In 2006 I picked up a paperback book titled Julie & Julia – My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell. I was intrigued by the title, partly because I enjoy cooking and, let’s be honest, who could resist Dan Akroyd’s SNL spoof on Julia Child boning a chicken? I was hoping it would be funny and the ‘light read’ I was looking for at the time (it was). I consumed it quickly, then was so intrigued I immediately went on to read Julia Child’s My Life in France. Once I finished that I went on to read Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I read it, folks. I didn’t skim it or browse through the recipes. I read the book – cover to cover.
I was fascinated by all of it - the stories, the recipes, the cooking, New York, and Paris. I’ve always had an interest in Paris and, truth be told, most things French. I’ve studied the language at various times in my life, once even achieving a certain level of conversational ability, though never fluency. I traveled to France in 2003, spending 5 weeks there, and have plans to return in May of 2010. Recently, I went to see the movie starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. Unlike some reviewers – I loved it – and I’ve been thinking about certain elements of it ever since.
One of the things that the movie captures beautifully is Julia’s passion for life. It bubbles out of her memoir – joy in exploring Paris, joy in her marriage to her husband, joy in her sister and her friendships, joy in shopping for pears or mushrooms and, of course, joy in cooking. She was a woman who approached cooking, and life, with abandon – drinking it in – in essence, eating of it.
As the movie played it, Julia’s passion for cooking started, in part, with needing something to do. She had no children and, therefore, had plenty of time on her hands. I think that her memoir bears that out to a certain extent, though the memoir doesn’t support the idea that she was quite the rube in the kitchen when she starts at Le Cordon Bleu that the movie portrays her to be.
The movie makes two obvious references to Julia’s lack of children. In My Life in France, she writes about her desire for children this way. “We had tried. But for some reason our efforts didn’t take. It was sad, but we didn’t spend too much time thinking about it and never considered adoption. It was just one of those things…So it was.”
I find this fascinating. It is certainly not the approach we so often hear of today. When people today are denied something that they want, we do not simply sit back and accept it. We fight. We are, after all, the captains of our own ships – masters of our fates. In the example of children, we see people spending tens of thousands of dollars, flying thousands of miles, wading through piles of bureaucratic paperwork to adopt children. Or, we see months and years and tens of thousands of dollars worth of medical procedures and drugs to procure biological children of their own. I acknowledge the changes in culture and medical advances and would never deny people the right to pursue what they desire. In the end, we must all follow our own hearts and I wish people joy with their children, no matter how they acquire them. But it makes me wonder.
Julia’s response then makes me wonder about our response now. What might have happened differently had she pursued the ‘having children’ piece of life that she clearly wanted? How would her life have been different? Would she have pursued cooking? Would she have attended Le Cordon Bleu? Would she have written books and produced television shows? I imagine - Not. I imagine, given the culture of the time, her life would have been – a diplomat’s wife, raising her children and keeping house for her husband. There would have been nothing wrong with those things at all. But we would probably not have seen the Julia Child that we did if for no other reason than she probably wouldn’t have had the energy to pursue it. Our world would be different.
This is just one example. How many times have I pursued my ‘desires,’ no matter what, when the universe seems to have been saying ‘no’ to me at the time? How many times have you? We’ve been raised with the notion that it is almost our obligation to do everything in our power to get what we want. So we strive and pursue and work and worry and we get what we want. And I wonder. I wonder how the world might be different. I wonder what ‘might have been’ had I or you let the universe have its way – and chosen to respond as Julia did. She accepted the hand life dealt her, and she made the absolute most of it in every way possible. She became.
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