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Wednesday, 18 October 2017 15:22

A keen eye for France, and great recipes

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Elizabeth Bard’s Lunch In Paris: A Love Story, With Recipes (Little, Brown and Company, 2010, 324 pages) offers readers both literary and culinary treats.

Bard — what a wonderful name for a writer — whisks us off to the City of Light where she has fallen in love with a Frenchman, Gwendal. (Pronounced Gwen-DAL). Living in England, Bard meets Gwendal at a Digital Resources Conference in Paris, and they are soon emailing each other across the Channel. Eventually, Bard visits Paris and Gwendal again, and then many times, before she finally takes up full-time residency in the city to be with the man who has become her lover. He introduces her to his family, who live in Saint-Malo, a French port city, and the two of them fly to New York to meet her own parents and kin. Eventually, they marry.

None of these details should spoil your reading of this fine book, because it contains so many other excellent descriptions and explanations of French life. Here are just a few of its gifts to us.

First, for aficionados of French cuisine, Bard includes scores of recipes in Lunch In Paris, three or four of them at the end of each chapter, foods eaten in that chapter in restaurants or private homes. Though some of the ingredients, the cheeses for instance, may be unfamiliar to many readers, Bard’s instructions for preparing these dishes are clear and precise. A book club reading Lunch In Paris might fancy preparing some of these foods to eat during their discussion.

Bard’s honesty and vision as an outsider in France should also attract readers. Unlike some books of this nature, Lunch In Paris contrasts life in France with that of England and the United States, and the results are at times negative, as when she reports her run-ins with various French shop owners and government officials, and addresses the difficulty of finding meaningful employment.

When Gwendal’s father Yanig becomes fatally ill, Bard is sharply critical of the French health care system, which, though often touted as one of the finest in the world, is also run by doctors who “look down on high, feeling no need to explain themselves or involve you in any way.” After dealing with several of these physicians, Bard concludes by writing “I felt trapped in someone else’s system, like I’d bought a one-way ticket to a place I didn’t understand.”

Another instance of these cultural differences is more amusing. Bard repeatedly encourages Gwendal to push forward with his dream of operating his own digital cinema company, but he resists, explaining that such entrepreneurship  doesn’t work in France. When he does finally take the step in that direction, he works long hours, traveling back and forth between Paris and Los Angeles, all the while facing the scrutiny and criticism of family and friends for daring to be different. The funniest point in these adventures comes when he returns from Hollywood and presents some French cinema owners with the contacts and information he gained there.  As Gwendal makes his pitch, they can’t understand how he obtained various meetings with Hollywood executives. Again and again, they ask him “But why do they talk to you?” Again and again, Gwendal replies “Because I asked.” Finally, Bard tells us

“… Gwendal just gave up and did it the French way. ‘You know, my wife is American. She’s actually Jack Warner’s granddaughter.’ (I’m not.)

“Ahhh, bien oui.” There was a huge exhalation and nods of comprehension around the table.

“They simply couldn’t conceive of the fact that he’d gotten there any other way.”

In Lunch In Paris, Elizabeth Bard has given us not only a portrait of the French, but one of herself as well: a journalist with a keen eye for detail and nuance, a writer who packs a punch in every sentence, a loving wife, and as the author note tells us, a cook who “makes a mean chocolate soufflé.”

•••

Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella are a mother-daughter team that has produced collections of columns and essays in books like I’ve Got Sand In All The Wrong Places and Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat?

This year they have added a new title to this corpus: I Need a Lifeguard Everywhere But The Pool (St. Martin’s Press, 2017, 323 pages).

Scottoline and Serritella write a column for The Philadelphia Inquirer called “Chick Wit,” a column that must have given birth to some of the pieces in this book, as “Chick Wit” summarizes its contents. Here readers will find the female take on cell phones, exercise, beachwear, gardening, pets, yoga, cooking, and dozens of other topics. Both women have a fine sense of humor and of the absurd, and often poke fun at themselves.

Most men won’t read I Need A Lifeguard Everywhere But The Pool, which is unfortunate as the book gives us insights into the female mind, emotions, and wit. Here, for example, is the beginning of Scottoline’s essay “Potted.”

“Many things are harder than they look.

“The best example of this is marriage.

“The second best is houseplants.

“As we all know, I’m divorced twice.

“But we many not know that I cannot grow a houseplant to save my life.

“Guess which thing I regret.”

One small criticism: in much of I Need A Lifeguard Everywhere But The Pool, the prose appears on the page as it does above, like a skeleton of single sentences. Again, the words may have appeared in a column this way, but the width of a column is rarely equal to the width of a book, and the barebones prose may distract some readers.

Enjoy!

(Jeff Minick is a writer and teacher. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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