A few times a year, members of this class head to a mountain resort, carrying only a Council on Foreign Relations tote bag (when you have your own plane, you don’t need luggage that actually closes). Once there, they play with hundred-and-sixty-pound dogs, for it has become fashionable to have canines a third as tall as the height of your ceilings. They will reflect on the genetic miracle they have achieved. (Their grandmothers looked like Gertrude Stein, but their granddaughters look like Uma Thurman.) In the evenings, they will traipse through resort-community pedestrian malls licking interesting gelatos, while passersby burst into spontaneous applause.
Hemingway and his new bride would go to Paris, France where the whole of literature was being changed by the likes of Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Ford Maddox Ford.
Gertrude Stein’s “Paris France” is a book about Paris that tells many true things about the French but also gives a picture of Gertrude and her times that is about who Americans are and what Americans think when they are not in Paris at all. It is a picture of Paris by an American who thinks as Americans think, and we see America in the picture when she thinks she is showing us France. Yet because she is a fine and true writer she knows that she is showing us both things, and many truths about the French come out even though they are written the way an American must write them. This is because the writing is clear and the ideas are based on things seen rather than on what she has read about in books about Paris written by an old aunt or a magazine writer who has lived there for a few years and is excited to think he now understands it all.
A recent essay by Allison Meier notes that there are only five statues of named women in New York City: Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman, the last four added in the past third of a century. Until 1984, there was only one, the medieval Joan in Riverside Park, installed in 1915. Before that, only men were commemorated in the statuary of New York City. A few women have been memorialized in relatively recent street names: Cabrini Boulevard, after the canonized Italian-American nun; Szold Place, after the Jewish editor and activist Henrietta Szold; Margaret Corbin Drive, after the female Revolutionary War hero; Bethune Street, after the founder of the orphan asylum; and Margaret Sanger Square, after the patron saint of birth control. No woman’s name applies to a long boulevard like Nostrand Avenue, in Brooklyn, or Frederick Douglass Boulevard, in northern Manhattan, or Webster Avenue, in the Bronx. (Fulton Street, named after Robert Fulton, the steamboat inventor, is supposed to be co-named Harriet Ross Tubman Avenue for much of its length, but the name does not appear to be in common usage and is not recognized by Google Maps.) No woman is a bridge or a major building, though some may remember that Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney is the founder for whom the museum is named. New York City is, like most cities, a manscape.
Гертруда Стайн (англ. Gertrude Stein)
Indeed, I have postponed mentioning what might, to that hostile reader, seem essential to understanding this book: that it was published in 1940, on the cusp of the black hole that would swallow up and scar so much of the French civilization that Stein celebrates. The whole book is permeated with the knowledge that a war is just about to start; she has taken to the countryside to write the book, and the threat of war—there will be a war, there won’t be a war, if the war comes it will actually in the long run be a good thing, but perhaps it isn’t really coming, or not as the previous one came—fills the book. It is hard not to wince with pain, at moments, rereading “Paris France,” for we know that the war will not be exciting or logical or do good things for fashion; it will just be the war. And, though we know that Stein will survive it remarkably intact, we also know that, at this moment in French history, she is about to become not a detached American but another dubious, if not doomed, Jew. (The ambiguities and occasional opportunisms of Stein’s view of the totalitarian threat have only recently become a subject of biographical inquiry.)