Monday, August 24, 2009

Julie and Julia and Me

I finally saw Julie and Julia a few nights ago. And I loved it--both halves. I expected to find the character/time shifts jolting, and to wish we could stay in 1950s Paris the whole time. Instead, when it shifted from Paris to Queens, I wasn't ready to go, and when it shifted from Queens back to Paris, I wanted to spend just a few more minutes above the pizzeria.

While I never read Julie Powell's blog, I am halfway through the book. I understand the notion that perhaps she wasn't serious about the food--there is a definite feeling that she's just checking off recipes. Like some travelers who go to Paris wanting only to have seen the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame. Aspic? Check. Oeufs en cocotte? Check. Homard Thermidor? Check. In fact, it occurs to me that part of the problem is that readers expect Julie and Julia to be a food book. The fact that she'd never eaten an egg before starting her project should probably tip us off.

But I don't think the blog/book was a gimmick. She titled the blog perfectly: The Julie/Julia Project. It feels like a project. Like someone who needed to instill discipline in her life. I certainly understand the desire/need of imposing a schedule on oneself. What I cannot fathom is actually soldiering on; of preparing 524 recipes in one year while working full time. And writing about it.

While we all seem to admire Julia's can-do attitude, many find Julie whiny and self-involved. To me it seems the difference of eras. Julia did, after all, live through the Depression and World War II--I imagine that puts things in a different perspective than the one Julie knows. Or the one I know, come to think of it. Expecting a woman born in the 1970s (or 1960s) to be like one born in the teens seems a little pointless. It doesn't surprise me that Julie spends more time examining her life in excessive detail than Julia would have. As a person who likes reading about people, both stories interest me.

A few random thoughts that came to me during the movie (all self-involved, since, after all, I was born in the 1960s):

I wonder how many other people teared up at the opening? It's just the colors, that car, the clothes. And imagine what it must have been like to taste such food for the very first time. I'm pretty sure I should have had that life.

Towards the end of the movie I remembered that when I turned 30, I celebrated by making Boeuf Bourguignon for 4, from Julia Child's The Way to Cook. The pot was new (to me) and had a strange finish that imparted a horrible chemical taste to the stew--it was inedible, and we had to throw it away. And, while it wasn't raining that night, it was snowing heavily--usually a sure way to cancel Portland dinner plans. But the friends came, and, luckily, I'd made two pots of the stew, so our dinner party was a success.

I'd completely forgotten about Dan Akroyd's Julia Child spoof, apparently made in 1978? Well. When I was in 6th grade, in 1973 or 74, I had to do a video project for HP. HP was short for 'High potential'. It's what they used to call the kids now known (here in Portland, at least) as 'Talented and Gifted'. Back then I guess they expected us to do something with our gifts. I wonder what they'd call us all now if they could see us. FP (failed potential)? SU (serious underachievers)?

Anyway. My friend and I performed a Julia Child skit. Again, this was 4 or 5 years BEFORE Dan Akroyd's. The idea was Julia and Child (my taller friend got to be Julia, I was Child). We stirred up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, dropping whole (uncracked) eggs into the batter and stirring it up. Our particular genius was that after spooning the horrid looking concoction onto a cookie sheet, we stuck it into our pretend oven. One minute later we pulled out an identical baking sheet, with homemade chocolate chip cookies on it. We both already knew that the key to a good grade was in handing out cookies.


Kathleen Bauer said...

Great post! I've now decided we have to see the movie, which I have avoided because I love Julia's books and her shows and was sure I'd be disappointed in the movie version. Thanks!

Jessica said...

I loved both books and like the movie but I thought the Julie Powell of the movie was too cleaned up and sweetened up for me. They kind of gutted her and left a plucky though whiny shell. I would have liked them to leave her whole, warts and all, like Julia.

kimc said...

I wish I'd gone to 6th grade with you — although I seem to recall baking a cake decorated with the American flag that year and passing slices around to sweeten the deal (my country in Social Studies was USA; could I have been any less HP?).

As for the movie, I loved every second of it. What spirit! What gumption! Meryl Streep is so acutely joyful she should get an Oscar for Best … I don't know … Verve.

kab, go!

Giovanna said...

Kim--Gumption is the perfect word. You hear it so little today, maybe because that special combination of courage, pluckiness, hard work, and good old-fashioned common sense is in short supply these days? Something to aspire to...

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