Thursday, August 25, 2011

{Book Report} The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz


Recently I had lunch with a dear friend just before she hopped in her car and headed East on a cross-country road trip to relocate from LA to Boston. Earlier this summer, she spent a week in Paris with her family and a new camera and I went along vicariously via her photo-filled blog, though I had to limit the time I spent wistfully scrolling through. Her descriptions of their exploits, and the photos that accompanied, made my heart hurt for my favorite city. Though she is partial to Italy in general and Florence in particular, she is awfully fond of macarons, the Eiffel tower, Louboutin, and everything else that sparkles à Paris. Before she left town, she gave me a very sweet parting gift, indeed.

David Lebovitz' newest book is a collection of essays, anecdotes and recipes from his time living the sweet life in Paris as an expat chef who needed a fresh view. I haven't tried any of the recipes yet but I trust they will be as fabulous as always. The scope encompasses a nice balance of courses and a good range of French dishes (gateau Breton au Sarrasin, et Socca) and non-French dishes (pork ribs and cheesecake), and even some dishes that one longs for when in France long-term (chocolate mole! carnitas!). All are a welcome addition to my collection, but I am going to try the espresso-caramel ice cream before anything else. 

I follow David's blog where he shares recipes and current travels and tidbits, so I already know that I love his writing style and content (and his ice cream cookbook, his marshmallows, and his salted caramel sauce). He did not let me down here; he's funny and conversational, and charmingly humble and self-deprecating. It's refreshing to read humorous memoir essays that aren't cynical and pretentiously self-conscious the way so many others are (can you hear me, Augusten Burroughs?). Both the essays and recipe introductions are well-written and usually cleverly connected. The recipes feel like dessert for every chapter, thoughtfully chosen for the content of the meal with a charming explanation by your host. 

So aside from being charming and appetizing and making me laugh out loud, David's experiences in Paris made me nostalgic for the semester I spent there as a student abroad. He highlights the kind of idiosyncrasies that are laughably maddening to those who relocate or even just visit, especially if they're coming from America. As I was reading, I contemplated whether this book would be helpful for someone to absorb before they set out to visit or move to Paris.

David provides a lighthearted and comprehensive overview of the kinds of things that might confound an American in the city of lights. None of it should discourage someone from booking a trip, though if read before visiting, I do think that these anecdotes could prematurely influence one's perception of Paris. Then again, that could help ease the transition and culture shock for first-time visitors.

If you're like me, and enjoy pre-vacation research, then put this at the top of your pre-Paris reading list. Or, if you've already been enchanted by the patisseries and je ne sais quois and want to fondly remember each instance when you were amazed by the glaring lack of capitalism, intimidated by the staggering bureaucracy of every task, and baffled by the absence of shower curtains and drinking water, then put this on your wishlist. 

Or if you're simply an armchair traveler, then whip up some macarons au chocolat or chocolat chaud or pour yourself a kir or a coffee (Italian, not French, s'il vous plaît!), put on some Edith Piaf and settle in for a delightful glimpse into David's "delicious adventures in the world's most glorious - and perplexing - city."

Do you have any Parisian anecdotes? Have you read any good books lately??

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