Saturday, January 9, 2010


Friday, August 13, 2004

I don’t know what to say.

Julia Child was ninety-one years old when she died, late yesterday, in
her sleep. It’s the death that all of us want, after a life so full it
would seem she was one of history’s true lucky souls, if only luck had
had anything to do with it. She enriched the lives of thousands – my
life she quite literally turned around. She died well-loved, and I
hope she died well-fed. There is no tragedy here. It’s a day for
remembrance, and celebration.

So why am I so fucking sad?

I heard this morning. I was working on my book – I’m always working
on my book, only “freaking out over” would probably be a better term –
when the emails started pouring in. Condolences from my relatives, and
my friends, and my blog-friends, comforting me as if I was suffering
the loss of a family member. I never met Julia Child. I have no
particular reason to think she’d even have liked me if I had. I have
no claim over the woman at all, unless it’s the claim those who have
nearly drowned have over the person who pulled them out of the ocean.
And yet I do feel this loss personally, as a great six-foot-two hole in
my world.

Julia Child began learning to cook when she was thirty-seven years
old. She started because she wanted to feed her husband Paul. She
started because though she’d fallen in love with great food late, when
she did she’d fallen hard. She started because she was in Paris. She
started because she didn’t know what else to do.

Who knows how it happens, how you come upon your essential gift? For
this was hers. Not the cooking itself so much – lots of people cook
better than Julia. Not even the recipes – others can write recipes.
What was Julia’s true gift, then? She certainly had enormous energy,
and that was a sort of gift, if a genetic one – perhaps the one thing
about her you can pin down on the luck of the draw. She was a great
teacher, certainly – funny, and generous, and enthusiastic, with so
much overbrimming confidence that she had nothing to do with the
surplus but start doling it out to others. But she also had a great
gift for learning. Perhaps that was the talent she discovered in
herself at the age of 37, at the Cordon Bleu School in Paris – the
thirst to keep finding out, the openness to experience that makes life
worth living.

She was no bending reed, of course. She had no use for silly,
fear-driven food fads; she could be set in her ways, even mulish, and
when she wanted to she could be withering. That’s fine. That’s good
even. We don’t need saints. Who changes their life under the
influence of a saint? Okay – don’t answer that. But the point is –
Julia was so impressive, so instructive, so exhilarating, because she
was a woman, not a goddess. Julia didn’t create armies of drones,
mindlessly equating her name with taste and muttering “It’s a Good
Thing” under their minty breath. Instead she created feisty, buttery,
adventurous cooks, always diving in to the next possible disaster,
because goddammit, if Julia did it, so could we.

This morning, I was writing about lobster murder. As anyone who’s
here will remember, Julia’s instructions for Homard a l’Americaine were
particularly troubling. Now, bisecting a living lobster is not an easy
thing to do – not for the cook, and certainly not for the lobster. I
still feel a little bad about it, and this morning I was writing
something maybe a little resentful about how I had visited this torture
on a crustacean on Julia’s directive.

She told me I could do it, so I did, and it was hard. I don’t ever,
ever want to do it again – not for her, not for anybody. But it was
important that I do it once. Killing that lobster made me face up to a
lot of stuff that bothers me – stuff about responsibility, and hard
decisions, and carving (bad word, maybe) a place in the world I can be
comfortable in. I would not have done it without Julia to tell me –
“Go ahead – What could happen?”

There’s so much I would not have done. Because it would not have been
there for me to do. Without you here, I would be a different person –
a smaller, a sadder, a more frightened person.

So thank you Julia. Thank you.

I don’t believe in this kind of thing, and I sort of get the feeling
you don’t either, but I’m going to make an exception in your case. I’m
going to choose to believe that tonight, you’re eating sole meunieré,
with Paul, and you’re lifting a glass to toast whatever comes next.

Bon Appetit.

1:19:03 PM

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