Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein # 85

99% Gertrude  Stein

Aquarie Stein is having another virtual birthday, Feb. 3rd. She is turning 138. Looking back at the year she just spent, culturally speaking, it was the 99% Gertrude Stein year.

The excitement created by her modern art collection and her still shockingly modern personality was not just for the ususal 1 % of avant-gardists and art enthusiasts. The traveling museum shows had record-breaking crowds, and every second day, educational  events helped the 99% people (who had never read her) take her in, become part of the “scene”, the media frenzy,  the there there. Everybody who was anybody in 2011 was 99 % Stein.

There were the scandals Stein always triggers like a badge of honor: lesbians sent from the museums because they were holding hands. Attacks against the museums by the press and blogosphere for “whitewashing” Stein’s survival in Nazi-occupied France which, to the hysterics, meant she must have been in cahoots with the Naizs and in love with Hitler.

It so happened that another extraordinary exhibition  about an artist of German Jewish origin was shown at the same time. Charlotte Salomon was also there there, at the SF Contemporary Jewish Museum, while Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories ran on the floor above.  It was one of those moments of serendipity that gives you a frisson, goose-pimples.  Here was the brilliant young Jewish artist from Berlin who fled to the French countryside, like Stein and Toklas did. Sensing the narrowing trap by the Nazis she put down her life story in a frenzy, in over 700 watercolors overlaid with words. She created the first and most original of autobiographical “comic strips” – just in time before being betrayed, caught, deported to Auschwitz and gassed. She was 28 years old.

One of the memorable moments in Stein’s renaissance year for me was the autumn gathering of the Diane Middlebrook Salon, where new books are presented to an audience of women writers of great intelligence.  I had presented Stein at the Salon a while ago. This time, among the Salonistas, I met author Gabriella Mautner, whose harrowing escape through Europe from Nazi persecution was fictionalized in a grippingly “real” novel, Lovers and Fugitives. The same day at the Salon, I met SF State and Stanford professor Mary Felstiner, biographer of Charlotte Salomon. Her study To Paint Her Life: Charlotte Salomon in the Nazi Era gave me sleepless nights with its heart-wrenching suspense and brilliance. This was another serendipity in the rich year of  Nazi survivor Gertrude Stein.

It was Thanksgiving time. Birthdays are reminders of giving thanks. An Aquarie myself, I  am celebrating Stein’s 99% birthday by looking back at that outstanding Salon day when Mary Felstiner distributed, to everyone’s delight, her ”99% Thanksgiving Pie: All But the Upper Crust”. You surely won’t want to miss the recipe:


What will 99% of Americans eat for Thanksgiving dessert? Humble pie?

No, we’re too hungry and angry to settle for that. We’re losing jobs, insurance, housing, education, public services. So this Thanksgiving we’re demanding our just desserts, not a slash-and-reduce diet of Tea.

Let’s fill our tables with abundance, then fill our politics, so that every campaign speech and news clip repeats that brilliant number, “99%.”

And how do we make “99%” the watchword of the times?

How about this Thanksgiving we slice our pies for the 99%? We could name each slice for what we want more of, what we’re thankful for. Say, a big slice for public services, for our teachers, our firefighters, our police (they shouldn’t be sent to  attack demonstrators; they’re the 99% too). Big slice for anyone improving our roads and bridges and levees and clinics. Slice for clever businesspeople who increase jobs and invent products. Nice slice for our families and partners and people who care for others. Juicy slice for our artists and writers and singers and filmmakers, who make American culture irresistible. Then a hefty slice for our workers, who do every job we need, and we do need jobs. A nutritious slice for our military, who serve the country. And one for our protesters, who keep it vibrant and on-track.

And here’s a recipe.


Just so everyone can eat it, this recipe is sugar-free, gluten-free, and vegetarian. And it’s an open pie, open to changes.

BOTTOM CRUST: 1/4 cup oat flour or rice flour; 1/4 teaspoon salt; 2 tablespoons oil or butter or margarine; one egg (optional); 4 tablespoons chilled water. Stir, chill, and pat into pie plate, bake 20 minutes with bottom pricked.

FILLING: Fill with cut-up apples, honey, a little salt, cinnamon, 2 tablespoons corn starch, bits of butter or margarine. Bake 30 minutes until soft. Or try a large can of pumpkin, a cup of milk or soy milk, 3/4 cup honey, egg (optional), 1/4 cup cornstarch, sprinkle of salt, cinnamon and nutmeg, teaspoon of vanilla, all poured into the 99% bottom crust. Bake.

“99% Thanksgiving pie” is one little act of creative resistance, using imagination to thwart the aims of greed and unjust power.

Creative resistance matters. Last year, in Stanford courses on creative resistance, we gathered paintings and writings and music, recipes and jokes and graffiti that people created to keep humane values alight in times of war and genocide. Today, the Occupy movement is bursting with creative resistance. Just think of signs and chants at demonstrations: “We Are the 99%” and “Why is it easier to believe that 150 million Americans are being lazy than 400 Americans are being greedy?” and “Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out.” Think of the new songs and videos, of pepper-sprayed students calling to police, “Peace! You can go!” and a sign waved the other day in Palo Alto: “Inequities Occupy My Thoughts!”

How about adding your own skills to this outburst, this most energetic desire in decades to create change — a  posting online, a poster at a march, a letter, a window display, a thoughtful gathering, a ritual? Maybe make a 99% pie. Name the slices. And share your pie around.


[From Mary Felstiner. mf@sfsu.edu]



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