Happy 100th Birthday “Dearie” – A Julia Child Tour of Paris

August 15, 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of Julia Child’s birth, and with perfect timing, Bob Spitz has authored an affectionate and definitive biography called Dearie (Knopf, August 8, 2012). I just downloaded my own Google ebook edition from my favorite independent bookstore.

If you admire this quirky powerhouse of a woman, you’ll love reading about her upbringing in California and her work at a spy agency during World War II, as well as her life in France and beyond.

For me, Julia’s 100th birthday is the perfect time to reflect on my good fortune in being able to walk in her footsteps in Paris. On a freezing cold day last January, I joined the American Women’s Group in Paris on a private  Julia Child Tour.

We were already shivering and stomping our cold feet when we met at the site of Julia Child’s Paris apartment at 81 rue de L’Université (or as Julia and Paul cheerfully called it, “Rue de Loo.”) We had private arrangements to meet the landlord in the courtyard of the building. We didn’t know what to expect, and were excited just to be there, despite the historically low temperatures.

It turned out that the landlady was an utterly charming French woman. She came out into the courtyard dressed in a fashionable fur coat, with her gray hair neatly brushed back into a black velvet headband. She spoke only French, but our tour guide was able to translate what we were unable to understand on our own.

Madame was happy to share her deceased husband’s stories about growing up as a neighbor of Julia and Paul Child. He was a young boy at the time, and would often ride his bicycle in the courtyard. Julia was never too busy to stop and visit with him, and obviously enjoyed the company of children. Julia’s French neighbors adored her. According to Madame, they remembered her as tall, outgoing and extremely friendly.

Madame told us that her husband’s family received Christmas cards from Julia and Paul for many years, even after they had left Paris. Madame apologized: she had searched for them among her old scrapbooks and souvenirs before our visit but couldn’t find them. She paged through her copy of My Life in France and pointed to the famous Christmas card with Julia and Paul in the bathtub, and said proudly: “I have this one somewhere!”

We were thrilled when Madame invited us up to her apartment, and not just because we were eager to escape the cold. We got a glimpse at an apartment similar to the one Julia and Paul lived in. While the living room and dining room were lovely, with classic wood parquet floors, gloriously tall windows and exquisite decorative wood moulding, the kitchen was excrutiatingly small. We got to peek up the stairs toward the third floor, and I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite scenes in the Julie and Julia movie when Paul used to come home for lunch and a “nap” in the middle of the day.

In our best intermediate French (“Merci beaucoup Madame! Enchanté!”) we thanked Madame for her hospitality. We then hopped on a bus and continued our tour in the Les Halles neighborhood, where Julia used to shop for ingredients and cooking supplies. We finally warmed up with traditional French Onion Soup and a little white wine at Au Pied du Couchon, just like Julia did so many years ago. What fun.

Happy Birthday, Julia! And Madame, thanks for the memories.

Another ordinary looking apartment building in the 7th arrondissement in Paris. There is no plaque, so most passerby would never realize that this was once the home of Julia and Paul Child.

Julia and Paul’s apartment was on the third floor. (In France, they don’t count the ground floor as the first floor – get s a bit confusing sometimes!) A photo of these very windows appears in My Life in Paris.

Madame brought her own stickered-up copy of My Life in France in order to compare the photos to the scene in the courtyard. She pointed up at the windows to show us where Julia and Paul had lived.

Julia and Child’s apartment was on the third floor. Julia began cooking in the original kitchen, which was extremely small even by Paris standards. They later converted the small attic apartment above into a separate kitchen. Paul took the photo that appears in My Life in France (pictured above) from one of these third floor windows, aimed across the courtyard and toward the decorative windows in the other wing of the apartment.

Madame is pointing out the photos of Julia and Paul’s Christmas cards that her husband’s family used to receive. She apologized because she hadn’t been able to find the scrapbook where they had been stored!

E. Dehillerin in Les Halles, a classic French cooking supply store where Julia used to shop. Still a very friendly place to browse.

 

Our crazy French waiter at Au Pied du Couchon, who led us in a traditional French chanson, complete with a pig nose!

Additional reading:

13 thoughts on “Happy 100th Birthday “Dearie” – A Julia Child Tour of Paris

  1. As a small correction, Mrs Child used to live on the second and third floor, their “living quarters” were on the second.(page 32 of the book) the kitchen was on the third floor. “Madame” whom you refer to is most certainly my mother and I have the book with all the “pink” postits that you took a picture of !

    Like

  2. I have been so curious about Julia Child after watching Julie & Julia. I read in Appetite For Life that Julia’s address in Paris is 81, rue de l’Universite, and so I did a google search to see if I could find any photos of it – and thankfully found your blog post. Is her apartment facing the rear part of the building? I saw on Google Street View (https://goo.gl/maps/ETeeLeXvvC52) that the front portion that it is just a flat facade. Did you have a chance to see inside the apartment, or was it occupied?

    Like

    • Tim, sadly you can’t see much from the street. It is a private apartment building. We were on a private tour and were allowed to enter the courtyard and one of the apartments (not Julia’s). You can only see the famous windows from the inside courtyard.

      Like

      • Thank you, Margie, for your speedy reply. Did you also have a chance to visit Le Cordon Bleu? Or eat at La Couronne in Rouen, where Julia had her first meal in France? Or the Les Deux Magot cafe in Paris (https://goo.gl/maps/1Ei9RKNeC4x), where Julia and Paul dined regularly? Thanks for taking time to quench my curiosity.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s