I was reading about Gertrude Stein and her legendary salons in Paris, where she hosted the likes of Picasso, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Thornton Wilder, and Matisse. (One hopes some ladies came, too, but I guess all the recognized Great Thinkers at that time were dudes, aside from the occasional lesbian power couple like Gertrude and Alice B. Toklas.) It inspired me to think about a couple of things: 1. I wonder if anyone is having such salons right now where future Great Thinkers are and they don’t even know it. 2. I wish I were around and lucky enough to be at Gertrude’s place back in the day. 3. Why can’t I have a salon? I know lots of smart people.
The answer to 3 is along the lines of: I don’t live at 27 Rue de Fleurus or anyplace roomy enough to house Matisse paintings and the crowds who would gather to see them. However, small salons or dinner parties may be on the docket for the fall.
Meanwhile, I got loads of advice via Facebook from friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, some of whom have held salon-type things and some of whom have not, but all of whom had some thoughts for anyone thinking about doing something like this. The result was a kind of virtual salon about salons:
Anna Davies: I feel you are the type who does this naturally! [Good advice, in a way. One either holds salons, or one doesn’t, the same way one is a hat person or not. It’s all in the attitude.]
Jami Attenberg: Just invite good people over and the rest will happen. [She does host literary salons — great ones — in her Brooklyn loft, so her words have extra weight.]
Laurie Sandell: I did one! It was SO MUCH FUN. I invited about 30 people, and had my musician friends play one or two songs each, and there were two short readings (too many readings are a party-killer). People could not have enjoyed it more. Oh, and I made a ton of food. First hour was mingling and eating, and then everyone gathered round in the living room for performances.
A.K. Whitney [who is based in L.A.]: Oh… can I join you via Skype?
Heidi Wallick Leonard: Love this question! Have always wondered too, with an eye to starting/participating. Hope you go for it.
A.K. Whitney [clearly starting the mingling already] : Heidi, did you go to Wilson High in Long Beach? Class of ’89?
Heidi Wallick Leonard: Hi – I did! Class of ’87. You too?
Paul Romaine: I’m late to the salon, but 1. turn the music down (that’s one way to make it different from a party); 2. keep the lights up and chairs arranged in large discussion groups; and 3. go around, like my high school English teacher promised, with your grade book at the ready, giving people high marks for witty comments. You might also assign a model like The Importance of Being Ernest. [Paul is a librarian and knows lots of things.]