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Rue de Loo

By Ann | August 14, 2012

One of the first things I bought for our new apartment was the picture. It’s a photo of Julia Child in her kitchen in Paris, and I wanted to hang it in my own.

By now, Julia’s story has become the stuff of bestselling memoirs and blockbuster films. But those of us who love Julia are each touched by her story for a different reason: the late bloomers, the kitchen unconfident, the professionally unsatisfied. In honor of Julia’s birthday — she would have turned 100 tomorrow, August 15 — I’d like to share mine.

A month after we got married in 2003, my husband and I moved to China. I left my job in book publishing to become a diplomat’s wife. I loved being married, but in those early days, newly unemployed, I floundered. I missed my job as an editor so much I felt like I’d lost an internal organ. I wept, I worried, I spent weeks alphabetizing our bookshelves. I wondered how I’d ever adjust to life as a trailing spouse, moving around the world for my husband’s career while lacking my own.

It would be disingenuous to say that Julia Child led me to food writing. She was one among a pack of writers whose work inspired me to strive and to despair. But I had read Julia’s biography and I often considered the parallels in our lives: her stint in China, her marriage to a Foreign Service officer, her life as a trailing spouse, her career nurtured throughout multiple international moves. Even now, my mind still turns to them like a set of worry beads. I don’t aspire to be Julia — she remains a true original with that height, and gustatory enthusiasm, and funny, fluting voice. But I look at the loving teamwork of her marriage with Paul — unwavering despite personal and professional disappointments, not to mention multiple untimely overseas relocations. The self-mocking tone of her letters when she became too maudlin over leaving her beloved France. The success that bloomed from hard work and sheer will, despite the upheavals of diplomatic life. And I feel hopeful.

If you read this blog, you’re probably familiar with my story. You know I got my start writing for a local Beijing expat magazine, a free monthly that, though littered with typos, burst with energy. I wanted to write about food but they needed stories about everything else. And so, I wrote about orchid care, Chanel knock-offs, men’s seersucker suits. Eventually, when the dining editor left, I leapt at the chance to take her place. I will be forever grateful to that magazine for giving me a job, a chance, a path in another direction, a new dream to nurture.

Julia and Paul moved to Paris in 1948, when Paul was assigned to a job at the American Embassy. In 2008, my husband began an assignment at the American Embassy in Paris, and, like Julia, I too became a diplomat’s wife in France. In the four years that I’ve lived here, she has never been far from my thoughts. I’ve looked for her in all the usual places — her apartment at 81 rue de l’Université, which she dubbed rue de Loo. Her old haunts like E. Dehilleren or Au Pied de Cochon (I feel sure the latter two must have been more honest and appealing in her time). Lesser known spots, too, like the Hôtel de Talleyrand, home of the Marshall Plan and post-war diplomatic cocktail soirées, or Place de la Concorde, where our husbands worked at the Embassy, albeit separated by fifty years. I’ve tried to replicate her culinary curiosity by remaining open, adventurous, enthusiastic — even when faced with a heaping plate of andouillette. I’ve done my best to honor her in my new book, Mastering the Art of French Eating. And when we decided to buy an apartment, a shoebox pied à terre in Paris, the one that struck us with a thunderclap just happened to be on her old street, rue de Loo.

“It’s fun to get together and have something good to eat at least once a day,” said Julia. “That’s what human life is all about—enjoying things.” Yesterday, a friend came over for lunch and I made a quiche and green salad tossed with Julia’s vinaigrette, the recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. My friend brought bread and honey, traditional gifts to sweeten a new home, and we ate, and talked, and finished the salad, and lingered over Eric Kayser’s amazing pistachio-apricot brioche. “Does the apartment feel more like home?” she asked. It did. It does.

After Paul’s assignment ended in 1952, he and Julia never again lived permanently in France. (Though they kept a small, stone house in Provence, they used it only for vacations.) If I’m being honest, I have to admit that I, too, may never again live permanently in Paris  — a hard truth that makes my heart seize up. But thinking of Julia reminded me of the important things in life: the essential humanness of sharing good food with the people you love, even when you’re in a place you may not love so very much. Somehow everything tastes better when eaten with your favorite dining companion. Later, as I washed dishes, I gazed at the photo of Julia in her kitchen on rue de Loo, now hung in my kitchen on rue de Loo. I like to think she’ll be keeping an eye on things while I’m away.

More on Julia Child and her 100th birthday:

Cook for Julia birthday celebration from PBS

Old photos of Julia and Paul Child (I bought mine here!)

Recipe for sauce vinaigrette from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Fun video mash-up of Julia Child’s best action scenes (thanks, Dad!)

Topics: Cooking the Classics, Mastering the Art of French Eating, Paris, Uncategorized | 30 Comments »

30 Responses to “Rue de Loo”

  1. Bobbi Says:
    August 14th, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Bon anniversaire Madame Julia!! Vive la rue de loo.

  2. Kelly@thhungryegghead.com Says:
    August 14th, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Life as a trailing spouse is difficult. Glad that you are able to adjust so well.

