In Lunch in Paris, author Elizabeth Bard tells a romantic, real, and riotously funny tale of discovering love and cuisine in the City of Light.
MEMOIRS OF AMERICANS IN EUROPE ARE HARDLY NEW, and neither is their message: Europe changes you. But what the multitude of authors who have penned such memoirs in recent years (many of them about fixing up villas in charming country towns) either dont understand or ignore is the flip side of the equation: You cant change Europe.
Thats exactly the message that Elizabeth Bard relates in her frank, funny memoir, Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes (Little, Brown and Company, $24). Rather than putting on rose-colored glasses to recount her transformation from footloose American grad student to the (sometimes) proper wife of a Frenchman, she tells her journey exactly like it was, and her chatty book is refreshing because of her honesty, witty sense of humor, and wicked phrasing.
But dont be misled into believing that the native New Yorker is sour or regretful about relocating overseas; she simply prefers the true Paris over any sugarcoated version. Give Paris in springtime to someone else Bard will take the City of Light in winter, when its damp and close, so unlike the blinding sunshine and razor-sharp air of New York. Clearly, not everyone in her life feels the same way, as demonstrated when a friend comes to visit her and is shocked to learn that Bard doesnt live in a romantic garret or renovated country villa but in a typical (read: small) European rental. I dont think she was expecting the mattress on the floor or a metal coatrack for a closet, Bard muses.
Soon after settling into life as a permanent Parisian, Bard begins to fill her time with daily visits to the markets, which help inspire her culinary fancy. In her typical style, Bard recounts her experiences vividly, for better or worse. In France, the customer isnt always right, she notes about the strange relationship between vendors and their patrons. She even compares a trip to the butcher shop to catty high school politics. Instead of blond girls with lip gloss, she writes, the alpha females are blue-haired grannies with plaid shopping caddies, clicking their tongues with contempt as you dither over cuts of veal or forget the French word for deboned. And after another trip to buy a hunk of cheese, Bard recalls that her hand stinks, as though Id slept holding a wet gym sock.
Thankfully, Bard survives the markets and learns to cook classic French fare such as poached cod with wilted leeks and homemade mayonnaise, and a savory cake with bacon, chervil, and figs, as well as American comfort food like Grandma Elsies spaghetti sauce with pork ribs and meatballs all from the confines of her tiny French kitchen.
Bard punctuates each chapter with several recipes for dishes like these. And while her recipes are terrific, its the authors clear-eyed observations that feel most novel. True, French women dont get fat, but they also control their portions with the precision of sharpshooters. Yes, the French value friends and family, but if youre an outsider, making friends can be a challenge. And when it comes to small talk at French parties, Bard notes, Work is considered boring, money is out of the question, politics comes later (and only in like-minded company).
And, sure, Bards Frenchman boyfriend-turned-husband is charming and smart, but it takes someone with American can-do spirit to convince him that he can create work he loves and neednt spend the next 30 years trudging toward a pension. Eventually Bard, too, creates work she loves: that would be Lunch in Paris, and the love comes across on every page.