“Paris is always a good idea.” Audrey Hepburn
In my early 20’s, I imagined traveling to Paris to enroll in an art history course. Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal in the 1954 film, Sabrina may have had a strong influence given her astonishing transformation when she studied at a prestigious culinary school in Paris. From heartbreak to elegance and grace (which of course, was always within her), Paris imbued Sabrina with an exuberant sophistication.
I experienced Paris in spring, albeit a couple of decades past my 20’s, and can reaffirm, that Paris is indeed a good idea.
I have gone back to Paris again, but in a different way. I am seeing the world of Gertrude Stein through the eyes of Alice Babette Toklas, her closest friend and life partner. I imagined that the “Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” would be a rather easy read, something that I could get through in a couple of sittings. Instead, I have become enrolled in the art history course that I longed for in my early 20’s.
Gertrude Stein has a marvelous talent for dropping names, without the snobbishness that usually accompanies that type of behaviour. This could be that Gertrude is speaking as if she were Alice; or perhaps it is because the names are familiar and I am seeing them in the light of a conversation rather than as a list of dates and accomplishments. What is even more interesting is that every name has a personal story, as well as a place in an encyclopedia.
Alice arrives in Paris in the year 1907.
“Picasso had just finished his portrait of her which nobody at that time liked except the painter and the painted and which is so famous, and he had just begun his strange complicated picture of three women, Matisse had just finished his Bonheur de Vivre, his first big composition which gave him the name of fauve or a zoo.” Gertrude Stein “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas”
Gertrude and Alice created a vibrant environment where literary and artistic endeavours flourished. I am savouring the pages of this autobiography as if I were attending one of Gertrude’s soirees where art came alive in the scintillating chatter of a crowded Parisian atelier. Paintings have taken on a personal narrative, which adds dynamics and a deeper understanding for the artwork.
“It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.” Gertrude Stein