Sunday, August 30, 2009

Julie and Julia

I went to see the movie Julie and Julia at the theater with some friends and family, and we all enjoyed it thoroughly and came out feeling hungry. My daughter particularly enjoyed the part where Julia tromps around Paris towering over everybody else and booming "Bonjour!" at them with great enthusiasm and a harsh American accent. "That's you, Mom," she leaned over and whispered. I acknowledged both the truth of the outside view of myself and the compliment--who isn't charmed by the Julia Child in that movie?

I love books and movies about food, but just as I am a fiction reader without aspirations of becoming a novelist, I am an enthusiastic eater without aspirations of learning to cook. After watching the movie, I thought that I would like to have a friend like Julie, who cooked (and blogged) her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Then I went to a bookstore a week or so later, and flipped through the memoir of the same title that the movie was based on. I found it was different enough and well-written enough that I started reading it and decided to buy it when I got to this analogy: "just as the essential first step for a potato destined for soup is to have its skin peeled off, the essential starting point for an aspiring actor is to move to New York."

I was fascinated by some of the ways I identified with Julie Powell. No, I don't have her foul mouth (in fact, I'm pretty much her polar opposite there--I once confounded a person who intentionally closed a door on me by yelling "well, rats!" only to hear laughter from the other side of the door, where bets had been placed on whether this would finally get me to use a swear word). What I do have in common with her is an early and long-standing marriage and some attitudes about blogging.

Her comments about marriage struck me, in particular. I quite agree with her that
"in the circles I run in, being married for more than five years before reaching the age of thirty ranks real high on the list of most socially damaging traits, right below watching NASCAR and listening to Shania Twain. I'm used to getting questions like 'Is he the only person you've ever had sex with?' or, even more insultingly, 'Are you the only person he's ever had sex with?' All this to say that sometimes I get a little defensive."
And I have felt the position she's always in when her single New-Yorker girlfriends confide in her about their love lives:
"I have been with the same man since I was eighteen years old, and yet my single friends continue to talk to me about these things as if I have a clue. I don't know if they think I was some kind of world-class teenage slut, or I can remember my past lives, or what."
At one point, her friend Gwen even tells Julie that she is contemplating an extra-marital affair, and Julie thinks (as I would, but more amusingly):
"When did I become poster child for the sanctity of marriage? Just because I've been hitched longer than Gwen has been able to vote, all my single friends seem to think I'm some kind of moral authority."
Most of all, I loved the scene in which Julie
"vamped through the kitchen doorway in a bra and panties set that actually matched. 'Hon? Why don't you leave the dishes until tomorrow morning?'
'I guess I'm going to have to--we just ran out of hot water.' He wiped off his hands, turned to me, looked me up and down, and said 'I need to check my e-mail.' Then he went to the laptop, where he spent the next forty-five minutes surfing CNN."
I mean, who admits this kind of stuff in writing? And then later sums up the pleasures of a long-running marriage like this:
"I can think of two times when it's particularly good to be married. The first is when you need help with killing the lobsters. The second is when you've got an inspirational story to relate....I knew of no one else I could have told who would have understood the joy this story brought me."

As I read, I kept finding a part that I had to read out loud to Ron. Like this part:
"Conventional wisdom holds that the remedy for frozen pipes in a Long Island City apartment is a wee heroin habit. But unfortunately I already had a heavy habit for very expensive foodstuffs, which ruled out recreational spending on smack. What I did instead was cook large hunks of meat until I ate myself into a stupor, or ran out of clean pots, whichever came first."
It's good to have someone sitting beside you when you get to a funny part of your book, isn't it?

Julie's attitude about blogging started to get interesting, for me, with her historical comparison to Pepys' Diary. I love the Siren's line below the title of her blog (one that unfortunately seems to have, so far, followed John Scalzi's typical three posts: "here's my blog...sorry I haven't updated in a's a picture of my cat") "Thus, the internet makes Samuel Pepyses of us all." Julie also thought of Pepys, saying that he "wrote down all the details of his life for nine years because the very act of writing them down made them important, or at least singular" and that "the surprise is that for every person who's got something to say, it seems there are at least a few people who are interested. Some of them aren't even related."

I would have to agree that one joy of having readers is that they give you someone else to complain to about your life: "one thing about blogging is that it gives you a blank check for whining. When Eric simply couldn't stand another moment of it, I could take my drone to cyberspace. There I could always find a sympathetic ear." Although that may sound a bit old-fashioned, at this point (I hear--and do--more whining on Facebook than on blogs these days), Julie's summation of this impulse reveals the blogger's essential narcissism: "see? They loved me out here!"

I also identified with her only-momentary pleasure in meeting one of her readers: "my goodness--I was a celebrity! It felt great. Unfortunately, I didn't have anything else to say. I just nodded some more and grinned vacuously, and the next time we got ushered to another slip, I unobtrusively shifted to another part of the crowd." How many of us would do the exact same thing?

Julie sometimes turns a phrase in a way that amuses me and makes me feel that I've had the exact same thought, as here:
"It is a comfort to have friends, maybe especially friends you will never meet." Since most bloggers are introverts, I think many of us have had that feeling. And I like the way she's brave enough to say that what she learned from her year of cooking her way through Julia Child's French cookbook is "joy. I know, I know--it's truly an obnoxious word, isn't it? Even typing it makes me cringe. I think of either Christmas cards or sixty-something New Agey women in floppy purple hats." Sometimes it's brave merely to say what you think, and to attach your real name. Sometimes it's brave to try to emulate someone greater than you'll ever be. Sometimes it's a good idea to take a book and give it a chance to change your life. I think all my favorite books have changed my life in some way. This one--Julie and Julia--is making me think that I'm not alone in my eccentricities and enthusiasms.


Betty said...

I read Julie and Julia this past June and fell in love with it. So glad you enjoyed it!

PAJ said...

I saw the movie this weekend, loved it and will have to read the book. I loved the movie's depiction of Julia Child's marriage. It's an older couple! Onscreen! In love! Having sex! (Well, PG-rated sex.) Julia has always been a great role model for culinary adventures, but for those of us past 50 with 25+ years of marriage behind us, the movie gives us another aspect of Julia to admire. Bon appetit indeed.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post. Thanks for it and everything else.


Cathy said...

I've known for quite some time that I would be seeing the movie. I fell in love with it when watching the trailer in the theater. I've seen dozens of reviews of the book on countless blogs, but you are the first person who's made me want to read the book. I can be extremely stubborn, so you done good!

Karen said...

Still want to see this movie....but in the meantime, I read aloud excerpts from your post, to share with my husband. We're not yet long-marrieds, I guess, but even our almost-five years are enough to know the value of someone who automatically understands how much joy a little story brought you.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

This is one of the more interesting reviews of this book I've read. I wasn't planning to read it, I tend to avoid books that are big because of movies, but it sounds so funny! I love the quote about her matching underwear and her husband checking his e-mail :)

I'm glad you liked the movie and book, the book is moving up on the "book to acquire if I find them" pile :)

Florinda said...

This was one of the very first books I reviewed on my blog. Your review does a much better job at capturing what I liked about it.

Jeanne said...

Thank you all--now I feel even less alone!