Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Sweet Life in Paris, by David Lebovitz

My quasi-daughter-in-law Leigh gave me this book for Christmas, in anticipation of a summer trip to Paris. Author David Lebovitz, dessert cookbook author and former chef at Chez Panisse, decided to move to Paris after his partner died, leaving him feeling unmoored in his life in San Francisco. The book is a light-hearted look at how Lebovitz learned to deal with various aspects of life in Paris--from dressing, to waiting in line, to shopping and dining. While the book is funny and the author clearly loves Paris, he paints a picture of an unwelcoming, if not somewhat frightening place.

Lebovitz describes walking the streets as "an annoying game of people-pinball" while avoiding copious amounts of dog poop, waiting in line as an opportunity to experience line-jumping and unwanted intimacy with the person standing behind you. Shopping is an experience constrained by numerous rules--you must say Bonjour to store personnel when you enter if you hope to receive any sort of service; on the other hand, you must not touch anything unless you are sure you want to buy it, as clerks will snatch up anything you touch and begin wrapping it for you. The chocolates, breads, and cheeses of Paris are divine--should personnel at the shops not take an unexplained dislike to you (Lebovitz greased many a wheel by taking brownies to people in the various businesses he patronizes). If you go into certain restaurants dressed like an American, you will be relegated to the back room and may be served bad fish. I am definitely going to have to read some more romanticized descriptions of Paris to get my courage back.

Lebovitz includes recipes at the end of each brief chapter of the book, many but by no means all desserts. He also lists sources in the U.S. for French foodstuffs and some of his favorite cafes, bakeries, cheese shops, and the like in Paris.

Favorite passage:
When they say, "The cheeses in France are the best in the world, they mean, "We are indeed a superior culture."
When they say, "We are tired of American culture," they mean, "Please don't show us Sharon Stone's vagina again."

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