Written by Michael Shannon
Wishing cannot make something true of course but it can form a vivid picture in the mind. “Consider if you will….”
A long table set in a second story apartment in the sixth arrondissement of Paris, France. The walls are hung with painting set so close together they create a mural of and by complete unknowns. The door to the apartment, before you turn the latch and open is plastered with strange drawings glued so close together that some are almost completely hidden by the newer.
The unheated apartment is full of life. Men and women bump and jostle. Everyone is talking, everyone is smoking. They flirt, they drink, argue and yet all are friends. The little Spaniard who made the drawings, the Beetle Browed American writer and war veteran glares at his fellows as is his wont, The poets Joyce and Eliot nodding and leaning into each other as they argued, passionate and critical. Having just arrived, arm in arm, the Cubist and the Impressionist made their hellos to the composer and his wife Linda Lee. Cole nodded in return, his fingers drumming a rhythm only he could hear. Sitting on the couch, the delicately handsome F. Scott held court with Ezra the poet, Sinclair the ever self- revealing, Sherwood proud of his self-education, a tweedy bunch of writers discussing some esoteric tenet of their craft.
The hostess leaning back on her sofa, seemingly rooted, part of its form, solid, immutable, surveying the room. her birdlike companion, her lover, Alice with her hair so short, her soulful eyes hung above a noble, knife edged nose, hovered just behind. Gertrude glares at the portrait the little Spaniard had painted. It looked nothing like her, not a mirror image but, as the painter said,
“Never mind, in the end she will manage to look just like it.”
“The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas” and “The Alice B Toklas Cookbook,” bookends for an extraordinary life.
Years will pass, decades. The guests will scattered to the four winds. Their commonality will always be connected to that room. That so many gifted souls could be connected to one person….
“She was a golden brown presence, burned by the Tuscan sun and with a golden glint in her warm brown hair. She was dressed in a warm brown corduroy suit. She wore a large round coral brooch and when she talked, very little, or laughed, a good deal, I thought her voice came from this brooch. It was unlike anyone else’s voice—deep, full, velvety, like a great contralto’s, like two voices. Alice B. Toklas
Charlie Chaplin who knew her created a cinematic representation of her famous phrase, “a rose is a rose is a rose.” He gave her a nod in his 1952 film Limelight, in a scene where the protagonist says, “the meaning of anything is merely other words for the same thing. After all, a rose is a rose is a rose. That’s not bad. It should be quoted.”
Happy Birthday Gertrude Stein, thanks for everything, Mike.
*Mister Cuddle Wuddle was Alice B. Toklas’ pet name for Gertrude Stein.
Michael Shannon is a World Citizen, Surfer, Sailor, Teacher, Builder and Story Teller. He lives in Arroyo Grande, California, USA. He writes for his children.