A Blue Ribbon for Julie & Julia
Earlier this summer, the Dresser sneaked off in the middle of the day with a friend to her local nonprofit movie house (Washington, DC's Avalon Theatre) to see Julie & Julia starring Meryl Streep. One of the Dresser's literary colleagues thought this was utterly decadent and perhaps the outing was because the Dresser has taken so long to write her thoughts about seeing the dual stories of Julia Child and Julie Powell who took one whole year to cook her way through Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and simultaneously blog about the results. The movie, which premiered August 7, is now drifting down the pop chart, such that after the weekend of August 28-30, the box office ranking was the 6th most popularly seen film. However, the Dresser has noticed that both My Life In France, by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme and Julie & Julia, by Julie Powell continue to top the best-selling book list of major American newspapers like The New York Times.
WHETHER WHIPPING LIONS OR EGGS
What the Dresser adored about Nora Ephron's film is that not only did it make her chuckle and admire how fantastic Meryl Streep was as the whacky top chef who brought French cooking to Americans, but it absolutely put the Dresser back in touch with one incident after another that involves how much the Dresser enjoys eating artfully prepared food and the pursuit of cooking. Whether Meryl Streep is beating lions (as Karen Blixen in Out of Africa) or eggs, she has the ability to absorb the character she is portraying such that the viewer can get lost in the story and isn't pulled up short by the fact that Streep is playing the part.
As Julia Child, Streep was able to modulate her voice to achieve those zany resonances that Julia made as she was executing her televised cooking errors and entertaining the American viewing audience. Yes, the Dresser said errors because half the reason the Dresser watched what Julia did on TV was to see what one could learn from her mistakes and, of course, to be entertained. Seeing Streep as Julia cooking on TV while Julie Powell watched in her living room was a wild ride for the Dresser. The Dresser instantly thought about a particular televised demonstration where Julia Child made a caramelized dome that went over some desert. The dome took at least 15 or 20 minutes of the show to make and once it was finished, Julia stood over it for a few minutes saying some odd thing and then wham, she broke it up over the desert (was it a pie and what did the dome add in eating pleasure?). The Dresser actually found the film scene where Streep-cum-Child is on TV sloppily flipping an omelet to be tame by comparison to personal memories.
THE BLUE RIBBON OF COOKING
The Dresser had another set of flashbacks in seeing the ebullient Julia start her cooking lessons at the Cordon Bleu. The film scene where Julia enters the cooking school's kitchen that is populated only by men seemed to be a triumph for all women in general and so that also gave the Dresser waves of emotional reaction.Photo by Jonathan Wenk, Columbia Pictures
When the Dresser first got her copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she was newly out of college, had just gotten married, and her then-husband and she had a mutual high school friend named Ken who was learning to cook from an unusually tall Parisian woman named Vivien. (The scene in the movie where Julia's feet hang off the short mattress made the Dresser think of the svelte Vivien.) In a few years, Ken threw over his doctorate degree in operations research, moved to Juneau, and opened a successful French restaurant with some barbarian who had the key to the city and who could get a liquor license. Did the Dresser, who also learned Vivien's cooking secrets, feel jealous? No way! The Dresser's grandfather owned a restaurant in which he employed accomplished European chefs and she knew how much trouble service-oriented jobs are.
Around 1999, the Dresser had a dancer friend named Dennis who went on sabbatical from his government job so that he could attend the Cordon Bleu to see if he wanted to make a career change. Dennis informed the Dresser that she could attend a cooking demonstration at the Cordon Bleu in Paris and so she did. Well, while she knew that Julia Child loved all things buttered (that scene in the movie where Julie Powell opens her 'frig to a mountain of butter was enough to turn anyone's arteries to stone), going to the Cordon Bleu completely convinced the Dresser that Cordon Bleu cooking will not only make a person fat, but will also make them quickly dead. However, it was not butter that made the demonstration so appalling, but other animal fat and blood used in cooking some chicken dish that really made her pass on the taste offering.