    These days, I feel very lost in HK. I never knew how Americanized I have become until living in Hong Kong.

  3. Andi Says:
    August 14th, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    Lovely post. Julia came very late to me, but it is very clear that she was an inspiration to many is a myriad of ways – and that is really the best sort of inspiration, one of a million facets that resonates in a million ways!

  4. David Says:
    August 14th, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    It’s really wonderful and inspirational that you’ve been able to pursue your passion, much like Julia did, by seizing the opportunity that life has presented. No matter where you find yourself years from now, you’ll have all of these experiences and memories to look back on, and all of us to share them with.

  5. Lindy Says:
    August 14th, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Beautifully thought out and elegantly phrased. Rue do Loo will be better for the both of you.

    I can still remember some rather deep, dark days in Moscow (CK will know) when I realised that eating well three times a day was not the best ‘revenge’ for a strange and trying existence, but the only revenge. I haven’t looked back. And to surround oneself with a perfect teapot and tea cup, a portrait of an inspirational muse. It all adds up to a life well led.

  6. Amy Kim Says:
    August 14th, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Beautifully written!

    I understand the whole “trailing spouse” ordeal though our tour through the U.S. have been less glamorous…

  7. Lindsey Says:
    August 14th, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    I adore this post, Ann. I can almost hear the emotion in your voice as if you were telling me this story! She was and remains an inspiration to so many but I hope you know that you’ve been (and will continue to be) a tremendous inspiration for ME, in Paris, Beijing or beyond.

  8. Katy Says:
    August 14th, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Although I’m neither a diplomat’s wife, nor have I ever had the pleasure of living in Paris, I can relate to this lovely post in so many ways. When I was doing archival research in Helsinki this past spring, an experience that I enjoyed, but that I also found incredibly challenging, I found myself reading “As Always, Julia.” Somehow, it was such a comfort to read about food and friendship and to feel, through Avis’ and Julia’s letters, like I was taking part in the dialogue between them (even if only as a voyeur).

    And it’s comforting to know that it’s possible to start over and change direction–with success (your book sounds fascinating!); I’m still writing my dissertation, but I think about the Next Step a lot these days…

  9. Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.) Says:
    August 14th, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    A beautiful post Ann – I loved learning a little more about how your life came to “be”. I, too, have transformed myself a few times over the past 20 or so years and completely identify with many of the emotions you have expressed here. A wonderful tribute that I think Julia would love too :)

  10. Pat Says:
    August 14th, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    What a lovely post, Ann! I must tell you that a month after my husband and I got married, we moved to England, to a tiny village in the Southwest where everyone assumed I was the daughter of the owner of the Chinese restaurant (amazingly there were 2!). That was when I decided to digress from my career in the arts and become a writer, which was in fact, a childhood dream not yet realized. So I totally identify with your experience! Thank you for sharing what Julia means to you.

  11. Chez Loulou Says:
    August 14th, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Such a beautiful tribute to Julia and I couldn’t agree more with her quote.
    I’m sure she will be keeping her eye on things until you can come “home” again.

  12. Voie de Vie Says:
    August 14th, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    Oh the emotional mist! This leaving is just gut-wrenching, isn’t it?

    I also identify with Julia, but in other ways. I guess I just find her so accessible, no matter the setting. Even in much later life, she still had the curiosity to learn new things in the kitchen from other chefs.

    Happy birthday, Julia … and here’s to a clean getaway and a new next chapter. It’s going to be great, just you wait.

  13. Anne Says:
    August 14th, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    I read this post twice today, and it was as lovely the second time as the first. Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

  14. CK Says:
    August 14th, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    I wish I had been there to try that quiche — it looks scrumptious. Julia used to shop sometimes at Fresh Pond Market on Huron Ave in Cambridge — where my mom sometimes got groceries. We used to see Julia — and hear her distinctive voice — from time to time!

  15. Tammy Says:
    August 15th, 2012 at 2:06 am

    Oh Ann … what a beautiful piece of writing. I love the connections you and Julia have and I believe you’ve honored her memory in your similar pursuits.

  16. Janice from Fresno Says:
    August 15th, 2012 at 10:09 am

    So well told! I love the analogies and inspiration. You make me miss France so much, but I relish in the wonderful vignettes you provide.

  17. Nermine Says:
    August 15th, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    Wonderful post Ann! Wish Julia were here with us to see how many women she inspired with her life story and passion for cooking. She didn’t have children, but she mothered thousands and may be millions of women around the world. Can’t thank her enough for her priceless gift.

  18. Jeanne Says:
    August 15th, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    This is a beautiful, eloquently written post. I loved your inspirational depiction of Julia’s straightforward honesty and enthusiasm for life.
    Wishing you the best as you continue to prepare and share good food with CK and all the other people you love. I know your enthusiasm and adventurousness will bring you happiness wherever you are.
    By the way, I just finished reading Kitchen Chinese, again, and I enjoyed just as much this time.
    Best to you both!

