Wine and Walnuts

A blog about eating, drinking, cooking and reading in the not so Deep South

Good Reads: My Life in France, by Julia Child

The movie version of the book jacket -- awful!! -- tarted up like a . . . well, you get the picture.

The movie version of the book jacket -- awful!! -- tarted up like a . . . well, you get the picture.

I started reading My Life in France several weeks before the movie “Julie and Julia,” based partly on the book, was due to come out in August 2009.  I knew I was going to see the movie — couldn’t wait to see it, in fact — and I wanted to have a frame of reference first, so I’d know what to expect. Plus, I wanted the “real” story first.  And what a story it is.  I mean, how can you resist a book that starts, “This is a book about some of the things I have loved most in life:  my husband, Paul Child; la belle France; and the many pleasures of cooking and eating.”  That sentence might not do much for a lot of people, but it makes my heart sing!  Because really, you can make a whole amazing life just from those three things:  France, a good man, and cooking and eating. It’s what I aspire to, just substitute Italy for France.

My Life in France is the story of Julia arriving in France in 1948 with her husband, Paul, and finding her “true calling” there. It covers the 6 or so years they spent in Paris and Marseille, and some of their adventures in Provence, as well as the trials and tribulations, and ultimate success, of writing and publishing Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  

When Julia landed in France, she knew nothing about the country, it’s culture, the language, or even how to cook. Which is kind of shocking to think of, given what she became, and all she achieved. I mean, wow. She did.not.know.how.to cook.when.she.got.to.France, AND she was nearly 40 years old. There’s a hilarious scene in the beginning of the book where, during her first “fancy” meal in a French restaurant , she smells something wonderful and oniony, and asks Paul what it is.  He replies, “shallots, being sautéed in fresh butter.” To which she queries, “What’s a shallot?”  Yes, mmm hmmm, our own Julia Child, didn’t know what a shallot was, God love her. 

But what makes her, and this book, so darned entertaining is, she embraces her new world with passion and enthusiasm, and experiences “la belle France” with fierce gusto, which leaps off every page. You read, you smile, you want to go to France, you want to cook and eat and drink, and you feel lucky getting drawn into her world.  Here’s a woman not afraid to appear unsophisticated or unworldly; she wanders the streets of Paris, poking her nose into shops and going to outdoor markets, etc., asking all manner of questions along the way, even in the very beginning, in her very limited French. (Geez, when I was in Mexico the first time, I never did that, and I KNEW some Spanish.  No, I didn’t ask questions at all, for fear of appearing stupid.  Just think of all I missed out on.  A real shame, I tell you.)

And God, is she funny!!  She writes, “August 15, 1953, the day I turned forty-one, was as hot as a Turkish bath at La Brise.  I inspected myself in the mirror for signs of decrepitude:  my elbows looked as if they were withering away, but at least I didn’t have any gray hairs.  My biggest problem was my continuing lack of worldliness.”  And, “Dione Lucas had once run the Cordon Bleu’s school in London, but she didn’t strike us as especially organized, or sober.”  Oh, it is to laugh!  The book is full of wit and fun just like this, from cover to cover. If you’ve ever loved watching Julia on PBS, you’ll enjoy this book, and be the richer for it.  I feel enriched and inspired by it, and I have a whole new appreciation for all she accomplished.  I highly recommend it.

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About The Author

Kimberly Houston

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