Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Life In France by Julia Child: Impressions


I found this photo somewhere on the internet. I had to use it because, let's be honest, don't we all leave your books lying on the floor with a crisp rose oh so carefully strewn across each of their covers? Admit it. You totally do. I, myself, have a florist on speed dial just so that I can keep my books happy with fresh roses.

If you have managed to distract yourself long enough from the beautiful bloom (or perhaps  read the title of this post), you may have ascertained that the rose-bedecked book & thus the true subject of this post is, indeed, My Life in France, by Julia Child & her grand nephew Alex Prud'homme. This book was also our book club's selection last month. I can't say that I particularly enjoyed it. But finish it I did, because I am terrible at intentionally not finishing books. It's a sickness.

Why didn't I particularly enjoy it? Well, for one thing, it's mostly about food. French food. I am not the most adventurous eater out there, and I really do not like French food. It is very meat/animal based, for one, and I don't eat many animals. (I do occasionally eat fish or poultry, but not often.)  The bloody duck-crushing bit and the live lobster chopping bit had to be read in close proximity to a bucket, lest my gag-reflex get the better of me. Also, apparently lots and lots of butter is the answer to any culinary problem. I'm not anti-butter by any means, but I'm anti globs and globs of butter on everything. Much of the book was filled with such food talk, or read like a factual diary entry with a recap of a night out or a dinner event (we went here, and ate this, and then we ate this, and then this, with this wine, and it was delicious, then we went there and met so-and-so and ate that, and then finally we went home at 2am!!) which, shockingly, I found very dull.

Luckily, it was not entirely boring or out-grossing, and I did enjoy her depictions of French life, her anecdotes about things such as how to survive a French dinner party ("Just speak very loudly and quickly, state your position with utter conviction, as the French do, and you'll have a marvelous time!!"), and her observations about the policies and politics of the time period. She and her husband Paul were unabashedly liberal; Paul worked for the Foreign Service and at some point was summoned back to the States for an investigation into his alleged Communist and homosexual leanings. And her descriptions of Provence at the time make it sound like an utterly magical place: 

Bumping up the rutted driveway, we were struck, once again, by what Paul termed "the Reverse Hornet-Sting" of the place--the shockingly fresh and inspirational jolt we got from our lovely hideaway. It was the cool, early-morning layers of fog in the valleys; Esterel's volcanic mountains jutting up out of the glittering sea; the warming Provencal sun and bright-blue sky; the odor of earth and cow dung and burning grapevine prunings; the colorful violets and irises and mimosas; the olives blackening; the sound of little owls talking back and forth; the sea-bottom tast of Belon oysters; the noisy fun of the marketplace; the deeply quiet, sparkling nights with a crescent moon hanging overhead like a lamp.

I never watched any of her cooking shows growing up and knew virtually nothing about Ms. Child before reading this, and I found one of the most refreshing things about her story to be that she did not come into her own until her late 30s and early 40s. In fact, before she moved to France when she was 36, she was an absolutely horrid cook. She comes across as something of a strong-willed, OCD but lovable kook, and she was probably delightful company. 

The book was not a total wash for me. If you are into food and meat and cooking and duck-crushing you will probably enjoy this read much more than I. While I don't regret reading it, I definitely could have done without. 
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