Gertrude Stein was born on the 3rd of Febraury in 1874. I’m rather fond of Gertrude, and Alice B. Toklas, her wife; I read The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, written by Gertrude in the voice of Alice, when I was about 18; I read The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, written by Alice, and whether Gertrude as Alice or Alice as Alice, they both had a way with an anecdote. Alice had a way with a recipe, too. I don’t know if she could actually cook, but she wrote very well about cooking.
I also read Three Lives and Tender Buttons, but I have to admit that it is mostly the combined charm of Gertrude as Alice and Alice as Alice and the stories they told about the people they knew in the decades they lived together as Woojums and Woojums that stuck in my brain. Stein clearly had a monumental ego, but in the Autobiography she is more lucent and far kinder about all those people with the famous names and all their foibles than Hemingway was in A Moveable Feast, his memoir of his time in the orbit of Stein’s Paris salon. Stein was far more generous in her enjoyment and her understanding. Hemingway, in my decades old memory of his memoir, was a condescending prick.
Another old memory I have is of Gertrude Stein’s recorded voice. In the early eighties I worked as a projectionist at an old down-at-heel cinema that at the time of my employment screened softcore porn flicks. At age eight or nine, at the very same theater, I had seen a Disney movie, Follow Me Boys!, starring Fred MacMurry as a scoutmaster. It was a tearjerker; I cried. Circa 1980ish, a different kind of jerking was going on in the darkened auditorium. I had somehow obtained a tape of Gertrude Stein reading from (I think) Tender Buttons, and I would play that tape as the between movie muzak instead of the MoR compilation preferred by my boss, just to unsmooth the mood of the regular customers. That is a memory I cherish, pushing two buttons, Gertrude’s voice echoing in the dark as the curtain lowered in front of the movie screen. This is not the same recording, but it will do: