“My Life in France” by Julia Child

Julia and Paul's 1956 Valentine’s Day card. (Courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University/Via Vanity Fair)

Somehow, France, February, and food all seem to go well together, so I thought I’d start February off with a little ode to a book I just finished reading – Julia Child’s “My Life in France.”

I wasn’t sure how it would go – I’d just finished a slew of fast-paced novels, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get into a non-fiction food memoir, but I really liked liked it.

The book starts out with a ride in Paul and Julia’s “Blue Flash” Buick from Le Havre, France to Paris with a stop on the way for a four-course meal including oysters, sole meuniere, salade verte, fromage and a crisp white wine – a “life-altering lunch”, as it’s been called (isn’t THAT an interesting idea? A meal so sublime that it changes the direction of your life…have you ever had one of those?)

Subsequent chapters follow them on their adventures in Parisian markets, cluttered rental apartments, expat friendships, and Cordon Bleu classes.

It took me about 70 pages before I broke down and made Coq au Vin!

Julia in Paris, 1948. (Courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University/via Vanity Fair)

Really though, the best part of the book wasn’t the food.  Mostly I enjoyed seeing France through Julia’s (as she puts it) “six-foot-two-inch, thirty-six-year-old, rather loud and unserious Californian” eyes. Her eternal optimism and laid-back joie de vivre are contagious.

It’s fascinating to read about her and Paul’s relationship – their teamwork and sense of humor. I also loved getting a glimpse into their life as expats, always moving around and frustrated with not being able to have their own place and their friends always being far away.

I felt I could really relate to this quote:

“Oh, how I yearned for a passel of blood-brother friends to celebrate with. We had plenty of acquaintances in Oslo, but, as in Plittersdorf, we suffered months and month of nobody to really hug but ourselves. This was the thing I hated most about the itinerant diplomatic life.” -Julia Child (My Life in France)

She had lots of good advice on culture shock and transition, and enjoying life just where you find yourself.

Also fascinating were the chapters on her career. She was completely mesmerized with the “rich and layered and endlessly fascinating subject” of French cooking. Did you know that Julia was 37 when she began her first cooking class? It’s never too late to build a career doing something you love!

Julia and Paul correcting proofs of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, June 1961. (From the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University/VIA Vanity Fair)

“‘No one’s more important than people!’ In other words, friendship is the most important thing – not career or housework or one’s fatigue – and it needs to be tended and nurtured. So we packed up our bags and off we went. And thank heaven we did!” -Julia Child (My Life in France)

What about you? Have you read any good books lately? Were you able to read ‘My Life in France’ without picturing Meryl Streep as Julia Child?? (I wasn’t!)

P.S. an interesting Vanity Fair article on “Our Lady of the Kitchen”.

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