Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Doll is Born

On Friday Michael and I went to see Julie & Julia, a truly delightful movie in which Meryl Streep plays Julia Child. The movie has a heart warming portrayal of love between mature people: Julia and her husband Paul, and it's also about friendship between women, and blogging! Plus there's food! Who could ask for more?

I was inspired to re-post this blog from 2007, when I finished making my Julia Child doll, which was my response to reading her wonderful book My Life in France.

Here are some final clues to the identity of my doll:


I hope these ring some bells for you. I explained to my daughter that I had made a doll of Julia Child, and she said, "Oh yeah, Rachel Ray talks about her!"

So here's my homage to dear Julia Child. She was an influential presence in my life: my whole family watched her throughout the 60s and the 70s, and a lot of these memories came back when I read her memoir My Life in France. One passage in particular captures my impression of her from her early TV days:

"On the evening of July 26, we ate a big steak dinner at home and, at eight-thirty, pulled our ugly little television out of hiding and switched on Channel 2. There I was, in black and white, a large woman sloshing eggs to quickly here, too slowly there, gasping, looking at the wrong camera while talking too loudly, and so on. Paul [her husband] said I looked and sounded just like myself, but it was hard for me to be objective. I saw plenty of room for improvement, and figured that I might begin to have an inkling of what I was supposed to do after I'd shot twenty more TV shows. But it had been fun."

Julia Child was America's first celebrity TV chef, but she began her career by authoring Mastering the Art of French Cooking, (1961) which she wrote with her French co-authors Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, after an extensive recipe testing process than took ten years. The patch Julia wore on her early TV shows, which prior to my research for the doll, I thought was a Cordon Bleu patch (since Julia graduated from that cooking school) was actually a patch her husband Paul designed for Julia and her two French collaborators. In 1952 the three friends started a cooking school in Paris, L' Ecole Des Trois Gourmandes, which Julia translated as the School of Three Hearty Eaters. She wore this patch on her blouse through the early TV shows.

There is a wonderful website at the Smithsonian Museum, where Julia's kitchen from her days in Boston has been recreated with all of its original tools and appliances. She popularized the wire wisk in the U.S., which I included as an accessory for my doll. She also closed all her TV shows with her signature phrase "Bon Appetit!" which I machine embroidered on her dish cloth.

I wrote the following poem a few years ago, calling up some of my youthful memories of Julia. I hope the doll captures some of her hearty and creative spirit.

Dinner With Julia

We’re lined up on the cracked vinyl couch
waiting like soup kitchen diners
for Julia Child to light up
our living room
with her mannish hands,
her schoolgirl squeals.

We’re waiting to see Julia cleave
knives to slabs of meat
and dump the scraps on the floor.
She always sticks her fingers in the food
and then puts them in her mouth.
She’s sweaty and dishevelled as a saint
before a vision of God.
We’re waiting to witness her rapture.

Today Julia pulls bolts of tripe
in ascending sizes from off-camera.
White fields of fat and muscle,
blankets of honeycombs,
only Julia would bring out these pieces
huge like winding sheets for the dead.

We’ve never seen a woman
handle so much meat
and as off-handedly as if she were
unfurling towels for the clothes line.

And menudo, of all things,
a la francaise, who was to know
that anyone but us Mexicans
crave tripe, which when cooked,
fogs the house with its sweaty smell for days.

My mother clucks her tongue.
La Julia is carving the tripe
into squares big as hands.

My father howls through his
tumbler of red wine, says
she must be drunk, tossing those dirty plates
off-screen without a thought.

But we all love Julia,
wait weekly to see her,
a broad-shouldered
square-bodied woman
who cooks with both hands
up to her elbows in the food
and opens her mouth all the way
to laugh.

11 comments:

Vicki W said...

Very cool! My husband is a big Julia fan.

Sequana said...

Oh, that's just wonderful! Not only the doll but the poem.

My encounter with Julia happened in northern California one year. We'd gone to a restaurant and after we sat down we noticed a flurry of activity over near the kitchen door. There was Julia's party!

Paul was still around, but not looking well. I wish we had gotten that kind of service. *S*

When they left, I ran out with my camera, but only got a pic of their car leaving the lot. So I have a pic of the back of her head thru the back window.

*L*....still brings back that memory.

Sequana said...

Oh, that's just wonderful! Not only the doll but the poem.

My encounter with Julia happened in northern California one year. We'd gone to a restaurant and after we sat down we noticed a flurry of activity over near the kitchen door. There was Julia's party!

Paul was still around, but not looking well. I wish we had gotten that kind of service. *S*

When they left, I ran out with my camera, but only got a pic of their car leaving the lot. So I have a pic of the back of her head thru the back window.

*L*....still brings back that memory.

Allison Ann Aller said...

Soooo interesting!!!! This doll has so much more meaning than I could have imagined.
Love the image of you all lining up on the couch to see Julia week by week.
MK Fischer is the food person I am more familiar with...she was deep and literary, of course, but I think Julia must have been a heck of a lot more fun!

Beautiful poem, too...thanks so much for including that.

Susan said...

Your Julia Child doll is wonderful. You did such fun things to make her. Thanks for sharing the poem - that's also wonderful!

Rian said...

Great doll! Love it! I can't look at Julia without thinking of Dan Akroyd who used to do an impersonation of her on SNL. What a scream. Julia was wonderful.

Catherine said...

B-
You're amazing and so much fun! I thought of you yesterday, clearing drawers out and found some old McCall's patterns for dolls' clothes my grandmother made, then neatly folded into a trunk for me one Christmas past. I wonder if they'd be at all helpful to you?

I can hear Julia speak! I hope you find a fitting perch for her to supervise in your kitchen.
C-

jettstream said...

I loved "My Life in France," Julia, her show, your doll, and your poem! What a nice tribute to someone who was totally at ease with herself. This project must have been great fun.

Niki said...

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy 2008!
Niki

Granny Fran said...

Rian is my Julia Child. Maybe you could create a Rian doll.

Sue in western WA said...

I think you captured Julia's spirit in your doll - Congratulations! She looks great.