Vienna, Austria. Thus began Gertrude’s travels. Three years later they moved to Paris and lived there for five years. They spent 1879 with relatives in Baltimore where Gertrude learned English after speaking first German and then French.
The family moved to Oakland, California in 1880. Gertrude’s mother, Amelia died eight years later of cancer. Gertrude was 14. Two years later her father died and she returned to Baltimore to live with an aunt. She went on to study philosophy and English at Radcliff College and ended up back in Baltimore studying medicine at Johns Hopkins. She spent her summers traveling around Europe with her brother, Leo. By 1903, she was failing her classes and her scandalous lesbian love affair ended badly. She moved to Paris and did not return to America for 30 years.
Gertrude and Leo collected art and became friends with many artists of the day. Leo started to paint and Gertrude wrote. They held Saturday night salons in their home to meet and promote artists and writers. In 1906 Picasso painted her portrait and gave it to her. Her portrait of Picasso was published about twenty years later.
She wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in 1933. This was her first “mainstream” piece and it was a bestseller. She was fifty-nine years old. Enjoying her new-found fame, she embarked on a lecture series across America, her first time back since moving to France.
“When I was in America for the first time travelled pretty much all the time in an airplane and when I looked at the earth I saw all the lines of cubism made at a time when not any painter had ever gone up in an airplane. I saw there on the earth the mingling lines of Picasso, coming and going, developing and destroying themselves. I saw the simple solution of Braque, I saw the wandering lines of Masson, yes I saw and once more I knew that a creator is contemporary, he understands what is contemporary when the contemporaries do not yet know it…” –Picasso
I admit it can be difficult to read some of her work. She writes long sentences without any punctuation and repeats herself endlessly. In Lectures in America she writes:
I began to get enormously interested in hearing how everybody said the same thing over and over again with infinite variations but over and over again until finally if you listened with great intensity you could hear it rise and fall and tell all that there was inside them, not so much by the actual words they said or the thoughts they had but the movement of their thoughts and words endlessly the same and endlessly different. – Lectures in America
She returned to France and moved to the country during World War II living a low profile simple life. In 1946 she was diagnosed with colon cancer and died on the operating table. She left her writings to Yale University, her Picasso portrait to the New York Metropolitan Museum, and everything else to her lifelong companion, Alice B Toklas. She was buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris with a tombstone designed by Francis Rose. Her birthplace was misspelled “Allfghany” and her date of death was two days off.
I think her writings are wonderful pieces of art and I enjoy reading them albeit in short bursts. She had a wonderful sense of humor, said what she thought and lived life to the fullest.
In an essay for Life Magazine in 1945 she wrote:
When General Osborne came to see me just after the victory, he asked me what I thought should be done to educate the Germans. I said there is only one thing to be done and that is to teach them disobedience, as long as they are obedient so long sooner or later they will be ordered about by a bad man and there will be trouble. Teach them disobedience, I said, make every German child know that it is its duty at least once a day to do its good deed and not believe something its father or its teacher tells them, confuse their minds, get their minds confused and perhaps then they will be disobedient and the world will be at peace. The obedient peoples go to war, disobedient people like peace, that is the reason that Italy did not really become a good Axis, the people were not obedient enough, …
General Osborn shook his head sadly, you’ll never make the heads of an army understand that.
– Off We All Went to See Germany
You can listen to Gertrude Stein reading from her work online.
– Original post at: Baltimore Post Examiner
Brion Gysin became friends with Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas in the 1930’s when he was living in Paris, painting and hanging around with Picasso, Man Ray, Max Ernst and others. He later moved to Morocco and opened a restaurant. That only lasted a few years. He returned to Paris and stayed at the Beat Hotel in 1958 with his friend William S. Burroughs. He developed a “cut up technique” where he would take a poem and cut it apart and then tape it back together. The permutation poem is made up of single phrases with the words rearranged in different order. He worked with words, music, sound and photography.
One of his great claims to fame, however, came out in Alice B. Toklas’ cookbook originally published in 1954:
(which anyone could whip up on a rainy day)
This is the food of Paradise – of Baudelaire’s Artificial paradises: it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR. In Morocco it is thought to be good for warding off the common cold in damp winter weather and is, indeed, more effective if taken with large quantities of hot mint tea. Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; ecstatic reveries and extensions of one’s personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected. Almost anything St. Theresa did, you can do better if you can bear to be ravished by ‘un evanouissement reveille.’
Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of canibus sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.
Obtaining the canibus may present certain difficulties, but the variety known as canibus sativa grows as a common weed often unrecognized, everywhere in Europe, Asia and parts of Africa; besides being cultivated as a crop for the manufacture of rope. In the Americas, while often discouraged, its cousin, called canibus indica, has been observed even in city window boxes. It should be picked and dried as soon as it has gone to seed, and while the plant is still green.
Alice B. Toklas was later linked with marijuana brownies and they were sometimes called Alice B. Toklas brownies. It is funny she became almost synonymous with marijuana brownies because most likely she never even made this recipe or tried any marijuana. It created quite a sensation when it first came out and the publisher was briefly worried that it might cause them some legal problems but there was nothing to worry about. The book has never been out of print.
The cookbook was written after Gertrude Stein’s death and was meant to be part autobiography. It is full of anecdotes about Alice’s life along with classic French recipes. In one review the book was referred to as the precursor of Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking. It is interesting reading but I find her recipes to be a little vague.
Potatoes Smothered in Butter
from The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook
Peel 2 lbs. medium-sized potatoes, cut in eight pieces. In a saucepan over medium heat put 3/4 cup butter. When the butter has melted, put the potatoes into the saucepan and cover. Stir with wooden spoon from time to time. Reduce heat after 1/4 hour. If the butter is too reduced add more. (This will depend on the kind of potatoes used.) Increase heat to medium, then to high. The potatoes should be browned and crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Salt (no pepper) and serve very hot.
I have added a few to this post which first appeared last year.
Karen Blixen’s farm in Kenya
I watched Out of Africa last night for the umpteenth time and it got me thinking about all the amazing expat women through the ages. Here are a few of my favorites.
Karen Blixen was Danish. She married Baron Bror von Blixen and they moved to Kenya in 1914. He was kind enough to give her syphilis and she returned to Denmark after one year for arsenic treatment. She lived through it and returned to Kenya for another 16 years. She ran a successful coffee farm for a while but always struggled with it and eventually was forced to sell the land. Her lover, Denys Finch Hatton, was a big game hunter who died in a plane crash just as she was dealing with the loss of her farm. She returned to Denmark and lived there for the rest of her life. She wrote under the name Isak Dineson as well as a few others and a couple of her more famous books are:
Out of Africa (1937)
Anexdotes of Destiny (1958) – includes Babette’s Feast which was made into a movie
Letters from Africa 1914-1931 (1981 – posthumous)
Beryl Markam was English. Her family moved to Kenya when she was 4 years old in 1906. She became friends with Karen Blixen even though there was an 18 year gap in age. Beryl also had a brief affair with Denys Finch Hatton and was due to fly with him the day he crashed. She had some kind of premonition and did not go. However she did go on to fly extensively in the African bush and was the first women to fly across the Atlantic from East to West. She briefly lived in California married to an avocado farmer but eventually retuned to Kenya and became a well known horse trainer. Her memoir (a very good read) is:
West with the Night (1942, re-released in 1983)
Alexandra David-Neel was French. She became an explorer at a young age running away from home at the age of 18 to ride her bicycle to Spain and back. In 1904 at the age of 36 she was traveling in Tunis and married a railway engineer. That didn’t last long since she immediately had itchy feet and set off for India. She told her husband she would be back in 18 months but did not return for 14 years. Her goal was Sikkim in the northern mountains. She spent years studying with the hermits and monks of the region and eventually, dressed as a man, snuck into the forbidden city of Lhasa. Her travels were extensive and you can read more about her here:
Her account of her trip to Lhasa is:
My Journey to Lhasa (1927)
Gertrude Stein was an American Jewish lesbian writer who moved to Paris in 1904. She held “Salons” promoting modern unknown artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Cezanne. During World War 1 she learned to drive a car and drove a supply truck for the American Fund for French Wounded supplying hospitals in France with her life long companion Alice B Toklas. Her writing was revolutionary and influenced many modern writers including Hemmingway. She was a strong minded woman with strong opinions and a copious writer with a great sense of humor. She was a real character as all these women were. One of the easiest books of hers to read is:
The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas (1933)
Another one I like very much is:
Ida, A Novel (1941)
Sylvia Beach was a contemporary of Gertrude Stein and also lived in Paris. She was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Her father was a minister and she grew up in Europe. She owned the bookstore Shakespeare and Company and published James Joyce’s Ulysses when nobody else would touch it, even though she had no money herself. She lived in Paris most of her adult life. Her memoir is:
Shakespeare & Company (1959)
And just for fun… Catherine the Great. She was born in Stettin, Prussia (now Szczecin, Poland), and traveled to Russia in 1744. In 1745, at age 16, she married Grand Duke Peter of Russia and became the Russian empress in 1762. She did not get on well with her husband and managed to “convince” him to abdicate. Soon afterwards he was mysteriously killed. She continued to rule Russia on her own until her death at age 67. I visited her palace outside St Petersburg a couple of times when I was living in Russia. There was one room I particularly liked was the Amber Room. The walls are covered in amber and other precious jewels. A recently published book about her life:
Catherine the Great by Robert K Massie (2011)
Who are your favorites??
