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By Julia Child, Alex Prud'Homme: My Life in France Paperback – 2008
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You probably watched Julie and Julia and know the gist of Julia's story. (Wasn't Meryl Streep fantastic!) The book fills in the details and all from Julia's perspective. You can see how her husband's government job led them to France and how her very first meal there led her on a adventure to learn to cook French food, though she had never been interested in cooking before. The book follows them on stints in several different countries. The most fascinating thing to me was how devoted she was to this cookbook for a decade. She truly did master the art of French cooking.
I fell a little head over heels for her in this book. (Someone send me Mastering the Art of French Cooking.) I'll make you dinner. I love to cook. I love the chemistry and learning how things go together. Open air farmer's markets are a part of my heart. Julia's love of people, food, and hospitality stirred me. Let's dine together.
I thought that it was great that she had written this book at the end of her life. She actually passed away before it was published. Her nephew finished and published the book after they had collaborated. Most of the other people in her story and also passed away so her tale was very honest. She told of struggles with her cookbook collaborators and how she showed grace and worked through things. Perhaps she would not have felt so free while the people she loved were alive. It spoke volumes to me about struggle and how to love and be a friend at all times. Of course, that was probably not her intent. She was just being Julia.
"The French are very sensitive to personal dynamics, and they believe that you must earn your rewards. If a tourist enters a food stall thinking he’s going to be cheated, the salesman will sense this and obligingly cheat him. But if a Frenchman senses that a visitor is delighted to be in his store, and takes a genuine interest in what is for sale, then he’ll just open up like a flower. The Parisian grocers insisted that I interact with them personally: if I wasn’t willing to take the time to get to know them and their wares, then I would not go home with the freshest legumes or cuts of meat in my basket. They certainly made me work for my supper—but, oh, what suppers!"
Julia becomes very much a Francophile. And, like many Francophiles she cannot resist taking a shot at the British.
"I admired the English immensely for all that they had endured, and they were certainly honorable, and stopped their cars for pedestrians, and called you “sir” and “madam,” and so on. But after a week there, I began to feel wild. It was those ruddy English faces, so held in by duty, the sense of “what is done” and “what is not done,” and always swigging tea and chirping, that made me want to scream like a hyena. The Old Sod never laid a haunting melody on me gut strings. In a way, I felt that I understood England intuitively, because it reminded me of visiting my relatives in Massachusetts, who were much more formal and conformist than I was."
This little aside about the Brits perhaps tells you more about Julia than the inhabitants of those isles. Key to this is that she not only sees herself as a nonconformist, but revels in that role. Notably, besides distancing herself from the Brits, she also distances herself from her New England heritage and in other places notes that she could never live in like Pasadena, California where her parents lived. For her Pasadena is just too Republican and too uncultured. She also has less than kind words for various others. Okay, so she is -- at times -- pretty judgmental.
But, at heart this is a book about Julia's journey, make that obsession with mastering as much as she can of French cuisine. Along the way there memorable restaurants, markets, and of course, her efforts at Le Cordon Bleu. It was not an easy journey, but Julia's pursuit of Le Grand Diplome was relentless. Once, that was in her grasp, she began to collaborate with two other women to produce the landmark "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Getting that book in publishable form and published was another almost Herculean task. But, through almost ceaseless effort and determination and with a little help from her friends she succeeds.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I have tried to watch the movie "Julie and Julia," but have never managed to stay awake for very much of it. Maybe, I'll try again.