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A Very Good Life in France

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Once again, it's Gratitude Friday, when many bloggers – inspired by Diana -- take a few moments to reflect on things for which we are grateful.

But this week, I’ve thinking about gratitude in broader terms. I’ve been thinking about what makes for A Good Life, and it seems to me that a major contributor to that, is a continuing sense of gratitude and an awareness of every good thing in life.

What brought me to this, was reading Julia Child’s biography “My Life in France.” This, a co-production between the great chef and her grand-nephew Alex Prud’homme, was published just before her death in 2004 at 91. It focuses on her years living in France, where shortly before her 40s, Child discovered French food and developed a lifelong passion for understanding French cuisine and French culture.

Interest in Child’s life was, of course, recently renewed with the popular movie “Julie and Julia” the best part of which draws from this biography to focus on Julia Child’s years in France.

My book club met last night to discuss Child’s biography, and every one of us agreed that we each loved this book. The biggest reason? Her exuberance and real appreciation for life. It seemed that she had a real ability to embrace and dwell on all the great things that came along in her life, while refusing to be pulled down or dwell on the many negative events.

And there were negative events. In many ways, her life was wonderful. She had great, supportive friends, a wonderful marriage, years living in Paris, a house in Provence, a popular American TV show.

And her biography really focuses on these positives while skimming over such sadnesses as the fact she and her husband could not have children, although they wanted them. Money must have been a concern. Life in Paris couldn’t have been cheap, even immediately after the Second World War when Child and her husband Paul moved to Paris, and were living on his small salary. Paul Child was apparently not a political animal and as a result, did not rise high in the diplomatic circles where he spent his career. Few promotions, few raises, little respect from his superiors. Julia Child’s first cookbook took a decade to produce and likely didn’t bring them much income until they returned to the United States in the 1960s.

It seemed they often did not have heat in their Paris apartment. She did not get along with her father. She must have felt horribly out of place among petite, chic French women, as Julia Child stood 6 foot 2 inches and had size 12 feet. (I’m only 5’9 and feel like an awkward giant among petite European women!)

But it seems that none of those negative issues mattered in the slightest to Julia Child, who apparently bounded through life with joy, and an appreciation for the fascinating things she saw and felt.

I haven’t figured out her secret for achieving that kind of happy imbalance, tilted so strongly in favour of the positive. But it seems that her concentration on the wonderful things she came across, the joy she found in cooking and in her husband, and her acceptance of herself, warts, large feet and all, were crucial factors. As was, I suspect, an abiding sense of gratitude.

Comments (23)

I think you nailed it - she refused to be pulled down by the tough times. Not always easy to do but certainly worth aiming for!

Hope you have a great weekend.

Beautiful review of the book,Sandra. I too feel that gratitude is an important factor in feeling happy.
BTW, I too feel giant among petite women everywhere( and I am 5'9 too).

Kathryn:

Does this give a new meaning to "what would JC do?" ??? I'll have to remember to channel my inner "Julia Child" (5'8").

sandrac:

Hi Annie, she really did seem to want to make the very most of her life, and seemed determined not to waste time dwelling on troubles. I need to do that more often! Hope you are also having a great weekend!

Candi, I didn't realize that you, too, like Kathryn (the next commenter) Julia, and I have enjoy the opportunity to "rise about the crowd!" (See -- I'm already trying to stay very positive!)

Kathryn, that's hilarious! I'm going to adapt that motto and keep it. Even if it means deboning a chicken the next time I feel frustrated (since that's likely how Julia would channel her emotions!)

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, I'm back and am enjoying getting back into the swing of things. This is a wonderful and important post. I didn't know that much about Julia and her life so thank you so much for sharing some of her life with your review of her book. She sounds like a wonderful person who knew what was important in life and how to live it!

Thanks so much for sharing and hope you have a wonderful weekend!

I didn't realize there was a book written about her. Thought there were only cookbooks. I guess if I paid more attention when the movie came out, I would have realized this. Sounds like an inspiring book.

sandrac:

Hi Kathy, welcome home! I hope you're not too jet-lagged, and that you had a wonderful trip. I loved following along on your blog.

I have to say, I knew (or cared) little about Julia Child until the movie came out. That made me aware of what an interesting person she was, and what a wonderful life she had!

