A Mid-Summer Read

As I browsed my local library shelves in pursuit of a good summer "read", I happened upon, My Life In France by Julia Child (with Alex Prud'homme, her grandnephew). I knew about Julia Child first from seeing her on PBS years ago. At the time she seemed, to me, to be a rather frumpy woman demonstrating how to prepare something ..... not that exciting. Later, of course, I saw the movie, "Julie and Julia" and got a little different perspective from Meryl Streep's portrayal of her. Intrigued, I thought I would add it to my arm load of books to be checked out (of the library, that is!)

Julia's writing is lively and entertaining as she describes her culinary and book writing adventures beginning in France in 1948. She describes how French spices make chicken taste so ... "chickeny" and conveys her determination to introduce French cooking to the US by writing a cookbook specifically for the American house wife:

          I girded my loins, spit on the old Underwood, and began to type up my suggestions - clickety-clack - like a determined woodpecker."

However, aside from the enjoyable description of her life journey, I was struck by a couple of other topics that came to my attention during my lazy mid-summer read.

A photo in the book of a street in Paris in 1949.

Arriving in Paris in 1948 must have been quite the experience! I can only imagine how drab it must have been at that post-war time. Julia, however, embraced the culture and cuisine with great enthusiasm. She contrasts the deliciousness of the food and the "experience of dinning" in France, with that of the humdrum American gastronomy.

       "Wine?" I said. "At lunch?" I had never drunk much wine other than some $1.19 California Burgundy, and certainly not in the middle of the day.
In France, Paul explained, good cooking was regarded as a combination of national sport and high art, and wine was always served with lunch and dinner. "The trick is moderation", he said.
Her great desire was to introduce the fine food and customs of France to the busy American housewife, who not only cooks, but cleans, chauffeurs, gardens etc. I commend her efforts. On a recent trip to Europe, I was reminded of how much more the Europeans seem to socialize in cafes, flock to cultural events and enjoy fine dinning. I want to be like that! ....... But in all fairness, it's just not in our North American DNA. Our ancestors were too busy developing a country to pay attention to exquisite cuisine and the finer things in life.  No "boulangeries" or "patisseries" down the road in rural Canada!

A photo of Julia lighting a cigarette on a street in Marseille.

My Life in France is not all pressed duck and boeuf bourguignon. Julia and her husband, Paul were very politically aware They were most disturbed by events that took place in the US during the McCarthy era. Her father, however, was a staunch Republican who supported McCarthy's efforts, hated socialism, distrusted foreigners and wished to return to the country's isolationism of 1925. Julia felt that this was a very primitive way of thinking that didn't take into account the ways in which the world had changed. She felt that McCarthy supporters, who were determined to persecute those who embraced different ideologies, went against the Constitution which gave citizens the right to differ in ideas, religion and politics. I couldn't help but see the parallels with Donald Trump's campaign for president! (even the recent Brexit decision!)

Julia and her fellow chefs and co-authors in the kitchen.

Needless to say, I enjoyed reading about Julia's adventurous life. I learned something about food, culture and history. I was inspired to find a special interest and pursue it with passion. And I had several good chuckles, like the excerpt below from a letter that her husband. Paul, wrote to his brother (about Julia):

      She's becoming and expert plucker, skinner and boner. It's a wonderful sight to see her pulling all the guts out of a chicken through a tiny hole in its neck ...... And you ought to see her skin a wild hare - you'd swear she'd just been Comin' Round the Mountain with Her Bowie Knife in Hand.


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