France may be the most astonishingly different culture in all of Europe. Not denigrating any other country and we all have our favorites. Lived in Spain for years and love the country. Lived in Germany and would never utter a complaint. Great Britain? Hell yes!
So, you see, I’m not claiming that France is the best or even that I like it the best. I’m only saying that for my money France’s culture is the most astonishingly different. Depending on your outlook, that can be either bad or good. In my case, extreme enchantment.
I’ve heard a lot of travelers remark that Parisians are rude and follow that up with: It’s expensive and we hated it! As though Paris is all there is to France. That opinion isn’t limited to Americans. Heard it a lot from Germans. To aid you on your voyage of discovery, I offer this advice: The French way is not like America’s or Germany’s way. Accept that and you’ll relax and enjoy this strangely fascinating country and its people and way of life.
Unlike many of my fellow countrymen, I have always had a fabulous time in France, Paris included.
Recently I blogged about adventures in Provence and that laudatory book by Peter Mayle, A Year In Provence.
Well, now I’ve got another book that will make you grab your bib and buy a First Class ticket on Air France: My Life In France, by Julia Child, with Alex Prud’homme.
I’ll confess that I carried this book in my man-purse everywhere I went. Couldn’t put it down and didn’t want to. Those who know me will spew out slanderous accusations that Julia’s love of wine spurred me on, drove me to drink and drive. You fools, that what a wife is for, so I can drink and ride and read! I also took it to my favorite bakery cum coffee shop. Multi-tasking, reading in English, speaking to the irresistible women around me in German. Yes, yes, men too. But, always back to the book and my new friend, Julia.
Have both my loyal readers heard of Julia Child? She’s the famous chef who almost singlehandedly brought French cuisine into America’s homes and kitchens, with her seminal work: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volumes I and II.
My Life In France, written by Julia and Alex Prud’homme, uses Julia’s multitudinous letters, reminiscences, and her husband’s letters and photographs to tell the often humorous and frequently intimate story of her love affair with the country and it’s cuisine.
She started out as a normal American woman, with only a smattering of cooking knowledge. Her knowledge of France was a dark void. As she wrote on Wednesday, November the third, 1948: “As I gazed through the portal at the twinkling lights of le Harve I had no idea what I was looking at…In Pasadena, California, where I was raised, France did not have a good reputation.”
As she and her husband sat at a table in the Norman restaurant La Couronne, her husband translated what the waiter at the next table said to his patrons, explaining where the chicken they ordered was raised, how it will be cooked, which side dishes would go best with it and which wines would be suitable.
Her comment said it all about the difference between French and American culture. “Wine? With lunch?”
But, Julia was a woman of strong attitudes and stronger passions. Once the tastes and flavors of the French kitchen enveloped her, her path opened and widened with the popping cork of each bottle, and the placement of each pot on the stove.
What I found so enticing about My Life In France is the intimacy of how it was written, as if a very famous chef offered a glass of wine, sat down at your kitchen table and told you her life’s story, amid lengthy struggles, staggering failures and heroic successes. As some would say, My Life In France is a painting that includes warts and all. Interesting? Fascinating? Oh, hell YES!
Most of all, it’s a story of the development of a passion and following that passion like a lit fuse to a stick of dynamite, in spite of the nay-sayers and dream killers many of whom were family members. The story is so unlikely and convoluted that it could only be replicated in the saccharine sweet pages of a romantic novel.
And speaking of romance, it’s also the tale of a lifetime love affair between Julia and her husband Paul, and the unlikely journey of togetherness, yet always keeping Julia’s passion in the forefront.
As she wrote so simply and eloquently: “…the sole meuniere I ate at La Couronne on my first day in France, in November 1948…was an epiphany!”
Julia, wherever you are, I want you to know how much I enjoyed this little chat. And, I dearly hope both my readers do, too. I hope they will all have their own epiphany and find the trail that leads them to follow even their most unlikely dreams.
And to that end, dear readers, I raise a glass….Á votre santé!