Thursday, January 17, 2013

Remembering Michelle Vignes





I thought of Michelle yesterday when I found (at a discount store of all places) the tarragon mustard that she favored.  I bought it and remembered how much she taught me about food. Michelle was a tough, smart, elderly woman who I lived with for six months in Diamond Heights. Sometimes she was crabby but who wouldn't be if you had to live with a painful hip for most of your life? I always admired her strength and how she just managed to go about her daily business without much complaint or asking for pity. She was very political and I would have a hard time keeping up with her conversations when they turned to worldly matters. She would look at me disdainfully and say, "You're not very political, are you? Hmf." I have since then have been a little better about keeping up with present world events.

Michelle was a social documentary photographer whose work included photographing the events and people centered around the American Indian Movement. I also remember her "Blues" series which was very up close and personal. I've always been timid about photographing strangers and I admired her courage and ability to photograph people beyond her immediate social circle.


Michelle was an amazing cook and she loved rich food. She cooked mostly country-style French and she was an important figure in the formation of my culinary career. I loved eating with her. We always had fresh bread with the meal. There was always a selection of cheeses in the fridge for after dinner or lunch. We usually had a glass of red or white wine with dinner. Bogle was her favorite brand. She said it was a bargain. She enjoyed having a single cookie after dinner. She had diabetes but she wasn't going to deprive herself of life's little pleasures.

I didn't call her after I left San Francisco. I guess I was always afraid she would criticize my art or something in my life. I remember her once saying, "You haven't found yourself". I believe that I've "found myself" but I suppose I was waiting for everything to become perfect in my life before I contacted her again. But is anything ever completely perfect for long? I Googled her once or twice in the past. I remember that the last time I looked her up, I thought that I would send an email to her soon. I knew I had to do it soon because she probably didn't have much time left on this earth. But I forgot. Or maybe I was afraid. I don't remember.

Today, I was reminiscing about the places I have lived in San Francisco and when I reached the Diamond Heights house in my mental timeline, I Googled Michelle. I was hoping she was still alive, but sadly, she passed away just three months ago, on October 5, 2012. She was 84.

So I'm remembering dear Michelle Vignes tonight. She had a beautiful home that was eclectically furnished in a tasteful bohemian way. I thought she had great taste. She was stylish. She was homey and she loved her two cats. I especially liked Kali, the fat, black cat. Michelle had a sharp tongue and sharp wit. Sometimes she was a little inappropriate. She was feisty, but she was also kind and caring. She always had fresh potted herbs. How she managed that, I don't know. All of my potted herbs die so quickly.

I'm sorry, Michelle. I must remember to never take anyone for granted and remember to check in and say hello to those who have touched my life. Everyone is here for just a brief moment.

I am glad that you will always be with me in the recipes that I penned from our meals that we shared together. Good memories. Rest in peace, Michelle.

1 comment:

Durand said...

Great article. I only recently discovered Michelle Vignes work. I find the Blues coverage very powerful. Every image places me in the moment. Thank you for sharing the insight into her life.

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