Thursday, September 13, 2012

Genius, First Class

Gradually I told my father that perhaps I would leave San Francisco. He was not disturbed by this, after all there was at that time a great deal of going and coming and there were many friends of mine going. Within a year I also had gone and I had come to Paris. There I went to see Mrs. Stein who had in the meantime returned to Paris, and there at her house I met Gertrude Stein. I was impressed by the coral brooch she wore and by her voice. I may say that only three times in my life have I met a genius and each time a bell within me rang and I was not mistaken, and I may say in each case it was before there was any general recognition of the quality of genius in them. The three geniuses of whom I wish to speak are Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and Alfred Whitehead. I have met many important people, I have met several great people but I have only known three first class geniuses and in each case on sight within me something rang. In no one of the three cases have I been mistaken. In this way my new full life began.

- The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

I must be in a Rue de Fleurus sort of mood, which rather makes sense as Gertrude and Alice join the list that includes travel snaps in regard to being Things That Cheer Me Up.  One of my formative theater-going experiences was seeing the great Pat Carroll as the Great Gertrude Stein in a show called, if memory serves and rather logically, Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein, and from then on I have been a devoted fan.

I took this picture - of a terra cotta version of the Stein statue by Jo Davidson that in bronze graces Bryant Park behind the New York Public Library - when we were, as some may remember, exiled to Washington this past August.  I think she looks suitably formidable, but rather graver than in Miss Carroll's impersonation.  It is not a mournful statue, but at least as lit in the National Portrait Gallery, from my experience one difficult to photograph in any other mood.

Like Alice, I have met several great people, but only once for me has the genius-bell rung, at least at a level that could be considered "first class."  That genius was quite a personage, and most definitely a handful - both qualities, I am quite sure, that Miss Toklas was more than passing familiar through long experience.  It was exhilarating, but perhaps more than a shade tiring.  I can quite understand why, even as fond of Gertrude as she clearly was, she spent so much time in the kitchen, just as a relief from all that greatness.  Still, they had a marvelous time - a new, full life indeed - for a very long time, and that, in the end, is worth a very great deal.


  1. "One of the pleasant things those of us who write or paint do is to have the daily miracle. It does come."
    Gertrude Stein

  2. Terra Cotta?

    I thought it was Gertrude Stein sculpted in butter.

  3. Gertrude and Alice frequently appear at my paris/berlin blog. Check it out!

    Here's a Stein quote of note: "The act male homosexuals commit is ugly and repugnant and afterwards they are disgusted with themselves. They drink and take drugs, to palliate this, but they are disgusted with the act and they are always changing partners and cannot be really happy…In women it is the opposite. They do nothing that they are disgusted by and nothing that is repulsive and afterwards they are happy and they can lead happy lives together."

    1. She did like to delude herself that no-one would be disgusted by her lady garden... Jx