Saturday, October 8, 2016

M.F.K Fisher: Home Ground ~ Loving the California Landscape ~ Paula Panich at the LA Arboretum

A quilt for a tablecloth makes for a country formal picnic 
“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.
M.F.K. Fisher
'Mary Frances'

The landscape where the lecture took place- The LA County Arboretum and Garden - from their Facebook Page.

Landscape. A two syllable word which opens endless linkage to the context of our lives. 
Brea Canyon painting, by John Anderson . Photograph by Gene Sasse captures my neighborhood.
We are products of the landscapes which envelop our lives. Doyenne of modern American writing and founder of the Napa Valley Wine Library, Mary Frances loved California, her descriptives of one place, frequently redolent with memories of other times, other locations. Best known as the originator of the genre of passionate renderings of home craft we enjoy now. Her “cookbooks”  reach beyond the making of food, but commemorate values learned communing with land, community and each other.   

Dijon France Mustard Field, from Pinterest, Steven Block
Born in Quaker Whittier, she lived most of her life in cities up and across California, including Laguna Beach, Hemet, Napa and Sonoma.  She lived in Europe. First in France, during an ill-fated first marriage. 

Dillwyn Parrish with Mary Frances in Hemet Image by Counterpoint Press, Berkeley, California

Then Switzerland, with her second and most passionate companion, artist Dillwyn Parrish. They started as Laguna Beach neighbors , whose respective marriages failed. He was very encouraging with Mary Frances’s writing. And complicating her life as only one deeply loved can. 

In 1938, the couple married, and she wrote of the Swiss mountainside where they inhabited as being where large trees leaned, pushed by wind.  The sudden onset of a circulatory disease required her husband’s leg be amputated. In 1939 there was no escaping war was coming to Europe. The couple stocked up on a pain medication not available in the US, fleeing back to the US. They set up home keeping in a modest cabin on 90 acres in the hamlet which Hemet was at the time. They proceeded to fit it to their needs, which meant including a studio for her husband to paint in. Forebodingly, his best known works from this time were dominated by images of the angels of death.  

Wyoming rainbowm image by Trevor Plunk
With Dillwyn devastatingly ill, his sister largely supported them on the land overlooking groves of apricots and acres of roses. Mary Francis painted with words grounded with grace, scenes such as watching a rainbow grow and die.  The property itself: a visitor once described as being full of “red rocks and rattlesnakes.”

In 1942, facing further amputations due to incurable Buerger’s disease and unable to procure the only pain medication which gave him relief, 47 year old Dillwyn walked a short distance from his home into the countryside. He chose a bullet to end his pain.

Paula Panich began reading M.F. K. Fisher 40 years ago. She was living in San Francisco, the epicenter of the food revolution which she good-humoredly describes as having grown into something of a “splinter religion” where food is the great metaphor for nourishment and shelter.

How does one read the same author for so long, and still eagerly return? Because Mary Francis’s unique writing style braids food, travel and memoir is accessibly authoritative. Great writers, as our own lives are expanded as experience become, we can return to the pages to mine ever deeper layers of intoxicating language. In the words of the poet Rilke,” The world is large, but in us, it is as deep as the sea.”

Author/ Teacher/ Speaker Paula Panich with  Mitchel Bishop, Arboretum Associate Curator of History and Photographer Ilana Panich-Linsman 
An east coast transplant, Paula found retreat from LA life by keeping a writing shack in Hemet. Here she followed her muse, so far as to imitate an archaeologist, mini-excavating on the late writer's land, turning up wine bottles, which now set on a shelf of Paula’s Los Angeles home, near the collection of immortal words brought into existence by the woman known as M.F.K. Fisher. 

Arboretum Librarian Susan Eubank told the capacity crowd, that she intends today to be the inaugural edition of lectures at the Los Angeles Arboretum and Garden.

Until we meet again, thank YOU for all YOU do to make the world more beautiful.