I have always harboured a deep, deep love for Paris. I have loved Julia Child ever since I first read about her. I loved Julie and Julia when I watched it. So it was really no surprise that I loved Julia’s My Life in France as much as I did. I finished the book in four days flat, and that is quite something for a recovering reading-procrastinator like me.
I spent those four days of last week like a junkie, drunk on Julia’s words about the food, her life, Paris and the rest of France and her general love for life, family and food. I can’t remember the last time a book absorbed me enough to fight sleep and continue reading by my bedside lamp, with one eye closed and my focus squinted through the other. I don’t know when I last chose to sit for several hours at a stretch with a book over 45 minutes of snappy TV. But it happened with this book. And I am pegging it wholly on the combination of Julia’s lively style of narrating stories from her semi-charmed life.
While I wouldn’t call this book a literary masterpiece, I was totally drawn by the detailed narration, the conversational style and the detailed descriptions, so laden with evocative but simple words, of everything from her experiences in the finest restaurants to the fish markets, the numerous trips they sailed back and forth from France, the political climate, and the way the magic of France wiggled its way into her life, never to leave.
The book opens when Julia’s life took an unexpected turn when she moved from the organised and utterly urban locales of Pasadena with its canned Republican way of life, to cross continents and move to the diametric opposite: Paris. Where there is no chase. Where you turn the speed down and let every day take you the way it is meant to rather than navigate your way through life. Where you embrace the slow laziness, the love for food and indulgence, the lack of urgency, the general pace of everything. Where you realise that nothing happens in a jiffy, handy-men are anything but handy, services are not served and life is as unprocessed and real as it gets. Where life just happens. And the best way to enjoy it is to let it sweep you away slowly.
The thing that struck me almost immediately is how much that sounded like my unexpected shift from orderly and proper Bangalore, with the life of door delivery, instant service and all the perks of city life, to Goa where I couldn’t expect anything to happen on time. And I only began to enjoy life when I sort of dived into the unorganised, unprocessed rawness of it all. When I accepted that yes, the telephone will take 21 days to get fixed, groceries wont be delivered and people are not in a hurry to serve you food, customer service or pretty much anything else you might desperately need.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about her scientific approach to mastering French cuisine, her single minded focus in really learning everything there is to it, and not resting till it was done. The eight years of tediously writing her first cookbook, trying and etsting recipes over and over, learning and relearning things, seems like such a laborious task — the kind that can only be fuelled by a deep love.
It also helped that I have watched Julie and Julia, and several Julia Child videos on youtube, in the past, to know Julia’s classic vivacious manner of speaking, unpolished demeanour and the simplistic honesty with which she expressed herself — whether in words or through her food. The book reflects the same no-nonsense, style. Its simple, chatty and straight from the heart, its the kind of book that talks to you, rather than makes you feel lost in a web of literature.
Maybe I enjoyed it because I could relate to it on so many levels. Everything about her life felt like something I have experienced in a parallel universe. Living alone, setting up a kitchen, going from knowing nothing about cooking to discovering a deep love for it, rebuilding a life for herself so far away from the one she knew back home, growing apart from family and friends she thought she had so much in common with, discovering sides to herself she didn’t know, all thanks to diving into uncharted territory — so much of it seemed familiar and within reach, that I just couldn’t put this book down and have already recommended it to many foodies I know. If you like reading happy, honest stories about food, travel, love and life this one might pique your interest.
(And with that I have finished book three for the year!)