Monday 14 April 2014

The Sweet Life in Paris

I'd been meaning to read this book for a while. I'm a great fan of David Lebovitz's blog, I have his Paris Pastry app on my phone, and it is called The Sweet Life in Paris, so it's a no-brainer for me really. A few weeks ago I ordered it online. And then it arrived a matter of minutes after we had spent 3 1/2 hours doing battle with the Singapore Air website and making multiple phone calls to them booking my next trip to Paris! What could I do? I had to put everything else aside and read it.

I had presumed that this book was about pastries in Paris, in the way of Sweet Paris, but it's much more broad ranging than that. A memoir, often with foodie highlights, but more a memoir of a transition from living in San Francisco in your native English speaking environment to living in Paris in a French speaking world. David Lebovitz decided to pack it all up and move to Paris after his partner died suddenly. He really took an astonishing leap into the void. He sold up his American life and moved to Paris with three suitcases. That takes some courage.

David moved into a tiny apartment in the Bastille, so small that he comes to realise that it is best to wash his Le Creusets in the bath instead of the sink. There are the requisite tales of French tradesmen and disastrous French language classes in short readable chapters with fabulous sounding recipes at the end.

Early on he spends three pages reinforcing the "two most important words in the French language." "Bonjour, monsieur" or "Bonjour, madame".

Whether you step into a shop, a restaurant, a cafe, or even an elevator, you need to say those words to anyone else in there with you. Enter the doctor's waiting room and everyone says their bonjours. Make sure to say them at the pharmacy, to the people who make you take off your belt at airport security, to the cashier who is about to deny you a refund for your used-once broken ice cream scoop, as well as to the gap-toothed vendor at the market who's moments away from short-changing you. 

On a first visit to France it is initially disconcerting to be greeted with a singsong "Bonjour, madame" as you walk into any new establishment, but after a while it is lovely. They will all say goodbye as you leave the shop too, such a welcome change from my experience of the English speaking world.

David has spent time working (for free) alongside the poissonières at the marche d'Aligre, learning to prepare all sorts of seafood, except squid (his aversion is really quite deep rooted), and also manning the counter of the very upmarket and very now chocolatier, Patrick Roger. What a great approach to a new life and a new city that is.

David feels that his understanding of the food, and allowing himself to adapt to the culture made a big difference to his transition.

I arrived knowing a fair amount about the pastries, cheeses, chocolates, and breads, which impressed the French, and I also soaked up as much as I could. More important, though, I learned to take the time to get to know the people, especially the vendors and merchants, who would patiently explain their wares to me. 

He now feels much more a part of the global community than if he had stayed in America.

I do my best to act like a Parisian: I smile only when I have something to actually be happy about, and I cut in line whenever I can. I've stopped eating vegetables almost entirely, and wine is my sole source of hydration.

There is a fascinating chapter about water, which as I've long suspected is rationed.

Random, fascinating facts.

It's rude to ask someone what they do, better to ask where are they from.

Paris has more tanning salons than boulangeries.

In a nation of readers, writers are revered in France.

Berthillon, makers of the best ice-cream in the world IMHO  serve tarte tatin with caramel ice cream at their tea salon (31 Rue Saint Louis en L'ile 75004) which is "over-the-top good". Next time I won't plan on walking past.

Parisians will eat a banana with a knife and fork.

The same word, les bourses, means both scrotum and stock exchange.

And what of the many recipes? I haven't tried any as yet, but I will be absolutely spoilt for choice when I start. Sweet or savoury. Dulce de Leche Brownies. Cheesecake. Spiced Nut Mix. Sweet and Sour Onions. Braised Turkey in Beaujolais Nouveau with Prunes. Chocolate Spice Bread (Pain d'Epices au Chocolat). Floating Islands (Ile Flottante). Or Salted Butter Caramel Sauce. Oh lordy! That could be the end of me. But I think I'll try the Lemon-Glazed Madeleines first.

In typical timing for me David Lebovitz has just published his next book, My Paris Kitchen, which apparently tells us that eating in Paris is fun again. Was it ever really not fun? Cleaning your teeth in Paris is fun. In another interview promoting his new book they discuss how Parisians are using influences from other cultures in their home cooking, and presume that this is new. I'm not so sure that it is all that new. On our first visit to Paris in 1998 I bought quite a few recipe magazines and there certainly many ethnic inspired recipes there. Perhaps it is more common now?

Books on France, a great 2014 challenge
 from Emma at 
Words and Peace

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog

This post is linked to Weekend Cooking
a fabulous weekly meme at BethFishReads

Foodies Read 2014!


Paulita said...

Louise, What a fun review. I assumed the book was mostly recipes and I haven't read it. I'm definitely going to pick it up. And did you say you're making reservations to travel to Paris again? So jealous!
Thanks for playing along today. Here’s my Dreaming of France meme

Sally Tharpe Rowles said...

Thanks for this review…I really would like to read this one…..& best wishes to you on your trip to Paris….how exciting!!!!

Joy said...

This sounds like a terrific book to read while planning a trip to Paris. I love all the tips and tricks about the culture. I was on the way home from Paris when I read, for the first time, that the American habit of smiling all the time at everyone strikes the French as madness. Oops.

Joy's Book Blog

Jackie McGuinness said...

Definitely being added to my TBR list!

skiourophile said...

I enjoyed this book a lot - he's got a lovely sly sense of humour. And that bit about water made so much sense of what I thought was just me not being understood in Paris!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

One good book leads to another, doesn't it? I suppose I must be off now to add Paris Kitchen to my wishlist. Sigh.

Beth F said...

I have this one on my list. Now I can't wait to get to it!

Tea said...

I love Foodie memoirs. You've written so many interesting and fun facts. Wine is his only hydration struck me. I laughed. Then, the French will eat a banana with a knife and fork. Seems like a great book.

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) said...

This book sounds fantastic! I love his eclectic collection of observations about life in Paris…and the food, of course.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I love foodie books - I will check this one out.

Carole said...

Louise, I'm off to order this from the library right now! Thanks! Happy Easter from a Kiwi 'cousin'. Cheers from Carole's chatter

jama said...

Just finished this book and loved it. Like you, I'd wanted to read it for a long time. Definitely wasn't disappointed. Can't wait to read David's new book. :)

Tanya @ Moms Small Victories said...

Stopping by from Weekend Cooking. I am glad the book surpassed your expectations, I love it when a book surprises me. The book sounds delicious and I too am jealous of your trip to Paris! Enjoy!

Hope you will stop by my Small Victories Sunday Linky and linkup 3 bookish/foodish posts! :)

Cecelia said...

I assumed that the book was mostly recipes, too - thanks for focusing on the memoir part and giving us a taste of David's life in Paris!

Tina said...

Great post! I have that book on my overburdened book shelf. Love David Lebovitz. Nice review.