Saturday, January 18, 2014

Dearie by Bob Spitz

Dearie, the Remarkable Life of Julia Child

I haven't written here in a while and now I notice that the last time I wrote it was about Julia Child's best friend, Simca, and now I'm writing about her biography.

Our bookclub chose this book on the recommendation of one of the members who is a fantastic cook. I've been an admirer of Julia Child for quite a while, and have read her memoir, My Life in France. (By the way, that was written with the help of her nephew, Alex Prud'homme, and was used as inspiration in the movie "Julie and Julia," written and directed by Nora Ephron.)

I liked this book a lot. Bob Spitz did a great job of filling the book with facts and details, yet making it interesting and fun to read. In his Afterword he writes about having written a "tome" about the Beatles. Now that I've seen his work, I may check that out, too.

But to get back to Dearie, I loved getting to know Julia Child more. Did you know she was actually 6'3"? I guess she told people she was 6'1" but she was shaving off a couple inches. And her sister "Dort" was 6'5", their brother was 6'4". Have to love a tall family! She seems to have never let it bother her. She sort of galloped through life, making her presence felt wherever she went.

She was not perfect by any means, but what a wonderful woman! She had lots of fun as she grew up in California, in a fairly wealthy family, but she didn't figure out what she really wanted to do until she was somewhere in her 40's, I think it was. That was part of the memoir and movie: her discovery of her love of French food when she went to Paris with her husband Paul, and then going to culinary school to become a chef.

Her devotion to Paul is one of  the things I admire. She loved him so dearly. He loved her, too, of course. In the book you learn that Paul was kind of a difficult guy. He was very smart and creative, but stuck in government jobs and he didn't advance easily in his career because he was rather blunt and sometimes irritating. Even when he got old and lost his memory and eventually needed to live in an assisted living facility, Julia still called or visited him every day and told him all the details of what was going on in her life.

She was not sentimental, though. She was practical in matters of money, for example. She really did not make a whole lot of money for many years of her cooking, TV and book-writing career, and part of the reason for that was her loyalty to those who contracted with her in the beginning. Sometimes she was a contradiction - accepting much less pay than she could get elsewhere in some cases, and other times deciding to go with the party that offered the most money even though she had a longtime friendship with the other person involved.

She liked to flout convention and break the rules. That's another one of the things that makes her endearing to me. I sometimes have a tiny problem with authority myself, and it's fun to read about her doing things pretty much only in order to break the rules. One time she was working on the show, "Julia and Jacques," and insisted on drinking beer with the meal they made even though she never drank beer with meals - she always had wine. But Kendall Jackson was sponsoring the show and some of their representatives were watching, and she just wanted to be contrary. As the author wrote, Kendall Jackson did not sponsor any more shows for her. Not the wisest action for Julia to take, but I can't help but laugh.

Those "Julia and Jacques" shows are a favorite of mine. I want to find them and watch them again. I always felt that Jacques was treating Julia with so much love, even when she was purposely exasperating him with insisting on her methods over his. I was so glad this biography included a bit about these shows. They were a big hit precisely because of that back-and-forth disagreement between the two of them. I knew they were both being genuine, but I didn't know that Jacques was as exasperated by Julia as he must have been. The author said that on some breaks, Jacques would stand on the porch with his fists clenched and let out a stream of French swear words. But then he'd go back on camera and lovingly bow to her opinions. (And speaking of swearing, Julia did her share. She was known to say, or advise others to say, "Fuck 'em!" as she moved forward in what she felt was right.)

By the time she was filming those "Julia and Jacques" shows, she could pretty much get away with anything. She was truly the queen of the cooking scene, treated like royalty wherever she went. Usually she was kind and gracious to her admirers. Even when she didn't approve of a chef's methods or foods, she would avoid unkindness and find some way to say something encouraging.

It was interesting to learn about her writing, too. Julia took her cookbooks very seriously. She tested every recipe over and over. She'd call authorities to learn the chemistry of ingredients, or the best cuts of meat, or any other answer she needed. It's no wonder it took her years to complete the books. She worked hard and put in long, exhausting hours. Julia spurned cookbooks with vague recipes and made sure hers were precise in measurements and instruction. I've been trying new recipes lately and have come to appreciate those precise recipes.

I highly recommend the book. You'll enjoy getting to know a remarkable woman. Julia Child has been and continues to be one of my heroes.