Live to cook, cook to live
I used to have a friend who was obsessed with big birthdays. The run-up to his 30th birthday was an endless catalogue of woe - the waste of the years that had gone by, the signs (For God's sake - I'll be 30 in 3 months time!!) that senility was imminent, and that his life was nearly ended.
The truth of course is rather disappointing. You leave school, but find that being an adult is not really that different from being a child. You may be one of those lucky people who get to do exactly what they want, but most adults have lives that are a mixture of what they hoped they'd do, what they never expected to do, and a good hunk of "How the heck did I end up here?" Such was the situation that Julie Powell found herself in, a few months short of her 30th birthday with no children, 3 cats, a very nice husband, a less than satisfying job, and a new apartment that should have been great, but had "issues" (a bit like my house in fact). As she sank closer towards depression Powell was looking for salvation, and found it in her mother's old cookery book - the first volume of Julia Child's Mastering the art of French cooking.
***Vegetarians look away now***
Powell decided to start a blog; a blog with the challenge to cook every single one of Child's recipes in a year, from the pedestrian to the out-and-out-peculiar. The blog was a runaway success (you can still find most of the original version here, the version on Julie Powell's own pages is a very abridged blog), which catapulted Powell to fame, a book and film deal.
I first read the book, Julie & Julia, a few years ago. I had very warm memories of it - a funny, absorbing, at times heart-warming read that encouraged me to blog - never having come across the idea before. Re-reading it several years on, it doesn't quite grab me the way it did originally. I found myself thinking, pace absent friend, what's the point? Why are you getting so worked up about nothing? And why do you need to murder lobsters in a particularly unpleasant way just because Ms Child tells you that's the way to do it?
I also remembered what I hadn't enjoyed about the book the first time round - I just don't get Julia Child. This is almost certainly to do with the fact that I'm British, so she's not an institution here the way she is in the States. So that's a bit of a hurdle to overcome when getting to understand this book.
But here's what I do get about it, and why I continue to enjoy it, in spite of sometimes feeling like screaming at Julie Powell. What the book's truly about is finding yourself, finding what it is that makes life worth while for you. It may not be the same thing in 20 or 30 years time, but it's what you need now. Julia found her Paul while working for the OSS in Ceylon, and then discovered French cookery when he was posted to Paris. Julie re-kindled her love of cookery, and discovered she was a writer while working as a secretary in the office that was sorting out the design for the 9/11 memorial. Proving that you can find "you" in the most peculiar of places.
Ultimately, as Powell perceptively writes, finding yourself comes down to joy - "Sometimes, if you want to be happy, you've got to run away to Bath and marry a punk rocker. Sometimes you've got to dye your hair cobalt blue, or wander remote islands in Sicily, or cook your way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year, for no very good reason..." I guess what she's saying is that it's never too late to realise your dreams, or to do what in your heart you've always wanted to do. And you can't really be too hard on a book that encourages you to go out and do that.