Babette & The Lost Generation Brownies
Smokin’ and tokin’ with Alice B. Toklas and enjoying a bottle of wine with Gertrude Stein… life, art, and literature is on fire; red hot burning embers of a Hemmingway cigar at the Parisian salon with old Spanish Picasso peeking at his peers who are peering back at him in avant guarde abstraction while distracted by Babette’s Lost Generation Brownies.
Thornton got wilder and wilder the more and more he ate, gravity losing its grip as he and a multitude of Matisse and others became moons in orbit in the heyday high days of the literary salons with it’s star studded “lost generation” galaxy of expatriate writers. As the artists came and went, there was one consistency, one universal sun-star that held everything in place. It was a schizoid star to be sure, composed of two separates welded together as one spiritual same sex sculpture depicting two forbidden lovers as one unified entity. That sculpture was a bronzed patina of a paternal Gertrude Stein and her looking glass wonderland Alice in a mad hatters world… Alice “Babette” Toklas of San Francisco.
Alice B. Toklas, and no, not the “you can get everything you want at Alice’s restaurant” Alice. This Alice was born in San Francisco in 1877 to a middle-class Jewish family. She developed an interest in music which she studied in the rain-soaked northwest at the University of Washington. The limiting world of the drizzle abundant northwest created an urgency to travel and see what Europe had to offer. Paris was beckoning to her— a muse in a soft colourful silken Chinese dress with creamy Asian thighs— and Babette landed in the land of revolution in September of 1907. It was on that first French day that she met the women who would change her life and whose own life would forever be intertwined with hers as finely woven fabric in a Persian rug: Gertrude Stein. Together, Stein and Toklas would shape and share a life of literary foreplay, along with physical foreplay, behind the invisible curtains of a salon they hosted together that appealed hungrily to the expatriates that were crashing ashore on the Parisian Left Banke. Writers, poets, painters, sinners, and saints: a Picasso landscape of twisted bodies tossed onto the war swept pages of a Hemingway novel; they all paid homage.
Stein was the engine that powered the ship, born in 1874 in Pennsylvania of railroad wealthy parentage that for business reasons moved to Vienna and Paris when the young Stein was three years old then back to the America, to the land of Jack London in Oakland, California across the bay from the city of San Francisco, the jewel of the Pacific Left Coast. In 1903, Stein moved back to Europe and lived with her brother Leo, an art critic, in Paris. It was during this period that her notoriety was becoming well-known.
If Ellen Degeneres thinks she is breaking new ground, she best think again. In this day and age it’s a safe bet to “come out” but when Stein did in the 1950’s it was precarious. She wrote “Things As They Are” in 1903 but was not published until 1950. It’s a story based on a menage a trois will studying at John Hopkins in Baltimore. One of the partners developed a relationship with another woman who also intrigued Stein who could not make any headway with her herself.
Stein became not only curious with her own sexuality, but also enamoured of her own masculinity, which was accepted theory as a result of the ideas Otto Weininger wrote in Sex and Character in 1906: Jewish men were considered effeminate and Jewish women as homosexuals according to a study. Steins division of household labor and the lesbian relationship she cultivated with Toklas was described, by Hemingway, as Toklas being Stein’s wife.
Babette warmed to her role as Steins lover, cook, secretary, critic, editor, muse, and gal Friday (actually her gal Monday through Sunday) and was happy to remain submissively in the background. Stein eventually published her own memoirs in 1933 under the titillating title, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. This became Stein’s bestselling book.
Toklas then published her own memoirs in 1954, that mixed reminiscences and recipes under the title, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook with the foremost recipe being that for Hashish Fudge, a mixture of fruit, nuts, spices, and cannibus saliva: the legendary Alice B. Toklas brownies. The cookbook has not been out of print since it was first published and was followed by a second cookbook in 1958 called Aromas and Flavors of Past and Present and numerous articles for magazines and newspaper. Interestingly— although no truth can be accurately subscribed to it— the that the slang term “toke” was said to have derived from her name by the cannibis faithful to describe the act of inhaling marijuana. It’s a matter of choice and which mythology you wish to inhale for your own pleasure.
Popular pot culture has not neglected Babette and her Lost Generation Brownies. There was a cinematic tribute of sorts in 1968 starring the irrepressible Peter Sellers in I Love You Alice B. Toklas. Politics and pot? Watch out Tea Party, there is a “tea” chapter of the Stonewall Democrats, an organization within the Democratic Party that is named after Toklas! Brendan Behan sums it up best in his poem about Paris and Gertrude Stein. He said, “I absolutely must decline, to dance in the streets with Gertrude Stein. And as for Alice B. Toklas, I’d rather eat a box of fucking chocolates!”