Julia Child’s My Life in France has been a delicious jaunty read, a welcome break from the high tragedy and drama of Middlesex. I can see Paris in my mind as I read it, even if I had only spent 2 days there wandering along the Seine, looking for the statue of Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, finding delightful old bookstores, tiny churches and the Centre Pompidou along the way. It might have been the novelty that comes with tourism, but it really seemed that love was in the air in Paris. Apart from the fact that couples everywhere seemed to be in some form of romantic embrace (but then again, it might have been the cold), a love for beautiful things seemed to linger in the Parisian air, to have the time to linger, without being shooed away by routine or rush. Groups of people with plastic wine glasses sat on bridges with baguettes and cheese while artists of all kinds sat along the river selling vintage postcards and painting portraits while a pastel sunset filled the sky. Perfect.
“Bonjour,” I would stop unsuspecting people, “Parlez vous anglais?” That was about all the French I knew. They would smile and nod and gesture. A little bit. “I am trying to find the statue of Saint Genevieve?” I would say slowly, syllable-by-syllable, trying to make ‘Genevieve’ sound French. John-no-vere? And these delightful French people—I recall one of them being a chic mother in a park with a stroller and another an elderly gentleman with a nice peaceful look—would attempt to show me in the right direction. None of them were rude at all, despite what my tour guide had warned us prior to letting us roam free. I think what Julia Child noted in her book was right;
The French are very sensitive to personal dynamics…If a tourist enters a food stall thinking he’s going to be cheated, the salesman will sense this and obligingly cheat him. But if a Frenchman senses that a visitor is delighted to be in his store, and takes a genuine interest in what is for sale, then he’ll open up like a flower.
I had left Paris with a fantastic impression of the city and her people and the book brought it all back to me and more. If and when I make it back, I insist on having proper French food. Having been on a strict budget, the only French food I ate were crepe from the corner of Rue de la Montangue Sainte Genevieve, 2 macaroons and random hotel fare –I recall horribly gloopy spaghetti.
Some parts of the book have resonated with me so far. Her description of Paul is one;
Paul was a sometimes macho, sometimes quiet, wilful, bookish man.
and her view toward travel was the other;
Yes, it was nice to have a bathroom in a hotel and fine service at breakfast, and I’d probably never visit those grand hotels again, but none of it seemed foreign enough to me. It was all so pleasantly bland…I don’t like it when everyone speaks perfect English; I’d much rather struggle with my phrase book.
That’s why India remains my favourite country. Its foreign-ness fascinated me and my lack of understanding intrigued me. The way people bathe along the busy roads of Kolkotta, soapduds and all, the way the book peddlers could recommend me Booker Prize winners from their book-filled bedsheet on the floor, the way each shop had a unique, complicated system… My inner wanderlusting rebel cheers the way a love for rough low-luxe travel is articulated so succinctly by Child, though I wonder how much of the writing is really Alex Prud’homme’s, as Julia Child was 91 at the time of writing and the book was written within a year and published after her death.
Curious as to how a duck is deboned with skin intact, I stumbled upon a fun youtube video on the varieties of chicken. Ah, life should be this fun.