Editors helpfully peering over the shoulders of memoir writers often ask for celebrities, celebrities. Well, as a newspaper reporter I did interview Admiral Byrd the South Pole man, very cordial indeed; I had an unfortunate brush with John Foster Dulles squired by a disagreeable contingent of State Department huskies; there was a black-haired, eighty-two-year old Leonid Massine who’d danced with Diaghileff’s legendary troupe and answered my questions over tea at the Sir Francis Drake pleasantly but stiffly, in a posture that was arthritically erect, as if he were a talking medallion or de Medici bust; and I knocked on the hotel door of Sir Thomas Beecham, that lovely old tease of a conductor, asking for a few memories of his beloved composer friend Delius, and although it was a nap I think he had in mind he happily obliged, in shirtsleeves.
But the food connection with these celebs is non-existent, unless one counts Sir Thomas’ remark, heard at one of his Lollipop concerts in London a few years later: “anyone who can identify this next encore will be awarded a ton of chewing gum.”
In the food world, though — her world, of course, was much bigger than that — I did have the privilege of knowing M.F.K. Fisher a little. It was never for a starstruck scribe, meaning me, a totally relaxed relationship, but as fielded from her end of the court it was certainly a friendly one, with some good fun and gossip thrown in, especially via absolutely inimitable postcards written in her uniquely laidback rhythm and stocked with that fine quirky wisdom of whichn she seemed to be the originator. I first met M.F.K. (I never really felt I knew her as Mary Frances) about 1955 when a mutual friend dragged her, I suspect, to my mother’s house because my mother was a great fan of hers.
Thirty years later another mutual friend thought M.F.K. might look benignly on a literary effort of mine (which she kindly did), and when she invited Anne and me to lunch at her unique studio/house in the Valley of the Moon, preparing for us at the kitchen end of her book-lined living room a very tasty tapenade of olives-capers-anchovies as the centerpiece of a light and perfect meal, sort of Panisse Café-ish, washed down with a simple white wine, she recounted for us everything that had transpired at my mother’s house three decades earlier, including a vivid description of my mother’s large in-house feline population. I guess those cats struck a chord as they say, but then M.F.K. was as observant as the most sensitive detective, or novelist.
When a large book of M.F.K.’s letters came out not long ago I devoured it, all its knowingness, and I dreamt I told her how much I felt its pull.