Long Ago in France
By M. F. K. Fisher. Introduction by Jan Morris. A Touchstone Book, Simon & Schuster, 1992, 159 pp.
As its title suggests, Long Ago in France is a memoir that looks back to another era, both in France and in the author’s life. Fisher was young and newly married when she arrived in Dijon in 1929 with her husband, Al, who was a graduate student at the university, where she also studied French.
Fisher’s three years in Dijon proved to be seminal in her life, setting her on the path to become the food writer and prose stylist she would become. It was there, she says, that she “started to grow up, to study, to make love, to eat and drink, to be me and not what I was expected to be.” But this is not a nostalgic trip back through time. It isn’t sentimental, nor does it suggest a yearning to return to that earlier age: it is much more an effort to recreate it, for us and also, I think, for herself.
She does this splendidly, describing her curious apartment, so French that they loved it, and the “gray, dim, dark town, very provincial,” which they also loved, and the eccentric families they lived with, learned from, and above all ate with, consuming great quantities of extraordinary food. Fisher of course describes this wonderful food, so central to the lives in Dijon, providing the imagery that makes it seem tangible and the context, both social and personal, that makes it fascinating—even, I think, to people who, like me, are not all that interested in food.
The author doesn’t soften her depictions of the people she came to know and like and even love, nor does she spare her own youthful foolishness. Looking back, she can see how absurdly awful she was to reject the offer of her landlady—“the best unprofessional cook I have ever known”—to teach her what she knew about cooking. “Great Saxon inept lout that I was,” she observes.
For some reason, I had never read Fisher before, though she has written many other books. But this slender late volume seems to me an excellent place to have started.
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Long Ago in France