Sunday, July 12, 2015

27, Rue de Fleurus

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas's former home in Paris at 27 rue du Fleurus, as I saw it on my 2013 visit.
It is not a museum, but is marked by the following plaque:
"Gertrude STEIN
Lived here with her brother Leo STEIN
then with Alice B. TOKLAS
she received many artist and writers
from 1903 to 1938."
Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, as the plaque says, entertained generations of artists and writers here. Their open-houses were most famously attended by Hemingway, Picasso, and numerous others. A high-ceilinged reception room, or atelier, displayed their incredible collection of art work by the modern masters: Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso. 

In her book Paris, France, written in 1938 as the era of incredible creativity there was about to end, Stein states that Paris was "the place that suited those of us that were to create the twentieth century art and literature." (p. 12)

Man Ray's portrait of Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein in the
atelier at 27, rue de Fleurus, 1922. (Smithsonian, National Portrait Gallery)
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, authored by Stein, describes their hospitality: Gertrude Stein talked to the men and Alice B. Toklas talked to the wives. Alice was responsible for food, including the hiring and supervising of their cooks. Gertrude wrote innovative novels and stories, gave advice to young men aspiring to be writers, and took charge of the intellectual content of their lives and friendships. They had a very traditional relationship except for one detail, which I celebrate in view of current events!

Google map location of the Stein-Toklas apartment.
Sadly, when Gertrude Stein died in 1946, her family took possession of her money and paintings, and Alice B. Toklas was left with nothing to live on. (Another reason to celebrate recent evolution of legal views on marriage!) 

My dog-eared copies of the Alice B. Toklas books.
To support herself, Alice wrote The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, published 1954. She offers classic French recipes from their Paris home and their country homes, recipes from their friends, their cooks, and their travels, and memoirs of her experiences in the kitchen and of their varied dining experiences. I find her recipes fascinating because of their difficulty and the frequent demand for rare and expensive ingredients: oysters, truffles, lobster, game ... 

The chapter "Murder in the Kitchen" is memorable for Alice's horrified descriptions. She had to kill a carp: "a heavy sharp knife" left it "dead, killed, assassinated, murdered in the first, second and third degree." She received a gift of six white pigeons with a note that it was a modest offering, "But as Alice is clever she will make something delicious of them." And so, "Six white pigeons to be smothered, to be plucked, to be cleaned and all this to be accomplished before Gertrude Stein returned for she didn't like to see work being done." Each so-called murder is followed by a rather tame recipe, "Carp stuffed with chestnuts," "Braised pigeons on croutons." (p. 40-43)

Need I mention "Haschich Fudge (which anyone could whip up on a rainy day)" -- surely the most famous recipe in the book? "Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; ecstatic reveries and extensions of one's personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected." One more twenty-first century legal evolution to celebrate. (p. 273)

I'm sending a link to this post to the blog "Thyme for Tea" where many bloggers are jointly celebrating "Paris in July." 

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas's writings and lives are full of remarkable accomplishments and fascinating insights. Though their contribution to the French in World War I was recognized for its value, there is a questionable side to how they survived World War II, but that's a subject for a much more ambitious post than this.

For a wonderful collection of photos of Alice and Gertrude, see THIS.


Lisbeth Ekelof said...

Very interesting post. She must have been a very special and fascinating character, or both of them. I just read 'the book of salt' about one of their cooks (review will follow) and when reading about Hemingway and other writers or painters in Paris in the 1920s, they all seemed to have her house as a meeting point.
Lovely old photos. It is strange that Stein did not write a will, especially due to her special relationship with Toklas. It is really very sad, that the family could not have provided something for her, knowing how much she meant to Stein.

Tamara said...

Fascinating post - I really feel for those who suffer such loss like Toklas did - loosing a loved one and loosing the items that mean so much for you. I love the story of 'murder in the kitchen'!

Jeanie said...

I never realized that was how Alice's cookbooks came to be. Truly fascinating. Looks like they lived in a great neighborhood, close to Luxembourg... sigh. I am reminded of the visit of Gil in "Midnight In Paris" to her apartment and while I know that was a set, it certainly gives a sense of place. Now this gives context to that.

How sad for Alice.

Arabella said...

Great post and really timely, I am in Australia, debate over gay marriage and the full recognition of same sex relationships is still raging here, Gertrude and Alice illustrate why that recognition is so important.

Monica's Bookish Life said...

What a wonderful post! I've never read any Gertrude Stein but your post makes me want to. Your photos are great.