Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Guest Blog – My Life in France by Julia Child

The movie I enjoyed most this summer was Julie and Julia. I thought Meryl Streep was brilliant. I came away from the movie so interested in Julia Child that I wanted to know more. Of course, I knew who she was and I have seen her kitchen at the Smithsonian, but I had not known much about her personal life. When I saw My Life in France at a local bookstore I bought it and packed it in my bag to read on my trip to Turkey to visit the Blogger.

The book was co-authored by a great nephew of Child’s, Alex Prud’homme, and came out after she died. Child lived at a time when the only practical and economical way to communicate with family and friends was by the mail. Both she and her husband Paul wrote long letters that their family and friends were wise enough to save. So it is not surprising that Child was able to tell us what they had for dinner on a certain important occasion.

The book is delightful. I fell in love with Paul Child. The world should be populated with men like Paul. He was devoted to her and supported her efforts while having his own successful life and career.

This was not a fast read. It is biographical and is full of talk of food and wine and French phrases. I wondered if part of my enjoyment of the book was that I knew where rue Lepic was and have my own photograph of the restaurant Lapin Agile from our recent sojourn in Paris.

My French is not very good, so it is a good thing that usually Julia translated her phrases. But not always. She is polite enough to leave some of the French “swear words” in their original French. I don’t suppose I will ever cook any of her recipes that she made simple enough for an American housewife to cook, but I really appreciate what an exceptional woman she was. I was glad to get to know her a little better even though she is no longer with us to wish us Bon Appétit.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Guest Blog - A Nation of Immigrants by John F. Kennedy

While visiting the Blogger in Turkey, I picked up A Nation of Immigrants in her office and took it back to her apartment to read. I was familiar with Profiles in Courage by the late president, but had not come across this small book. It was actually published in 1964 a year after President Kennedy’s death. His brother Robert wrote a forward for the book and had it published.

Kennedy emphasized the fact that each new wave of immigrants coming to the United States of America met with prejudice and rejection beginning as far back as Quakers and Catholics in the northern colonies. Whether the immigrants were Irish or Polish or Italian, the established inhabitants saw them as a threat. The newcomers were seen as a threat to jobs and to political balance. Does that sound familiar? Kennedy did not live long enough to see the cruelty shown towards incoming Vietnamese or the present day anger shown by many towards Hispanics or Middle Easterners.

The only group of people who were excluded from any immigration at all is the Chinese. The laborers were welcomed when they quietly came and endured abuse while building the railroads heading east from California. However, when the railroad was finished, the population descendent from Europeans expressed their fear of foreigners by enacting an exclusionary clause. The only group of people who have ever been completely prevented from immigrating to the US have been the Chinese.

Kennedy pointed out that in order to keep the majority of the population not only Western European but predominantly from the British Isles, quotas were established limiting the number of people coming into the country from other nations.

Unless you are a Native American/Indian, if you are an American you are descended from immigrants. I think that part of the success of our nation is based on its immigrants who came with dreams of improving their lives. Our forefathers or perhaps parents came here eager to make a better world for their families. For the most part they have succeeded. I hope that those of us who have benefited from our ancestors’ dreams will feel a little more compassion for the latest wave of immigrants.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Guest Blog - Yankee Stranger by Elswyth Thane

Not long ago my husband and I stopped in Chancellorsville, Virginia to see a memorial to Stonewall Jackson. Jackson was mistakenly shot by someone on his own picket line. He lost an arm and developed pneumonia. He died about a week after the battle between the Confederate and Union forces at Chancellorsville - killed by friendly fire.
About twenty years ago, I read the entire seven book series of historical novels about a Williamsburg family written by Elswyth Thane. After visiting Chancellorsville, I got out an old copy of Yankee Stranger to read the story of a Yankee who fell in love with a Southern beauty on the eve of the Civil War. The recounting of the siege of Richmond is well written. Thane describes a city caught with little food and no drugs to deaden the pain of wounded Confederate soldiers.
I enjoy historical novels because it is such a painless way to gain a little knowledge of days gone by. This novel by Thane is my of the series about Williamsburg that she wrote. Reading this book a few weeks ago, I was surprised by some of the very politically incorrect references to slaves. I had forgotten all of the negative language used in the book when speaking of African Americans.
Yankee Stranger is a good romance and a good historical novel. It is well worth reading but you need to take into account the fact that it was published in 1944. Hopefully we have become more sensitive in the years since then, but I suspect we have a very long way to go.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Guest Blog – Deadly Décisions by Kathy Reichs

I have been traveling in the last few weeks, so that means that I have been sitting on airplanes as well as sitting in airports waiting for or between flights. Before reaching the Chicago O’Hare airport I had finished the book I was currently reading and picked Kathy Reichs’ Deadly Décisions out of my backpack to read on the rest of my journey. Fortunately Reichs is excellent reading for long trips. She had no trouble keeping my attention and helping the long hours to pass quickly.
Deadly Décisions is about war between opposing motorcycle gangs in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Tempe is in Montreal to try to sort out the parts of two bikers who were blown up by their own bomb. Shortly after her arrival, a nine year old girl is killed in the street, shot by a stray bullet in a drive-by shooting. Determined to find the person responsible, Tempe joins the special police group investigating the bikers.
Along the way, she discovers that Ryan is on suspension from the police force because stolen property and drugs were found in his apartment. How can this be? This is a man she trusts.
Deadly Décisions is another of Reichs’ excellent procedural novels. However, I wonder if she is a bit naïve about some police procedures. In the story the police stake out an internment at a cemetery. They are on the watch for one gang planning to take revenge on the mourners. However, no one who is watching out for the marauding bikers is on a SWAT team or is even carrying a rifle. They are all armed with weapons that are only accurate at close range. Of course, if someone had a sniper’s rifle it would ruin part of her story. However, it simply felt all wrong to me to have a police force watching for violence in a cemetery at 10 in the morning without anyone ready to pick off a fast moving motorcyclist determined to kill people at the funeral.
I have recently spent a couple of months in the last few years in Montreal. I do not recall having at any time seeing anyone on a Harley. If I was a reader who had never traveled to Canada or Montreal, Reichs’ books might frighten me into never leaving home. Thank goodness I am already enchanted with Montreal and Quebec City and look forward to visiting them again soon.
Despite what seem to me some obvious flaws, I am a "Bones" fan. I look forward to reading more books and catching up with the series on TV.