The House at St Helena - Humphrey and Solveig Stone, M. F. K. Fisher

Pure Arcadia

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Les Deux Garçons is a famous mirrored rococo café on the Cours Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence. As I sat there alone one day in 1960, a plump but elegant, tall, cherubic-faced woman beckoned me over to her table. She imagined this thin student looked in need of a good meal. Thus began a friendship with M. F. K. Fisher that lasted until she died in 1992.

Her daughters were at the local lycée and we would all meet periodically to eat and attend the exquisite little theatre where plays by Sartre and Ionesco were being put on before going to Paris. The civilizing of this green, naïve Englishman had begun. She once admonished me for placing a milk bottle on the table. I have never dared do so since.

‘M. F.’ had imbibed her love of French culture and food from a time spent in Dijon in the 1930s with the first of her three husbands. She had grown up in Quaker Whittier, Southern California, and when she suggested California as a place to learn the art of printing, to my shame I scarcely hid my horror. Nine years later and newly wed to Solveig, I found myself the art director of Stanford University Press in California. Ho hum, as M. F. would have said. She was herself now back in California and our friendship was renewed. Solveig was also to become a close friend of M. F.’s, for they shared a passion for food.

I had no idea that M. F. had been writing two books while in Aix: Map of Another Town and A Cordiall Water: A Garland of Odd and Old Recipes to Assuage the Ills of Man or Beast. And I certainly had no idea how highly regarded she was in her native America, where she became a celebrity in the last years of her life. She moved noiselessly and with slow deliberation around the kitchen of her old house in St Helena, humming to herself, with a Persian cat at her feet. She empathized with cats. Her eyebrows were fascinatingly painted with a strange arched squiggle in the middle of one of them. She told us that an accident had burned he

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About the contributor

Humphrey Stone is a typographer, mainly of books, and works in a barn within earshot of his bantams, ducks and Dorset sheep.

Solveig Stone runs Compton Marbling, a small business making hand-marbled paper. She enjoys cooking (and ironing) for their four daughters and five grandchildren.

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