my tragic right hip

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May 14th, 2012

#40 – My Life in France

Before I read My Life in France, I knew who Julia Child was, but I had never seen her on television — my impression of her was formed by Julie Powell’s admiration of her in Julie & Julia, and Meryl Streep’s performance in the film of the same name. But this book, oh I how fell for this book — my darling Vicious Circle cohorts were far more rigorous in their thoughts; I, however, got swept away. The love affair that I have with Paris, from the three times I’ve been there, isn’t anything new to the people who know me. And I really admired Julia and Paul’s attitude about their foreign service — they tucked right in and immersed themselves in the local food, culture, and got right down to the business of enjoying their lives.

That’s not to say that they didn’t have bumps along the way, but her narrative voice, as interpreted by her nephew, Alex Prud’homme, remain so clear and level-headed, that it’s unnerving. The impression you are left with is that Julia Child suffers no fools, and nor does she give up once she’s left onto a path with a cleaver in one hand and an asbestos baking tile in the other.

For all of us still longing to find our calling, or rather, to fully embrace our calling, her book is a love letter to choosing your pursuits wisely. She’s obviously very happy and very content with her choices — even if the book doesn’t even touch the surface of her life before she married Paul. That they loved one another, there remains little doubt, but the decline of his health was discussed so briefly and so, well, simplistically, I had to wonder if there was an essence of the 1950s stalwart, “Keep Calm & Carry On” attitude wherein she would never betray her real, real feelings.

Book club was at my house, and one of my fellow Vicious Circlers came bearing a gift of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’ve spent the last few nights just flipping through it, wondering at the sheer magnitude of the project, marvelling at what the three co-authors undertook. I am trying to find the courage to try a few of the recipes this summer — but they all seem so, well, hard. Especially when I’m so pressed for time these days. Yet, I greatly admire the text as a living, breathing document, a testament to how important it is to have a record of how the world once was, and like, The Joy of Cooking, it’s as much a reference book as it is a cookery book. Child makes that point herself in My Year in France, discussing how she wanted to preserve the ways of classic French cuisine before they disappeared. I had never thought of it that way before — that it’s a form of history that truly deserves to be recorded for posterity, for generations, for women like me who can’t live in Paris but who remembers each and every amazing meal she had there all of the times she visited.

It was a marvellous life. I am utterly envious.

Other reading updates: George Orwell’s magnificent Coming Up for Air (poor Hilda! What’s she on about?), which is #41. And I have abandoned many of my Bs: The Children’s Book, Cloudsplitter, and Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood. I will circle back but I was hopelessly stuck and I just needed something simple. I also finished Samantha Bee’s memoir (#42), which I’d consider Tina Fey-light, but it did make me laugh quite a bit, simply because, my goodness, her upbringing was unconventional and full of hilarious anecdotes.

One Response to “#40 – My Life in France”

  • Sarah says:

    I’ve owned Mastering the Art of French Cooking for well over a year. I would occasionally take it from its place among all the other cookbooks any serious foodie is supposed to have and I would loving run my hand over the cover, coo something about the wonderful Julia Child, feel extremely intimidated and put it back. Or at least that’s what happened up until a few days ago when I was confronted with an excess of tarragon. I highly suggest the chicken fricassee with the tarragon (fricassee de poulet a l’estragon). It was comparatively easy and the best part is that once you add the liquid you just let it cook away for an hour while you do other stuff. It also helped that while cooking I remembered that Julia Child once dropped a chicken on tv and still threw it in the oven, so I don’t figure she’d haunt me for not getting it exactly right. Also, it was AMAZING.


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Girl with titanium hip will rock. Girl with titanium hip will write. Girl with titanium hip will read. Girl with titanium hip will battle crazy-ass disease called Wegener's Granulomatosis. Now stuff that in your spelling bee!

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