Armchair Traveller: The Sweet Life in Paris
Are you still searching for the perfect Christmas gift for the armchair traveller in your life? Perhaps you could use a suggestion for your own holiday reading. Either way, here’s a book recommendation for you: The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz.
I discovered David Lebovitz’s writing through his blog called, appropriately enough, Living the Sweet Life in Paris. But even if I had never heard of the guy (or his blog), I would have grabbed the book off the store shelf on the merit of its subtitle alone: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious ― and Perplexing ― City.
David Lebovitz is a San-Francisco-pastry-chef-turned-cookbook-writer who starts life over in Paris following the unexpected death of his long-time partner ― a move he describes as “an opportunity to flip over the Etch A Sketch” of his life. Once in Paris, his writing shifts and his books expand from simply recipes to an examination ― centred around food, of course ― of all the ups and downs of living in Paris.
The Sweet Life in Paris is the result. It’s a book of short essays about daily life in Paris, followed by an appropriate recipe. Some of the links are tenuous, like when Lebovitz follows a description of French plumbing woes with a recipe for a meringue dessert called Floating Island. (The connection between the two? He recommends not flushing the meringue down the toilet if it doesn’t turn out.) Others are bang on, like his recipes for Chocolate Mousse that accompany the story of how he discovered the secret to dealing with French bureaucrats is to bribe them with free copies of his cookbooks.
Lebovitz’s credibility shot up when I read his recommendation that, if you don’t like anchovies, be sure to try them fresh in Collioure on the Mediterranean coast. I’ve eaten fresh anchovies in Collioure ― they would convert any non-believer.
But while Lebovitz’s descriptions of food in The Sweet Life in Paris are mouth-watering, as are his recipes, what I appreciate most about this book is his ability to see the funny in the incredibly frustrating idiosyncrasies of Parisian life. I’m with him 100% as he puzzles over why European washing machines take two hours to wash a load of laundry that would take North American machines a mere 40 minutes. Most of all, I wish I’d known his system for navigating the aisles of a Parisian supermarket before I spent a winter in Paris:
I hold [my basket] in front of me as I walk, like the prow of a battleship, to clear the way. That doesn’t always work, as Parisians don’t like to move or back up for anyone, no matter what. So sometimes I hide my basket behind me, then heave it forward at the last moment; the element of surprise gives them no time to plan a counteroffensive, and when the coast is suddenly clear, I made a break for it.
I lost count of how many times I had to sidestep, trip over, or squeeze past Parisians who refused to budge an inch in the narrow aisles of Monoprix or Carrefour. Now I can’t wait to go back and try out Lebovitz’s technique.
Even if you’ve never been to Paris and don’t know the difference between a pastry brush and a pastry blender, pick up a copy of The Sweet Life in Paris. It’s good for the laughs.