As you may be able to tell from this blog, I’m a bit of a workaholic. The important difference for me is not between work and leisure, but between work I want to do and work I don’t particularly want to do. If I have free time, I write . . . Which is my work, of course. (If you’re paid for it, it’s work.)
But I’ve created a rule for myself, which is that I’m not allowed to work in the bath. Go ahead, laugh, but I have a tendency to take books that I have to read, because they’re research or I’m teaching the contents, into the bath. (Where, yes, they sometimes get bubbles on them. Of course one needs bubbles in a bath, or what’s the point?) But I am no longer allowed to take work into the bath, so I have to find other reading material. Lately, I’ve been reading Julia Child’s My Life in France.
The book is ridiculously entertaining, I think partly because you can hear Julia’s voice all through it, and she had a sense that life was fun and an adventure. So everything becomes an adventure — even plumbing problems. I thought I would include a few quotations here, just to show you what she sounds like.
“My father was pained by his daughters’ liberal leanings. He 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. Instead, I had married Paul Child, a painter, photographer, poet, and mid-level diplomat who had taken me to live in dirty, dreaded France. I couldn’t have been happier!”
One of the most wonderful things about the book is reading about the relationship she had with her husband. It was a true partnership: he always encouraged her and supported her career, and they went off on adventures together, across Europe. You can tell how much affection they had for each other in every line she writes. The other most wonderful thing about the book is watching a woman find her passion — food and cooking, in this case. She’s ambitious, she perseveres, she triumphs — it’s lovely to see.
And they spent time with all sorts of people in Paris, even meeting Alice B. Toklas. Julia describes one Thanksgiving dinner when they “went to a cocktail party at Paul and Hadley Mowrer’s apartment”:
“He wrote a column for the New York Post and did broadcasts for the Voice of America. She was a former Mrs. Ernest Hemingway, whom Paul had first met in Paris in the 1920s. Hadley was extremely warm, not very intellectual, and the mother of Jack Hemingway, who had been in the OSS during the war and was called Bumby.”
It’s funny that she talks about Hadley Mowrer being a former Mrs. Hemingway as though it were a job. I suppose in some sense it must have been! From the book, I get the sense (perhaps false) that life was both more difficult (plumbing! strikes that would mean you had no power for days! Paris after the war!) and more vivid. Julia and Paul seem to have so much fun, and to eat so much wonderful food. I find myself a bit envious.
The last quotation I’ll include is her description of Simone Beck, who was one of her co-authoresses.
“For Simca and Jean, the subject of food was a precious and meaningful thing. During the war, they have faced terrible deprivations: Jean had been captured by the Nazis, and Simca sent him messages sewn inside prunes that were delivered to his prison camp.”
Messages inside prunes! I consider myself a good writer, but I don’t think I could have made that one up.