Oh my god. I do a lot of hat tipping, but hat TIP to IHH for lending me her copy of Julia Child’s My Life in France. I don’t really “do” favorite books, though there are certainly those that stand out. And this is definitely one of them. Seriously, one of the best reading experiences of 2009.
The book was written by Alex Prud’homme, Julia’s grand-nephew on her husband’s side. They began collaborating in the years before her death in 2004, and he published this delightful book in 2006. In the Foreword, Prud’homme explains that almost all the words in the book are Julia’s or her husband, Paul’s — taken from letters written over the years as well as from conversations between Prud’homme and Child. He writes, “I wrote some of the exposition and transitions, and in so doing tried to emulate Julia’s idiosyncratic word choices — `Plop!,’ `Yuck!,’ `Woe!,’ `Hooray!'”
These idiosyncratic word choices of hers made the book so much fun to read. Seriously, never have I encountered someone who could sum up an entire paragraph by saying things like: “Whew!” and “Phooey!” Other favorites of mine included:
“Zut! We had muffed it!” and “Mon dieu, quel drame!”
I love the fact that, [in some cases] more than fifty years later, she still seems to remember exactly what she ate and when and where; she recalls the scents and tastes and textures. Of course, much of this could be rhetorical flourish, but somehow where Julia’s concerned, I just don’t think so. I have this image of Alex Prud’homme sitting with Julia in her California living room, him taking notes with paper and pen (she was uncomfortable being recorded, as ironic as that seems), her propped up in a rocking chair with a throw over her lap, head back, reliving it all event by event, step by step, meal by meal. Maybe I’m naïve, but I trust her. Prud’homme even writes that the further they went with the project the more memories came rushing back. Given over to them, she could recall things with grand detail and affection.
I remember walking down the rain-drenched sidewalk in Boston in the fall of 2004 and finding a program from Child’s memorial service that was held at Boston University (home to WGBH, Boston’s public station and her longtime television family). I kept it for many years, but when I started thinking about this post I went looking for it and could not find it. I think I must have gotten rid of it during one of my many moves over the past few years. As Julia might conclude, tant pis!
But I did find her obituary in the New York Times. I’m so fond of the story at the very end of the article, where the record is set straight about several myths that surrounded her — one having to do with wine, and another with her dropping a turkey on the kitchen floor before looking at the camera and sing-songing: nobody in the kitchen but you! I don’t even know where I heard it at this point, but apparently it’s been in the rumorsphere for some time. I love the story, so I was pleased to learn that it’s only partially untrue!
What a towering personality and colossal wit. Most people would probably love to sit and talk with Julia Child about food, but I must admit: I would love to just sit and listen to her tell me stories about her cats! Or, of course, to talk to her about France. I adored reading her accounts of the streets and vendors and markets, the people she met and the bureaucratic nonsense she encountered, the personalities and challenges and delights. This book is a must read for anyone who even remotely fancies themselves a Francophile.
I saw it last year, briefly, but I’m now more interested than ever in going downtown to the Smithsonian to visit her kitchen — the one from Cambridge that she cooked in all those years and that I drove by countless times without ever knowing it when I lived in Somerville. She was long gone by then, living in California. But nevertheless, I think about my unconscious intersections with Julia Child over the years (from living in France to living around the corner from her house in MA to stumbling upon the program from her memorial service) as I marvel at this last of the truly wonderful books that she’s given the world.
I never really knew much about Julia Child until after she was dead. And yet, my overwhelming sense now that I’ve finished this book is that, strangely, I will miss her.