Gertrude Stein: Unafraid

gertrude stein.jpg
To help ease their pre-flight jitters a friend gave Stein (front) and Toklas Zuni fetishes as good luck charms.

One of the most influential figures in 20th century literature and art, Gertrude Stein flew for the first time in 1934, during a U.S. book tour with her partner Alice B. Toklas. Stein wrote about the experience in her 1937 memoir, Everybody’s Autobiography.

….about the airplane we had known nothing and it was an extraordinarily natural and pleasant thing much more simple and natural than anything even than walking, perhaps as natural as talking but certainly more natural than doing any other thing. And so we liked it and whenever we could we did it. They are now beginning to suppress the noise and that is a pity, it will be too bad if they can have conversation, it will be a pity....

It was then in a kind of way that I really began to know what the ground looked like. Quarter sections [note: large plots of farmland] make a picture and going over America like that made any one know why the post-cubist painting was what it was. The wandering line of Masson was there the mixed line of Picasso coming and coming again and following itself into a beginning was there, the simple solution of Braque was there and I suppose Leger might be there but I did not see it not over there. Particularly the track of a wagon making a perfect circle and then going back to the corner from where they had come and later in the South as finally we went everywhere by air and always wanted the front seat so I could look down and what is the use, the earth does look like that and even if none of them had seen it and they had not very likely had not but since everyone was going to see it they had to see it like that.

I was bothered as to why being up so high nothing happened. If you go up into the mountains not very high everything happens, you feel funny even if you are not afraid because being so high makes you feel high but being really high as high as you can be does not make you feel high. And at once I knew it and it was true that the air below is solid when you are above it, it is as solid as water. If you are on something solider next to it then it is not solid at all, but if you are directly above it and not looking forward at it then it is solid as solid as water and so there is no fear. And then after all everybody knows that somebody has fallen from any cliff and not been killed so anybody can remember that but anybody falling from the air is killed so no one can remember that. Anyway I was not at all afraid. I thought I would never be afraid again in the hills and going around a curve when there seems to be nothing below but I am, I was again last summer, perhaps not quite so much but enough. But in an airplane never.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.