Tuesday, September 27, 2011

La Belle Amour

The song “Nature Boy” (covered over the years countless times by a slew of artists) provides us with one of the most insightful lyrics you’re likely to ever find. I have heard the song countless times in, sometimes in the periphery and sometimes while paying strict attention. The lyrical content of the song still strikes a chord with me (I promise that was not intended to be a pun), even after all those listens. The lyric is “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is how to love, and be loved in return.” I find the song’s popularity over the years remarkably refreshing, considering how wonderfully poignant and insightful it really is. The idea that it takes effort to love someone is something that most of us come to understand over time and through experience. We learn that falling in love can be relatively sudden and easy, but that demonstrating that love takes work. Actually, it takes quite a bit of work. Unfortunately, the amount of work we put into to giving love leaves is negligent to the idea that we may need to learn how to be loved… in return. I feel that all too many people struggle (more than they may think) to be comfortable with being loved. Amidst all of this, it is exhilarating to find an example of two people who not only love one another every day, but who are at peace in being loved by the other.

In my humblest of opinions, there is no better way for someone to learn how to be loved than to be accepted for exactly who he or she is. In a world where individuals seeking romance feign qualities in order to appeal to a potential romantic partner, the process of learning how to be loved is deterred as a result of resistance in revealing to someone your “truest” of selves. As a young adult male, I know all too well the reasons why individuals pretend to be a certain way. In the end, it may just be a product of over thinking. The presuppositions that go along with attempting to appeal to a certain someone are often counterproductive to the end goal of being accepted by that person. To be accepted for who you really are is the first real step in learning how to be comfortable with being loved.

There has been no romantic partnership, real or fictional, that has embodied this type of love and acceptance more than Paul and Julia Child. My knowledge of their love and commitment to one another comes from having read Julia’s nationally bestselling book My Life in France (co-written by Alex Prud’homme). The book documents the couple’s lives living overseas while Paul was stationed as an employee of the United States government. As most of you probably know by her personal fame, Julia took to culinary arts with a tenacity and drive that is enviable by anyone’s standards. Still, despite the glorious successes she had during her career, there were some serious ups-and-downs. Disputes over authorship of work, unsuccessfully “shopping” for publishers, and tensions with culinary school instructors are just a few of the arduous and tedious events that no doubt placed stress on Julia’s shoulders. As she mentions countless times throughout the course of the book, however, it was her husband who helped her get through all of these troublesome steps on the way to fame, fortune, and happiness. Happiness, I feel, is something that Julia found long before literary and televised fame. In reading her book, I was genuinely inspired by the ways she described her life with Paul before they had any money to speak of. While they were able to live off of his government earnings, they spent the vast majority of their adult lives as expatriates with no considerable fortune to speak of.

Let’s be honest. By no means would Julia Child be acknowledged as a stereotypically attractive woman. I’m sure she would tell you the same. On the other hand, I like to imagine that she felt more beautiful than any woman who has ever walked across a beauty pageant stage or adorned the cover of a magazine. I like to think that Paul made it a daily ritual to tell his wife how beautiful she was. In a way, a scenario like this makes me think about the perceptions we have about the people we are the most fond of. How evident imperfections, over time, become what we cherish most about them. Apart from her inordinate stature and height, Julia most likely never attracted second or third gazes from onlookers roaming the streets of Paris. I doubt it mattered. I take great joy in believing that she was made to feel radiant every day by the person who held the opinion that mattered most.

For as much as I love Julia Child’s book, I was overjoyed to see that the union between herself and Paul was depicted on the screen in as genuine and heartfelt a fashion as it was in the book, penned by the Julia herself. Julie and Julia (2009) principally follows the life of Julie Powell, the woman who set out to conquer all the recipe’s contained within Julia’s opus, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In addition to tracking Ms. Powell’s culinary conquest, the film also incorporates a storyline that follows Paul and Julia as they live their lives together in France (essentially based on the writing in My Life in France). The story of Julie and her husband is cute in its own right, and echoes many of the relational themes that were present in the lives of Paul and Julia. However, the present-day narrative doesn’t quite compare, if only because Julia and Paul had uniqueness about their relationship that is hard to replicate with any other subjects. Luckily, the filmmakers were able to cast the superb Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci in the leading roles. While these two have certainly contributed stellar screen performances in the past (some that are certainly more dramatically memorable than what is contained in this film), there is something special about the way they captured the incredible connection that the real life Paul and Julia had together.

While there is really no doubt in my mind that Paul and Julia child were physically and romantically compatible, Julia’s glorious writing on the subject leads me to believe in their relationship as the pinnacle for what companionship should be. As well all surely know (but are often too afraid to admit), physical beauty fades away with the passing of years and the accumulation of experience, making it all the more important to find yourself walking alongside a lover who is also the dearest of friends. Someone with whom you can share life’s grand and idiosyncratic moments, and whose mere presence will put you at ease like you never knew possible. Finding such a person may be difficult, and it will most definitely prove frustrating at some point(s) along the way. Still, I trust that it will all be worth it in the end.

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