Sunday, June 3, 2012

My Life in France

The sweetness and generosity and politeness and gentleness and humanity of the French had shown me how lovely life can be if one takes time to be friendly.

Perhaps no one has done as much for cooking, and French cooking in particular, in America as Julia Child.  This is obvious, not only in the fact that her iconic cook book (Mastering the Art of French Cooking) remains very popular fifty years later, but also that her very kitchen has found a home in America's treasure house, the Smithsonian.  But there is more to Julia's story than her television shows, her recipes, and her instantly recognizable voice.  Eight months before her death at the age of ninety-one, Julia sat down with her grand-nephew Alex Prud'homme and compiled the story of her years spent in France which ultimately became the most transformative years of her life.  It is an intimate look into her introduction to French cuisine, her relationships with family and friends, and the creative process that led to her fame in the US.

As a lover of good food and French culture, this is a book that I have been wanting to sink my teeth into for a long time.  But though the information on the food and the culture was interesting, the best part of the book is actually found in two different areas.  The first is Julia herself.  A self-described late bloomer, Julia does not really find her niche in life until she marries Paul Child after serving with him in the Office of Strategic Services during WWII.  She then accompanies him on his US Embassy assignment to France where her purpose in life suddenly becomes very clear to her.  I loved how she threw herself into French cuisine with such passion and determination.  She wasn't content to play at cooking, but rather she wanted to really master it.  Through the ups and downs, she never let her mistakes get to her, but rather she uses them to better herself.  I also loved her passion for sharing everything that she was learning with others and her intense desire to bring the beauties of French culture to her home country.  She really is an inspiration, and a reminder that it does not matter when your life purpose comes along.  The only thing that matters is that you seize it when it does.

The other aspect of the book that I loved was Julia's relationship with her husband, Paul.  Though he remained in the background during her celebrity years, Paul was an integral part of Julia's life.  As unlikely as it seems, this match of the tall, inexperienced girl from conservative California with the worldly, artistic man from liberal New England was truly made in heaven.  They complement each other so well and act as each others' support in the ups and downs of their careers.  While it was Julia's initiative that started her on the path to success, it was Paul's love and support that ensured it.  In many ways, he is as interesting as Julia herself.  He was an extremely intelligent man with a passion for art, France, good food, and wine.  In many ways he was Julia's inspiration, and I think that it is fairly safe to say that without Paul, we would have never had Julia.

This was a delightful read and I can't recommend it enough.  Whether you are looking for a book on France, a book on good food, or even a book with a great love story, you could do worse than to try this one.  I am certain that this is something that I will go back to again and again when I find myself in need of inspiration.

The Movie:

You can see a partial adaptation of this book in the 2009 film Julie & Julia.  Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci turn in great performances as Julia and Paul.  Though I didn't particularly care for the parallel plot set in modern times, I did enjoy the scenes from this book.

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