Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Life in France – Julia Child

My Life in France - Front Cover
I started off the year reading Julia Child’s 2006 autobiography My Life in France. The book focuses mostly on her first four years in France, 1948-1954, and how the foundation for her passion in French cooking and really, all cooking, formed as well as the process behind the writing of her classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. My Life in France was collaboration between Julia Child (1912-2004) and her husband’s grandnephew, Alex Prud’homme, during the last eight months of her life. The story was developed by Prud’homme interviewing Child as well as both of them combing through family letters, diaries, photographs, and other personal written items.

This autobiography is not evenly paced. On one page you might skip over a year while on the next you get the specific recipe of a dish that was consumed in a particular restaurant on a particular day (for example, La Couronne in Rouen). The book moves along more on a whistle-stop tour of people, places, event, and food that Child chooses to focus on. It’s not disjointing as it might sound and turns out to be quite effective because the stories they choose to tell are microcosms of her life.

The political landscape in America is a theme that weaves in and out the book. McCarthy’s witch hunts touched Julia’s husband Paul directly as he had nasty allegations leveled against him. (He survived and cleared his name continuing to work for the government). In Chapter 5, when talking about McCarthyism and the 1956 presidential election where Eisenhower sought re-election running against Stevenson, Child states “Stevenson, on the other hand, had a nobility of ideas that appealed to me. I liked eggheads, damnit!” Her support for Stevenson and other Democratic candidates was in stark opposition to her father’s political leanings. It was a sore point that Julia Child’s relationship to her father never got past stubborn opposition to each other’s beliefs.

One thing that struck us (all of us at Travelmarx read this one) is how Julia and Paul Child had nicknames for people and things. Their Buick station wagon is the “Blue Flash”. Their next car, a Cheverolet Styleline Deluxe Sedan is the “La Tulipe Noire”. Where they lived in Paris, 81 Rue de l’Université is called “Roo de Loo”. A room in their house in Paris where they stored extra items is the “oubliette” (forgettery). A slightly nutty made named Coquette becomes “Coo-Coo” Coquette. A later maid named Jeanne becomes “Jeanne –la-folle” (crazy Jeanne). The nicknames are for someone or something endearing to them. We operate that way at Travelmarx so could identify with this.

Finally, after reading the autobiography you get a pretty good sense of the amount of energy Child put into her classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking volumes one and two. The first volume took about a dozen years to complete. For both volumes, Child doggedly focused on simply making her recipes work. She was concerned with the scientific repeatability of the recipes and was often frustrated with the lack of the aforementioned by her co-authors, Simone (Simca) Beck and Louisette Bertholle. Child wanted her recipes to be “operational proof”. I think the staying power of her cookbooks is a testimony that she largely achieved this.
My Life in France - Back Cover

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