• Email
  • Print

Tea with Alice

In response to:

Brinksmanship from the January 11, 1996 issue

To the Editors:

I am intrigued to read in a footnote to his review of Mailer’s biography of Picasso [NYR, January 11] that Roger Shattuck was invited to tea in 1948 by Alice B. Toklas where

Fernande Olivier…wearing a large hat…sat calmly among the Picasso paintings lining the walls in the rue de Fleurus apartment….

Certainly Miss Toklas spoke highly of the young Shattuck finding, in particular, his Banquet Years thrilling. But, in fact, Miss Toklas and Miss Stein had moved to 5 rue de Christine some ten years earlier just before the much lamented death of Basket 1.

Rue de Christine is a narrow, rather dull street running between rue Dauphine and rue des Grands-Augustins most famous perhaps for its portrayal in Apollinaire’s poem “Lundi, rue Christine.”

The move had been precipitated by the owner of the rue de Fleurus premises who wanted the apartment for his newly married son. But as Miss Stein wrote to “Kiddie,” William Rogers—

We were tired of the present which was also the past because no servant would stand the kitchen, there was no air in the house, the garage they had built next door had made it uncomfortable…

Immediately after Baby’s death in October 1946 Virgil Thompson travelled to ruede Christine where he found Alice “Lonely in the large, high rooms, but self-contained.” She remained until her eviction in 1964 to a small apartment on rue dela Convention. But, of course, long before then the heirs to the Stein estate had confiscated the pictures.

With the growth of cataracts the aging Alice could no longer see the blank wall-spaces they had once occupied. But as she said—

I can see the pictures in my memory. I remember each one and where it stood.

She died two months short of ninety at the rue de la Convention apartment and was buried with Gertrude in Père Lachaise. Her instructions were specific—

The inscriptions with regard to name, birth-date and date of death must be placed on the back of the stone for which I have already paid Leceux Frères.

And, to this day, she remains behind the woman she loved.

Roger F. Betteridge
Derbyshire, England

Roger Shattuck replies:

Since I never visited anyone in the Rue de Fleurus, I could not believe I had written that name and proofed it several times. I thank Mr. Betteridge for catching my inexplicable lapse. In 1948, the rue Christine (without de) attained a vivid identity for me, both because of Apollinaire’s collage-like “conversation poem” composed in the street’s corner bistro, and because Alice Toklas lived there. Mr. Betteridge’s letter recovers that identity from my slip.

  • Email
  • Print