Mastering the Art of an Interesting Life

On a recent trip to a little bookstore, I happened across Julia Child’s My Life in France. I picked it up, rifled through it, and decided to take it home and give it a try.

People, I am in love with this book.

I knew the basics about JC before I started the book – I’d seen the movie (who hasn’t?), but that was about it. I’d never watched her TV show, much less picked up her books (Mastering The Art of French Cooking seemed so intimidating to me; my shelf is full of books with names like Easy Healthy Family Meals. Pedestrian, perhaps, but certainly doable.)

If only I’d known what I was missing all this time. Julia Child (with her great-nephew Alex Prud’homme) covers the years she and her husband Paul lived in Europe and her introduction to the world of cooking. What I love most about it is that it is not an Under The Tuscan Sun Tra-la-la-I-live-in-a-romantic-country-and-have-only-the-most-trivial-of-worries type book.  This book is a about a giant (6’ 2”!) woman from Pasadena, California and her smaller, balding, dapper diplomat husband who move to France, despite strenuous objections from her Conservative family. She knows not a word of the language. She has no idea what she wants to do in life. She sticks out like a sore thumb. They live in an archaic apartment with no heat and Paul’s job is a maze of bureaucracy. Still, she discovers cooking, saves up her money to eat at the best restaurants, goes out of her way to make French friends, and leads the most interesting, fulfilling, amazing life.

Early on in the book she says matter-of-factly, “[My father] had assumed I would marry a Republican banker and settle in Pasadena to live a conventional life. But if I’d done that I’d probably have turned into an alcoholic, as a number of my friends had.” Now, that is extreme, but how many of us have struggled with living the comfortable life vs. what we really wanted to do? She knows her own mind and doesn’t entertain the easy road option for a minute. She doesn’t sit there and say, ‘Yes, but my family wants me to stay in the US, I don’t know anything about cooking, it will be hard, we will have no money, blah blah blah.” She just jumps right in, and despite the discomforts, she leads a life a million times richer than she would have in America, because she chooses to. She could have just as easily gone to Paris and said, “This sucks. I have no French friends. I don’t know what to do with my life. I am wearing 5 coats and huddled around a tiny space heater. Back to America for me.” But she didn’t. She went out of her way to create her new life, as hard as it was. She approached people and charmed them. She wore all those coats and sweaters and mufflers in her own living room and put up with it. She tried cooking and dealt with all sorts of conflicts from the Cordon Bleu. She lived her life on her terms, even though it was hard. If she hadn’t, how many of us would have read a book or watched a movie about an alcoholic wife living in the California suburbs? Reading this book makes me more convinced to follow my own path.

Child fully follows her passion. Hers is not about the idealistic world of Pinterest quotes on following your passion, but the real thing. She exemplifies the hardships, the multiple rewrites, the rejections, the broken relationships, and, ultimately, the fulfilled life that can come from living your passion.

Though I am still likely never going to make a sole meuniere or paté en croûte, I admire the guts, grace and chutzpah of Julia Child and will aim to be a little bit more like her every day. What she’s taught me is simple: life shouldn’t be easy; it should be interesting. Follow what you love and though it will be hard, you will live an interesting and fulfilled life.

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