Monday, 10 August 2009

Silly blog entry - referencing a silly film

The link in the title of this post is to a previous blog entry about the film Doubt, in case anyone else here is a fan of Meryl Streep's. My comments on "Julie and Julia," where Meryl's portrayal of Julia Child is hilarious, are from a viewpoint that this is her true 'camp role.' Unlike some others, I saw "Doubt" as being very far from camp.

Be forewarned, my friends, that I have a genetic pre-disposition to odd reactions to the arts at times. I well remember when my nephew, Christopher, was a child, and had quite an extensive video library, parts of which he brought when visiting my mother (Chip.) Chip is surely the only person in history to see "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" as tragedy to make one shudder. She told me for months afterwards that the image of the little boy (the size of, perhaps, a pencil point) in cereal, calling out, "Dad! Don't eat me!" upset her terribly. (Christopher must have inherited a bit of that. As an infant, he burst into tears at the ridiculous parody, "On Top of Spaghetti, all covered with cheese, I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed...," picturing that the little boy had nothing to eat.)

You therefore will understand that I am the only creature on the planet who cried a bit during "Julie and Julia," as I shall explain in a moment. Normally, loving cinema as I do, my preference is for high quality dramas - and J & J is very far from that category. Now and then, I do enjoy seeing exceptional dramatic actors in the uncharacteristic, silly comedy role. Meryl Streep must be one of the greatest film actresses alive, and I had the impression she was having the time of her life with her over the top, bumbling, dotty depiction of Julia Child. Julie (the Amy Adams character - portrayed in the film in a more appealing manner than one would expect from what I read of the 'real blog') is someone I felt I'd like to shake by the shoulders (the ultimate whinge bag - self centred as many people, excepting myself and Fr Gregory of course, who compose blogs tend to be). It actually is a very funny film - light fare, for pure entertainment - nice for unwinding.

I actually know next to nothing of Julia Child, but, at least as she is portrayed here, I could identify with some of her traits even though our life circumstances are drastically different. Julia seemed one who totally enjoyed every pleasure which would come her way, relishing the wonderful food and wine, maintaining a wonderful flat with the delightful French d├ęcor which happens to be my favourite decorating scheme, and showing a refreshing joy (rarely shown on screen among those in middle age or beyond) in her late marriage - this couple obviously delight in each other's company, in the bed and anywhere else. I think it is a great blessing to enjoy whatever pleasures the earth has to offer, and I myself am utterly sensual. Modest though my own means are (and always were), I'm surrounded by music, incense and candles (no, not just those - I meant aromatherapy products), memorabilia from every era.

I love to cook, and French cuisine is a great favourite of mine. Whether this is the case I cannot be sure, but I've always wondered if part of the ingenuity that makes French cooking wonderful is that, since France was often racked by famine and war, they had a unique gift for maintaining quality, in whatever way possible, despite deprivation. Good French cooking may mean very little on the plate at times, but the seasoning and sauces cannot be topped. (Yes, I've spent my share of time in France, and am not suggesting this is always the case... I adore French cheeses, but know what can crawl out of some of them in more remote areas... ) I have many happy memories of my time in France.

My mother was a dreadful cook - she didn't know the meaning of 'seasoning,' preferred soggy pasta, and had the most unvarying of unvarying diets short of that of the Trappists. (She was tiny but had a huge appetite, and could finish an entire loaf of bread in a sitting, but had no flair for flavour. It's interesting that both my grandmothers, though they were illiterate, were inventive and very fine cooks.) When my parents were alive, it was no sense my preparing dishes for them - Chip just wanted her soggy pasta and bread, and Sam, probably used to everything being horribly bland, thought that adding anything to food, including herbs, was 'wasting.' Yet, as I demonstrated best when I cooked for the homeless (when what is on the table often depends on donations, and cannot be planned), but also work on daily in my own kitchen, things being scarce doesn't mean they cannot be delightful. I can turn anything on hand into a decent meal.

Now, you must wonder why I was crying during a humorous film with an engaging main character. It is because of the lack of the simple pleasures I love and long to share. It matters little that, when I am alone, I still can make a semi-gourmet meal from a minute steak and some tired looking fresh vegetables - and that I relish cheap wine and espresso. I want the other element - the fun, social aspect - the delectable, varied conversations - and that I do lack.

Some of the humour in "J & J" is built around references to butter. (I'd applaud anyone who, as Julia does here, could flip an omelette on national television, have it break apart, and be not at all flustered as she scoops the broken part from the stove top and tosses it back into the pan.) I have found that it is amazing how much a spoonful of butter can add to the flavour of any dish... but so much for that today. Even a spoonful in the entire recipe would mean that dinner guests, if one could find them, would not take a mouthful in their terror of cholesterol. It seems the only 'safe' things to offer people today is water and plain greens, with perhaps a forkful of pasta - and even that might lead to protests that the harvesting of the greens was unfair to migrant workers or something.

I wept because I take such joy in beauty - of every pleasure of sight, sound, taste and so forth - and savouring these things often (I'm not exaggerating) is an act of worship and gratitude for me. (That loud noise you just heard was the Calvinists leaving the room... I hope the Jansenists are following. And thrift is not a virtue - so there! I'm frugal because I must be. Rich kid Francesco found freedom in holy poverty, but still danced for joy.) I wish I could share such pleasures. My generation are so terrified of illness and death (even if they are in the best of health, and might live for another thirty years) that every sensual pleasure is gone. Not only because one fears becoming ill, but because one wants to avoid the comments of others around them!

Pass me the butter, the wine, and a nice piece of Brie, please... The best part of holy poverty is that, though one has little, one relishes everything one has.

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