Alice B. Toklas



To be clear, I love all books, which must be understood before you read my next sentence:

Over the past few years, my enjoyment of fiction has been overtaken by my greater enthusiasm for non-fiction.  This may be a bold statement, to be sure, but if you ever read, “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,” written by none other than Gertrude Stein, you may agree that my non-fiction preference has a certain appeal.

I have reached the 10% mark given by the Kindle App, and already I sense that I’ve been transported to the Paris of the early 1900’s.  I am in the home of Gertrude Stein for an evening meal.  The Picassos have not made their entrance, which is unusual given Pablo’s obsession for punctuality.  It is not until we have finished the first course that we hear the sound of a bell.

“Pablo and Fernande as everybody called them at that time walked in. He, small, quick moving but not restless, his eyes having a strange faculty of opening wide and drinking in what he wished to see.  He had the isolation and movement of the head of a bull-fighter and at the head of their procession.  Fernande was a tall beautiful woman with a wonderful big hat and a very evidently new dress, they were both very fussed.” Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

The evening is filled with scintillating discussions and brilliant personalities.  I see it all through Alice’s eyes, experiencing her amazement as the procession of artists come through the door.

“They were always there all sizes and shapes, all degrees of wealth and poverty, some very charming, some simply rough and every now and then a very beautiful young peasant.” Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

On a Paris Bridge

On a Paris Bridge

Gertrude Stein has a way of prompting controversy.  Some would say that this book was merely a venue to highlight her personal “genius,” while others would consider it a charming view of the Parisian bohemian scene.   What I appreciate most is that Gertrude Stein has given me an insight into a community that changed the art world.

“A masterpiece… may be unwelcome but it is never dull.” Gertrude Stein

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

World Poetry Day 2016


By the River

Today is World Poetry Day, a time to celebrate and recognize the deep and profound influence poetry has on the human spirit.  Poetry captures the heart with words that give light to our innermost thoughts and longings. It is a measure of who we are as individuals as well as a society. And best of all, we are all, in one way or another, poets. As Plato once wrote: “Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.”

Poetry comes from an oral tradition which brings together other creative endeavours such as music and dance.  For me, listening to poetry is the ultimate experience.  Perhaps this preference comes from the encouragement of my mother who introduced me to poetry when I was a young child. My first recitation was “The Swing” by Robert Louis Stevenson.  To this day, I remember every word, every nuance, every lilt.

Happy Poetry Day 2016.  May the celebration continue all year long.

Happy Birthday, George Washington

“The hour is fast approaching, on which the Honor and Success of this army, and the safety of our bleeding Country depend. Remember officers and Soldiers, that you are free men, fighting for the blessings of Liberty — that slavery will be your portion, and that of your posterity, if you do not acquit yourselves like men.” 
George Washington

Geroge Washington

“His Excellency: George Washington” by Joseph J. Ellis

Today is George Washington’s 284th birthday.  I am reminded of a book that I read in 2009 that was especially meaningful: “His Excellency: George Washington” by Joseph J. Ellis, which I read via audio-book on my walks to and from work.  Over the couple of weeks of “walking with George,” as I came to think of that time, I found that I formed a friendship with someone I had never met, who lived nearly 300 hundreds years before me.

The greatest gift of books is their ability to suspend our reality to allow other narratives to find a place in our hearts. They allow us to break through barriers of time and location to experience life through the eyes of another. We are living the story, feeling the joys, sorrows and identifying with the hopes and ambitions of the central characters.

Beginnings are marked by remarkable people doing remarkable deeds. As time goes by, these events take on a mythical aura while the individuals become the “stuff of legends.” We do not see them as mortal beings; rather, we elevate them to a reverential status that separates them from the ordinary. The Founding Fathers of the United States fit into this category. Benjamin Franklin was considered the wisest, Thomas Jefferson the intellectual, John Adams the scholar, and Alexander Hamilton the most brilliant; yet they all recognized George Washington as their superior. In 1775, he was unanimously elected by the Continental Congress to be commander-in-chief. He lost many battles, but continued, undaunted until the war was won.

Portraits of George Washington show him as distant, even intimidating and cold. Yet, as his life unfolded, I envisioned him at 11 when he lost his father, at 21 when he was appointed emissary for the governor of Virginia, and at 23 as a brave young officer who gained recognition for his valour in the French and Indian War. I imagined him years later at Valley Forge, where he shared the cold winter months with his men.  As a president, I saw him exercise sound judgment as he led a fledgling nation. At the end, he embraced death with grace and equanimity.

I treasure those days when I “walked” with George Washington. He reminded me that one person, in the midst of conflict and complexity, can make a difference, be a force for good, an advocate for peaceful outcomes. His legacy will continue to inspire new generations.