My Life in France by Julia Child

Oof, I am beyond tired. I finished this book at 11:30 last night and then went straight to bed. I’ve had a long weekend. It wasn’t as restful as I usually like. Even though it was fun, I felt seriously drained at the end of the day.

This weekend there was cake- we made a 12-inch and a 10-inch and stacked them, frosted them, decorated them…. It looked very nice. I was, you know, mostly pleased with how it came out. I’m still annoyed that the frosting coat isn’t coming out smooth, but our cake this week was moist and dense and tasy, and we fed it to a large number of people. The difference this weekend is that, on Saturday, I had friends over to keep me company and observe the process and all the work that goes into Cake Day every week (I’m not actually sure people understand how many hours of sheer labor are put into this project), and they stayed the night so they could watch me complete the decorating the next morning, and then eat cake and join the party later. We had a good time, and it was fun- there were lost of teenagers and youths, so we played games in the yard while the adults (and some of the youths who refused to participate) watched.

Then around five, I was more-or-less ready to be in a completely empty, quiet house and read, but half the crowd was hanging around to watch a movie. So I separated, found someplace quiet to read, and felt tired. They were finally gone by around 7:30, and at that point I just gave up for the night. I wasn’t doing anything. I wasn’t even migrating to Gardiner, as I usually do on Sundays. It became one of those nights where you just want to sleep in your own bed, you know? I’m sure you know.

Instead, I watched two episodes of Doctor Who and read the last twenty pages of this book.

Then I overslept thirty minutes this morning. Dammit.

My Life in France is Julia Child’s memoir. My third memoir in a row- I never realized how much potential this genre had, but it’s completely fascinating.

Some background. Julia Child was born on August 15th in 1912 and grew up in Pasadena, California with absolutely no interest in cooking. She went to Smith College, and more or less spent the first thirty years of her life being taken care of and with very little direction. Her father was a very devoted Republican who expected her to marry a devoted Republican and continue exactly the life he had expected of her. Instead, she married Paul Child, whom she met while doing government work in China in her early thirties. They were married when she was thirty-five, and then they traveled together, he doing government work, she having fun, looking for projects, and being there for him. This is when she first visited France.

Her love for the cuisine was immediate. Her first meal in France, right off the plane, was sole muniere. It wasn’t long after that first day that she enrolled in the Cordon Bleu cooking school, under the tutelage of chef Max Bugnard. Here’s a picture of them together:

If you’ve seen the movie, you probably just did a double-take. The book is riddled with pictures of all of the main characters (except for Paul, because he was always behind the camera), and it suddenly becomes clear what an effort the casting people put into finding actors who really looked like these historical characters whom they were portraying.

Soon after she graduated from the Cordon Bleu (or perhaps soon before.. hm) Julia met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, two French cooking enthusiasts who were attempting to write a cookbook for Americans who liked French food. They had had many problems with publishing, though, and finally asked Julia to help them, both with the cooking and developing of recipes, and as a sort of American eye on their French techniques. Delighted, Julia threw herself head-first into what became something like a twelve year project of research, developing, testing, traveling, and writing. She absolutely loved it.

That’s the beginning, anyway. I feel like I can’t spoil you on this because it’s all history, and everyone knows that her book was ridiculously well-received, and that she got a cooking show out of it- right in the early days of television, too. But it was so interesting to read it in her words, to see her reflections on the way things had gone.

As memoirs go, I’ve noticed that they tend one of two ways (note that I’ve read several memoirs, but I haven’t really read a lot of memoirs, and this is just my observation). They can either have a very storylike quality, and read like a novel- Julie & Julia, or Lunch in Paris, for example- or they can read like someone telling their story, which is what this was like. Julia narrated her story as a methodical series of points, this led to this which happened on this date here, etc. Kind of like a history, only to each event she added much description and commentary. It was a colorful, fun, and wonderfully enjoyable read!

Here’s something else: Julia wrote this memoir when she was ninety-one. She wrote it with her great-grand-nephew, actually, and died before she could see it published. But at ninety-one, she was still able to supply an entire book of memories- very specific ones, with dates, locations. She remembered everything on the menu on a particular day. It’s amazing how solid her mind must have stayed. Pictures and letters tell so much, you know, but you couldn’t have created a book like this without real memories behind them.

On the other hand, Julia was literally creating this book at the end of her timeline. In the epilogue, she wrote about how age was coming on them. She said that she and Paul (who was ten years her senior, even) had reached that time of life where people they had known for years were starting to slip off into the “Great Blue Yonder”. She wrote about Simca, who was a fighter, finally succumbing to illness, and her brother- and sister-in-law both dying of cancer. The final passage of the book was very heavy. You could tell how she felt on this matter- she had lived a long, very full life, even without children (which she did lament, in a few places), but now all of her loved ones had passed on, or were too old to visit her. It was sad, but not tragic.

All in all, I found her story very inspirational. Here is a woman who managed to take life and, even starting late, turn it into something with endless joy, adventure, and good food. Rest in peace, Julia Child.

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Published in: on May 2, 2011 at 9:42 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Paul died before her, correct? I thought I heard something about that… Well, it’s interesting how she got into cooking. She certainly had passion.

    • Yes, Paul died when he was 92, about nine years before Julia.


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