Thursday, August 06, 2009
I am on a Julia Child craze.
My friends and family think I am a good cook, I am not sure my German mother would agree. I learned cooking in this country and am a product of the fast and easy, eclectic cuisine with unusual combinations of flavors and textures. I have a few folkloristic items from the old world on my menu, but I never accomplished the laborious doughs and dumplings, the beautifully decorated Christmas cookies, the multilayered butter cream filled cakes… The reason is: they would need lots of practice, just like American pie crust.
Last week in preparation for a road trip I went to our public library and picked up the Audio CD of Julia Child’s book “My Life in France”. Since the art of French cooking always seemed daunting to me I had never so much as opened one of Julia’s cookbooks in a store or in a friend’s kitchen. I knew only that she discovered food late in life and that she brought French cooking to America. My only less iconic piece of knowledge about Julia is her quote “I hate health food”. What I learned in my audio book about this woman astounded me. She repeated and practiced recipes over and over again when she went to cooking school, and later when she adapted French recipes for the American market. She wanted to understand every single step of transformation from an animal to a meal, from basic ingredients to a sauce or Baguette, she looked into the science of flour types and limitations of ovens, but most of all she repeated and reworked and then did it once again - just to be sure. After she had already been a highly accomplished home cook and started to teach – a friend! - she cooked the dish in the morning in order to be prepared for the lesson in the afternoon. She checked and re-checked all the recipes that went into her first cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, which took about a decade of preparation.
When I am teaching the Alexander Technique I sometimes hear students complain during the second or third lesson that something is difficult. Immediately I feel inadequate and pressured to assist them better with my hands and words. In the back of my mind I feel I should fulfill some of the great promises and discoveries this work holds during my first three introductory sessions.
The fact of the matter is however that Alexander Teachers go through a 3-year 1600 hour fulltime training in order to qualify as teachers, that they continue to exchange with and take lessons from colleagues – more or less for the rest of their lives, and that they lie down regularly to practice elements introduced in the first few lessons: neck to be free, head forward and up, back back, knees away, etc. It is this practice of conscious control, this mastering of basic ingredients that enables us to produce specialties and delicacies like the preparation for an artistic or athletic performance, the resolution of a persistent pain, the managing of a psychological or emotional crisis.
F.M. Alexander did not accept anyone as a student unless the person committed to a minimum of 30 lessons, daily, five times a week. He knew how to be successful. So did Julia Child, as well as many other people who are accomplishing in unusual ways. My young daughter’s first violin teacher quoted Shin’ichi Suzuki when she told us “you don’t need to practice every day, only on the days you eat” – in Suzuki teaching figures in the range of 10,000 repetitions are being mentioned to accomplish a next step.
Do you remember this old joke? A man walking in Manhattan asks a passer-by “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The other replied “Practice, my friend, practice.”