Just Above Sunset
August 22, 2004 - Julia Child and Donald Justice

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As most everyone knows, that famous woman from Pasadena, Julia Child, passed away this week. I still have my late mother’s old copy of The Art of French Cooking somewhere or other, although I hardly ever open it. Like most guys, I work from intuition and improvise – although I have consulted that book from time to time on things that puzzled me. But Julia Child was one fine woman.


Someone I know, Louisa KL Chu, on her website Movable Feast: Diary of an Itinerant Chef has a funny story of what it was like to interview Julia Child. You might check it out here.  Louisa, by the way, holds Le Grand Diplôme from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (2003) and then staged at Restaurant Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénéé also in Paris.  And she will be staging at El Bulli in September until the end of the season 2004 – think foam, of course.  She is contracted with Les Ambassadeurs at the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris after that, but her French work visa is pending.  I believe bureaucracy is a French word – they invented the concept – and I wish her luck.  Anyway, Louisa’s interview will give a good sense of Julia Child.

And you might want to check out this appreciation.  It hits the mark.

Julia Child's Lessons in Living
She combined a Puritan work ethic with a love of life.
Amy Finnerty – Opinion Journal (in The Wall Street Journal), Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Some nuggets from Finnerty?

Julia Child as subversive of the American ethic -


She addressed one glaring flaw in the American ethic--our aversion to actually enjoying what we've labored for. In this she shifted the focus of pride at American tables away from the heartland cliché - that of "plenty," the visible fruits of labor” - toward an emphasis on quality, and the senses. A purring palate was more important than a piled-up platter.

Many food trends have come and gone since she became famous, and she remained unmoved, deriding the anti-butterfat lobby and other bores. Health-food zealots were a baffling irritation to Ms. Child, and she delivered a consistent message over the decades: Ignore them. No wonder our feelings about her are still so passionate, several decades after her most oft-cited accomplishment (bringing coq au vin to Peoria).

Food was the medium, but the message amounted to a philosophy of life. She did something more important than teach us to cook; she taught us to eat, and some of us in the new Atkins World Order could still use a few lessons. She knew how to indulge, in moderation: food of all kinds (in normal portions); drink (but not drunkenness); smoking (until she did the mature thing and quit); and the company of men (she was a happily married flirt).


That about sums it up.  Lighten-up and relax – and enjoy life.  Fine by me.

And had she not been involved with food?


… she might have found greatness in other ways, through her ability to subvert Americans' love of suffering.


What?  America’s love of suffering?

Well, surveying the week in politics, watching the not-quite-hard-bodies staggering out of Crunch Gym down on the corner, where aerobic suffering is a specialty, listening to the din of coverage of the trials of Scott (murder) and Kobe (rape) and Micheal (child molestation)… this Finnerty woman has nailed it there too.  We do love suffering.  It ennobles us, and entertains us.

Crunch Gym stands on the spot where Schwab’s Drugstore used to be – where Lana Turner was discovered - a pretty young teenager in a tight cashmere sweater sipping a high-carb, real-sugar soda many decades ago.  Times have changed.  The sweet young things on that corner now, exhausted from their workouts, looking grim and a bit mean, could easily toss any Hollywood agent who gets too fresh through a plate-glass window – and they sip cold no-carb coffee-like stuff at Buzz Coffee on the plaza outside the gym – and you don’t want to mess with them.

Julia Child would just not get it.


One other -

The American poet Donald Justice died August 6th after a long illness. He was extraordinary. One of my favorites.

Here is a quick bio – listing all the awards and such.

And everyone is quoting his most famous poem -


Counting the Mad

This one was put in a jacket,
This one was sent home,
This one was given bread and meat
But would eat none,
And this one cried No No No No
All day long.

This one looked at the window
As though it were a wall,
This one saw things that were not there,
And this one cried No No No No
All day long.

This one thought himself a bird,
This one a dog,
And this one thought himself a man,
An ordinary man,
And cried and cried No No No No
All day long.


Short and to the point.

William Carlos Williams, another American poet (Patterson, New Jersey in fact – but he was in Paris with Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and the rest of course), said this - "It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there."

Yep.  And I think Julia Child knew something similar about food.

Slow down.  Enjoy.  Drink it all in.


But another friend reminds me of these lines from Donald Justice –


Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to


Ah, yes.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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