Girasoli, Child helped write the book and while it really focused on the time of her life when she discovered France and cuisine, the story is about so much more. An appreciation of another culture (as you and I both have for Italy!) and finding herself, especially in an era when it was more conventional for women to focus on their homes and families.

nancyhol:

Sandra, this is so funny - I just finished reading Julia's book yesterday!

I felt exactly the same way you did about Julia living her life with so much positive energy. And I too am now a big Julia Child fan, which I wasn't before reading the book.

Brad'll Do It:

Perhaps Julia's "secret" was her passion for what she was doing, and being "in the moment" with it. She did seem to have a great ability to focus, and in that focus, seemed to get to the heart of the matter... which, for her, was cooking using French technique. Her ability to explain the vagaries of French cooking is unparallelled, even with Monsieur Pepin.

Anne:

AMEN to bounding through life with joy!! I love encountering exuberance, whether in a real person, or a character...it is so uplifting and contagious. As is acceptance of one's self. That we all possess our own unique inner beauty is such a cause for celebration! Fabulous entry Sandra, and very inspiring!

Sandra - Thanks for this post. Another book to add to my burgeoning list. I loved the 'Julia attitude' in the movie so I think the book will be just as uplifting. M

sandrac:

Brad, I think you're absolutely right. Julia found a life she cared very deeply about and that enthusiasm just infused everything. Same with being in the moment -- which I find really hard do (except in Yoga class where I'm usually in some uncomfortable pose -- then, my mind doesn't drift but remains rigidly focussed on the ouch!)

Thanks so much, Anne. Have you seen the movie? I actually just bought the DVD because Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia really seemed to capture that joy!

Thanks Menehune, I'd really recommend adding the book to your list -- it does capture Julia's enthusiasm for life!

Also 5'9", and loved the book. Julia's positive attitude and laughter got her through a lot! She is inspirational in many ways.

Kathryn:

Hi again, we watched the movie last night with friends (after I fed them Italian Wedding soup and Pizza Napoletana). Julia was definitely the highlight. And as it turns out, we had already planned to make "Boeuf Bourguignon" for guest this evening. It is simmering now :-)

sandrac:

Palma, didn't you love how Julia carried herself?

Hi Kathryn, wow -- I hope I'm invited to your house for dinner sometime! Any of three dishes you mentioned would be fab!

I really have to try her boeuf bourguignon sometime, I've heard such raves about the recipe. Hope yours goes well!

Anne:

Sandra, I have seen the movie - I took myself to it one Sunday afternoon. I also thought Meryl Streep's performance was amazing.

(and I think I want to be invited to Kathryn's for supper too, her menus sound yummy!!)

nancyhol:

Just got my "Julie and Julia" DVD in the mail. I am really looking forward to watching it after reading the J&J book and Julia's "Life in France" book.

Oh! And the two-volume set MTAOFC is on the way from Amazon. I am not sure I am up to preparing the complicated dishes, but I plan to try a few of the simpler ones.

sandrac:

Anne, maybe we'll need to borrow some of Nancy's new cookbooks!

Nancy, you're ambitious! A friend of mine has all (I believe all) of Julia's cookbooks, but her recipes are so complex, I'm not sure I'd have the nerve to try very many of them. Good for you!

My life would seem brilliant if I were to write my autobiography as well. LOL The cynic in me says 'hmmmm'.

I do appreciate the way in which she refused to allow the bad patches in life phase her!

sandrac:

I know what you mean, Jerry, the temptation in a biography would be to gloss over the bad patches. But at least she took the high road -- I'm afraid that if I had a hand in my own biography, I'd work in too many nasty pokes at old bosses or people I thought had done me wrong!

I just watched the movie, Julie & Julia tonight. Her positive attitude really shined through in the movie. I did some googling and read more about her life after watching the movie. I will have to read this book now. I loved the parts of the movie when they lived in France. I was not as thrilled though with the Julie parts. I would have been just as happy if the entire movie was just about Julia Child.

sandrac:

Girasoli, I was thinking the same thing about the Julie parts of the movie.

Hi Sandra!

This book sounds wonderful and I think I'll make it my first book of 2010.

I've just caught up on your posts, as my reader seems to have missed catching the last few, no idea why...

Happy New Year to you, looking forward to your blog in 2010!

Dana (only 5'3")

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