I have mentioned that I like to re-arrange the furniture. It is one thing that keeps me sane. But my problem is deeper than that.
–In the end, many TCKs develop a migratory instinct that controls their lives. Along with their chronic rootlessness is a feeling of restlessness: “Here, where I am today, is temporary. But as soon as I finish my schooling, get a job, or purchase a home. I’ll settle down.” Somehow the settling down never quite happens. The present is never enough — something always seems lacking. An unrealistic attachment to the past, or a persistent expectation that the next place will finally be home, can lead to this inner restlessness that keeps the TCK always moving. — from Third Culture Kids by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken
I have finished school. I have a job. I purchased a home. I have a child. I am settled down. I’m not going anywhere.
I re-arrange the furniture. I plan long elaborate trips all over the world. I pour over airline timetables. I read travelogues.
I lived in Russia for many years with the landlady’s furniture or no furniture at all. It drove me crazy. I would complain to my husband – “When are we going to be able to buy some decent furniture that is comfortable and just be in one place for a while?” I dreamed of living in a comfortable place that was my own where I could just RELAX.
I still think about it. It is always someplace cosy and small and it is raining outside.
Truth is, I hate the rain. I find it confining.
And to be completely honest, there aren’t too many places I am longing for. Travel today is difficult. For some reason I am drawn to South America. I want to stay on in my own hemisphere. Or maybe New Zealand. And I have never been to Egypt….
In times of conflict and confusion, I turn to Gertrude. She clears it up for me.
I know of nothing more pleasing more soothing more beguiling than the slow hum of the mounting. I had never even seen an airplane near before not near enough to know how one got in and there we were in. That is one of the nice things about never going to the movies where there are so many surprises… Reading does not destroy surprise it is all a surprise that it happens as they say it will happen. But about the airplane we had known nothing and it was an extraordinarily natural and pleasant thing much more simple and natural than anything even than walking, perhaps as natural as talking but certainly more natural than doing any other thing. And so we liked it and whenever we could we did it. — Everybody’s Autobiography by Gertrude Stein
A sense of humor is key….
So, not TOO long ago I was awarded an award…. the Inspiring Blog Award.
This came from Expatially Mexico, a German woman, married to a hotel manager, living on a beach in Mexico. Can you imagine a better life? She has a great sense of humor and appreciates her new surroundings. You should check out her blog for sure.
I like awards for two reasons. One, it brings out a more creative element where pretty much anything goes. And Two, you meet the most interesting people!!
I back-tracked this award to see what “rules” there were and found all kinds of interesting people who don’t follow any rules. Awesome!!
Check them out too…
- Mirth and Motivation
- Scene Stealer
- Angelinem’s Blog
- Another Day in Paradise
- Live simply, travel passionately, and don’t forget to breathe
- Zeebra Designs and Destinations
- Little Grey Box
Inspiring is the word of the this blog…. What inspires me, what inspires you.
I like this definition: to exert a stimulating or beneficial effect upon (a person); animate or invigorate
Animate. What Animates me?
Getting lost in any city
A good joke
And of course, Gertrude Stein, my personal word god. From Patriarchal Poetry:
Let her be to be to be to be let her be to be to be let her to be let her to be let her be to be when it is that they are shy
Very well to try
Let her be that is to be let her be that is to be let her be let her try
Let her try
Let her be let her be let her be let her be to be to be let her be let her try
To be shy
Let her be
Let her try
Cheers to all of you. And here are a few you I will pass the baton to in case they feel inspired:
Ha! That should keep you busy for a while!