  19. Shut Up & Cook Says:
    August 15th, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    Beautifully written, and so appreciate your honesty. As per usual I am wildly jealous of your life, but can so appreciate that it isn’t all glamour, and that it has it’s challenges like all life situations do.

    Now…down to business…what’s the recipe for that delicious looking quiche in your pictures?!?

  20. Emma Says:
    August 16th, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Such a beautiful post. Lovely to know a bit more about you and so many similarities with Julia!

    Being Australian, I don’t know a lot of Julia Child other than the movie Julie and Julia. I really liked her for her honesty and sort of bohemian life and personality and the way she took things in her stride.

  21. Sweet Freak Says:
    August 17th, 2012 at 12:19 am

    !!!

    I don’t even know what to say, Ann. Yours is the best tribute to Julia ever. What lucky parallels and wonderful thoughts. (And yummy looking quiche and an adorable kitchen.) Give my regards… to Julia… on rue de Loo… in Paris. xo

  22. Kim B. Says:
    August 17th, 2012 at 6:01 am

    Oh Ann. You are such a talented writer and an interesting human being — I don’t know what to say, but this reflection of yours is just absolutely exquisite. Your insight, your self-awareness, your attentiveness to the world and appreciation for others’ gifts . . . It’s a gift already to possess those qualities, but then on TOP of that to be able to articulate and present them to the world in a piece of writing to share — well I’m humbled and honored to call you my friend! Thank you for sharing your gifts with us.

    I’m happy and believe that there’s lots of Paris — -as well as lots of other fascinating places — in your and CK’s future.

  23. Shannon Says:
    August 17th, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    Just lovely–as both you and Julia happen to be. We, your readers, are the luckier ones. Each time you post, we get to live a little bit of the adventure that is your life. Julia’s fans had to wait for books and shows.

    I can’t help but think of the trouble the two of you could haven’t gotten yourselves into!

  24. Bob Says:
    August 19th, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    Mom and I are very proud of you, Ann, and know you will find many more successes and happy eating/food adventures in your next and future locations just as Julia did.

  25. thyme (sarah) Says:
    August 20th, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    What a wonderful journey you are on in your life and in your marriage. It must have been a magical time in Paris and how fitting that Julia is out there in history to help guide your culinary world and give you insights into the world of moving around the world, cooking, and living. Thank you for sharing those insights with all of us out here! I can’t even imagine knowing Paris as well as you do!

  26. Kim B. Says:
    August 25th, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Have continued to think on this piece and your achievement with it, really a worthy encapsulation for THIS time you had in Paris (not the ending of your time here, but the closing of one discrete time here, during which you arrived as a newly minted Middlebury certificate-holder, and departed with the keys to the city in your hand, and encompassing in between CK’s year away, the publication of your first book, the research and writing of your second one . . . I could go on and on).

    And I keep returning to something — just the absolute perfection of your having acquired for your rue de loo apartment the photo of Julia in her rue de loo apartment. You’ve got me reading Dearie, and I’ve bought the letters of Julia and Avis de Voto (the book is selling for $2.99 for kindle!) and getting re-immersed in that Julia world. And that sense of working so hard, and finding your fulfilling place in that world through intellectual endeavors and a fulfilling romantic partnership — and then the fact of CK having the Cambridge ties and having grown up seeing Julia in the neighborhood. That photo is one small decorative item in your new Paris apartment, but it carries such important emotional symbolism. I love that you even knew of the source for the Boston historical items! I mean, who knew?!

    Anyway,it’s just too perfect, and I’m so happy you have a slice of rue de loo to call your own.

  27. Holly | Beyond Kimchee Says:
    August 27th, 2012 at 1:38 am

    What a lovely post! I am also a wife of a diplomat and have an eternal love of food (both cooking and eating). I admire and love Julia Child and her story. I often visited Smithsonian in D.C, saw her Kitchen display and very motivated by her love of French cooking. I love Paris (traveled once)and I am dreaming of living there someday.

  28. Marie (Food Nouveau) Says:
    September 6th, 2012 at 2:55 am

    Ann the parallels between your life and Julia’s are fascinating. No wonder she’s always been someone you looked up to! Life as a diplomat’s wife can sound like a fairy tale: travelling all the time, being somewhat of a nomad and living in many different countries around the world. You’re not the first one I’ve read that expresses the tougher sides of that life, and how hard it can be to find your purpose when you’re moving all the time. I believe you may have found the ideal second career as a writer, you can do it from anywhere, and travelling actually provides you with material to build your career on. (I can’t wait for your book about French cuisine!) I hope you find your balance back in the States too and I can’t wait to read about this new life experience.

  29. Lisa Lue Says:
    September 18th, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    I have that photo hanging on my black and white toile de Jouey wallpaper! I walked beside Julia one day on Smith College campus, dwarfed by her even in her later years. Found you through the France Project and look forward to your new book.

  30. parisbreakfast Says:
    December 6th, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    Always loved that pic of Julia…
    And always loved roo du loo
    Not that long ago there were many cheap hotels that are now high-end where I stayed including Hotel de l’universite, upscale back then.
    Lots of nice memories from this post
    merci carolg

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