Saturday, September 12, 2009

Recipe For Joy

Okay, I confess: I have seen the movie Julie & Julia five times now and plan on going again this coming week, if I can persuade the last of my long-suffering sisters who has not seen it with me to go ...

The thing I LOVE about this movie is not the cooking --although it does makes me want to close the TH as a business and cook only for people who truly love to eat! -- or the creating of the classic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking (or the sidebar story of Julie who seeks and finds temporary direction for her life, not to mention a book deal, by cooking through the tome in a year and blogging about it) ; but it's the enormous joie de vivre Julia Child, as portrayed by the incomparable Meryl Streep, experiences. It's about a buoyant spirit rising to the challenges and living to the fullest despite changes, set-backs and disappointments. It's truly a paean to the love story of life.

And it's not that Julia merely stands by and waits for life to come to her; she anticipates it and plans for it and generates it. She starts by thinking about what it is she's good at, what she would like "to DOOOO."

She then goes about getting trained; but even during the formal education phase she is setting goals, practising, challenging herself to excel (her joy when she whips the perfect meringue or flips the frothy omelette is contagious: you want to applaud with her as you sit in the theatre!). When preparing a dish for her husband Paul or her guests she exerts great care in selecting the ingredients, examining them, sniffing them, tasting them, discussing them with the vendors in the market -- and in the process charming those characteristically crusty Gallic merchants with her unselfconscious delight! She assembles the proper tools that enable her to get the job done efficiently and thoroughly. And at last, finally in the kitchen, she sets out to create and test and sample and relish the results with those she loves. She gets everyone she encounters involved and enthusiastic -- although she is the driving force behind the cookbook, I never get the feeling that it's all about her. She embraces her Paul and her friends Simca and Avis, and even her TV audience, as co-conspirators in the grand adventure.

She perseveres for years in what becomes her passion; and the result? On August 30, 2009, for the first time in its 48-year history and five years after Julia Child passed away, Mastering the Art of French Cooking sat atop the New York Times best-seller list!

At 6'2", gangly, swooping, awkward, gregarious Julia -- rejected from military service because of her height -- accepted that she could not squeeze herself into the mould of the post-war petite, subdued, traditional wives of the diplomatic service (although one of the many bon bons the movie serves us for our delectation is when she towers over the two tiny startled French women she has just met in the powder room of a diplomatic soiree and proclaims, "I am VERRRY conventional!"). Two moments in the movie that crystallise this non-belonging are in funny, tender vignettes with Julia and her even-taller sister, played with ebullient vulnerability by Jane Lynch: Julia asks her sister why it was that they couldn't settle down, marry Republicans and have packs of children like their father had wanted, and Dorothy replies succinctly, "Too tall ... From the beginning, you just don't fit -- literally -- so then you don't." Later, as the two women stand side by side in their party frocks before the full-length mirror, Julia's wry comment to their reflection is,"Pretty good!! ... ... ... ... ... But not great!"

Much is made in the movie of the wonder ingredient, butter. (We go through at least 8 - 10 lbs. of it each weekend at the TH, and so I heartily endorse its magical properties!) But what is truly the secret ingredient to Julia's recipe for happiness and success is revealed at a Valentine's dinner party the Childs host. Adorned with enormous red hearts pinned to their lapels, the guests demand to know how Julia and Paul met. After some bantering back and forth ("You were quite the roué ..." "I noticed your legs ..."), Stanley-Tucci-as-Paul clears his throat slightly, locks his gaze on his wife sitting at the other end of the table and says something about how they were "just friends having dinner, and ... and it turned out to be Julia; it turned out to be Julia all along."* He is clearly recounting the story as much for her benefit as for their guests'. And Meryl-as-Julia, that magnificent, exuberant, self-confident woman for whom words, both spoken and written, came as easy as breathing, who the moment before had been chirping her own embellishments to the story of their lives, falls utterly silent and still. Suddenly shy and perhaps overwhelmed by the enormous intimacy of the moment, her eyes skitter sideways a couple of times, unable to meet Paul's or anyone's gaze; and we catch a glimpse of both the depths of her vulnerability and her simple incredulity that this wonderful man has come into her life and has whisked away -- lightly and purposefully and delicately as she would one of her meringues -- a lifetime of uncertainties and insecurities and slights; and we catch a glimpse of the depth of the connection between them that underscores the very essence of her life as she flutters her red heart in a wordless "I love you" back to him.

Indeed, their mutual passon, for food and for Paris and for each other, runs so deep that their first real conversation in the movie consists of her exclaiming disjointedly and rapturously over her initial encounter with French cuisine at a restaurant in Rouen, and his responding, "I know ... I know ... I KNOW!" And you feel that he really does get it, that he really does get her -- he exults in her triumphs and supports her in her pain with those same two words conveying a depth of knowledge each time he utters them.

In closing, I also love this movie because I see it as a paean to women I know personally who are intelligent, talented, charismatic, resourceful, perhaps slightly diffident beneath their mantles of accomplishment -- and to the quietly confident men who stand behind and alongside of them, supporting them, encouraging them to shine, letting them know that it was them all along.

So here's to you Norma and Don, Char and Brian, Bronwyn and Paul, Terry and Tim, Bernadette and Ken, Mabel and Hank, Pat and Joel, Dorothy and Marlowe, Alana and Richard, Laurie and Ayub, Joan and Rick, Irma and Bruce, Mary and John, Mary and Kent, Myrna and Ken, Alison and Mike, Brenda and Don, Laurie and John, Wendy and Scott, Karen and Wayne, Diana and Bob, Sharon and Vernon, Pat and Bill, Diane and George, Alli and Allan, Rebekah and Lorne, Pat and Bob, Mary and Doug, Jan and Ron, Maria and Allan, Sarah and Steve, Jacqueline and Oswaldo.

And here's to you, Mum and Dad, my own dear Julia and Paul. Paul toasting Julia at the end of his story that evening could have been Allan toasting his Paddy: "You are the butter to my bread and the breath to my life. I love you, darling girl."


"Bon appétit!"


  1. I'm a fan of your blog & writing. I wonder if yours, like Julie's, will turn into a book someday. . .

  2. I am going to see this movie! Thank you for sharing Karyn! *hugs*

  3. Clearly I didn't read far enough! Thank you for including Allan and I. Cheers! :)


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