Monday, July 13, 2009

On Publishing, Julia Child & A Fine Marriage Observed

When I wrote the post below about my admiration of the marriage between Paul and Julia Child, I hadn't yet heard of the upcoming new movie "Julia & Julia" with Meryl Streep playing the ebullient & distinctive voiced Julia Child. (Did I read someone describe Mrs. Child's voice sounding as though it were a product of a rooster having mated with an accordion? )

I assure you, I'll be first in line for a glimpse of Meryl bringing Child to life on the big screen. Since posting this note a few months ago, I've since stumbled across a fascinating book by the editor, Judith Jones, who found and championed Julia's first hefty cookbook. Last night, as I was waiting for my literary agent husband Greg to finish up some meetings in the lobby of a downtown Denver hotel; I fished Judith Jone's book (The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food) out of my purse, and read in wonder as she described receiving yet another manuscript she could not put down, many years ago.

With Jone's help, the story on those typewritten manuscript pages would evolve into a meeting with Otto Frank, the father of a little girl whose diary he found in a war-ravaged home after the Holocaust. Her name? Anne Frank. Those priceless diaries were shared with the world via an editor with a good eye for a beautifully tragic story that must be told; the same eye that would spot a goldmine in a cookbook that could teach American housewives how to make a good boeuf bourguingnon.

(A total aside, but Greg recently "discovered" an author, Nonna Bannister, who survived the Holocaust as a little girl with a diary she was able to to hide from the Nazis. Actually, she did not want to talk about the story, so her family followed her wishes and did not send out the manuscript until after her death. The book released this year is called The Secret Holocaust Diaries. Riveting read. But I digress...)

As I watched the mixing and mingling of agents, publishers, writers and editors in the hotel lobby last night (big book convention in town) and sat in on a few pitch meetings as well, my mind drifted back to Judith Jones , now senior editor and VP Alfred A. Knopf where she's worked in "books" since 1957. There's a reason a woman stays in the publishing business for 52 years. It is an endlessly varied and fascinating profession. One cannot be too young, nor too old for a career in books. In addition, book publishing has the exciting element of gambling or fishing, you never know when that next manuscript "coming in over the transom" or through a sharp-eyed agent is going to be the next Diary of Anne Frank and touch the heart of the world; or launch the next Julia Child and send us, by droves, into the kitchen with an omelet pan, a hearty appetite and big smiles of anticipation.

Now, without further adieu --I'm re-posting this note in celebration and anticipation of the new movie, which I plan to see with a few foodie friends. Right after a delicious (preferably French) meal!


I am listening to the audio book, My Life in France by Julia Child (beautifully read by someone else.) Oui, oui, I am completely charmed by Julia's love of good food and the way she dove into all things French the same way - with great gulps of enthusiasm.

But there's another story, an undertone of joy, that is even more compelling to me right now. It is the story of a well-matched couple in love with each other and delighted by life itself. Paul and Julia were each other's biggest fans, allowing both to blossom into their best, happiest and truest selves.

Of late, Greg and I have been involved in counseling several couples where the man is, how shall I put this delicately? A selfish jerk. Where have all the good husbands gone?

I love that Julia herself goes completely against Dream Wife Type. No one would accuse Paul of picking out a trophy wife as decoration for his arm and boost for his ego when he asked Julia to marry him. In fact, she looked more like a middle linebacker, standing well over six feet tall. And then there was that Voice, the sort cartoons and SNL characters are made of. What Julia lacked in movie star beauty, she seemed to make up for in fun, humor, kindness, and knowing her way around an omelet pan.

Reading between the lines, the secret ingredient to their lifelong attraction seemed to be, to me, that both Paul and Julia were blessed with joy, curiosity, contentment and the kind of generosity that pours from mates who keep each other's emotional cups full. Theirs was a beautiful marriage of two brains on joy. A rare match indeed. But when it happens, there is magic.

In an era when many men could not imagine their wife working outside the home, Paul happily supported Julia's dreams (as she did his). When in Paris together because of Paul's job with the American Embassy there, she fell in love with France, its people and of course, its mouthwatering cuisine.

She, being new to the French language, accidentally signed up for a year long course at the Cordon Bleu instead of what she thought was the six week housewife cooking course. She and Paul discussed the mistake and after considering it, Paul told her that he thought she should just go for it-- that following her passion would be wonderful for "her wellbeing." How's that for a dream conversation, ladies?

In 1967 on a PBS special Paul said: "How fortunate we are at this moment in our lives! Each doing what he most wants, in a marvelously adapted place, close to each other, superbly fed and housed, with excellent health, and few interruptions." I see in these two sentences that Paul lived his life gratefully aware of its blessings, especially the blessing of a good marriage. What fun he must have been for Julia to love.

I love this excerpt from a report: "Her (Julia's) new career crashed like a meteor into the center of their marriage. New roles sprang up and grabbed them -- she the star and he the support staff -- but they were determined to maintain what Julia called “that lovely intertwining of life, mind, and soul that a good marriage is.”

“We are a team,” she often said. “We do everything together ... Whenever she talked about her career, she said “we,” not “I,” and she meant it literally. Paul was an integral part of everything Julia did, careerwise. He was also adept at making his own sunshine. "When he wasn’t needed, he disappeared happily into his own world, painting and photographing and gardening ... "

Every morning they liked to snuggle in bed together for a half hour after the alarm went off, and at the end of the day, Paul would read aloud from the New Yorker while Julia made dinner. “We are never not together,” Paul said once, contentedly.”

(Source: Laura Shapiro, "Just a Pinch of Prejudice" from Julia Child,, 2007. )

Such oneness! It has been so refreshing to read about a wonderful,happy, longterm marriage. How I wish that all couples could experience this kind of "normal" -- where mutual kindness, optimism and enthusiasm for each other create a gourmet feast out of the simple, everyday ingredients of daily life.

For many years I neglected my kitchen for the task of raising my kids, surviving a difficult marriage and a blossoming writing and speaking career. Now that the kids are grown and I've remarried a man who considers my "wellbeing" as vitally important, I found extra brainspace available and with room in my head for more than mere survival, I made my way back to the kitchen. I am realizing that the joy of cooking is one of life's greatest outlets for giving tangible love. Creating a delicious meal is an art, whether it is a simple fluffy scrambled egg in a pretty bowl, or a multi-course Babette's Feast.

I have two plaques in my kitchen that speak of love in the language of food.

"Love is like bread, it must be made fresh every day." Greg and I often tell couples to make love every day, in some special way. There may not always be sex, but there should always be sensuality. A touch, a kiss, a gaze, a hug, words of longing and appreciation.

The other plaque sums up what it takes to enjoy a perfect evening, when you are married to your best friend and lover: "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou."

In a few days, Greg and I will celebrate our 5th anniversary as the happiest married couple in the universe. We owe our glow to having found the secret of feasting upon the wonder of each other, never taking the other for granted, knowing how rare this kind of love is among married couples. And of course, many great meals and glasses of wine shared together haven't hurt our happiness either. Bon Apetit!


  1. a french place to try in Denver: Le Central. Down at 8th and Lincoln, or someplace close by. Very yummy!

  2. I saw the movie with a group of foodies, after a fabulous French dinner. Of course, the movie got me (and half the country!) craving boeuf bourguignon; but it was too hot in August to cook such a thing. Finally, in March I got around to it. Mmmm. Took a picture, wrote down my little variations and posted it on my blog.