Tuesday, October 19, 2010

REVIEW: Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard

"When I spotted him at a seminar on a hypertext version of Finnegan's Wake, I knew he had to be European."  So begins Elizabeth Bard's attraction to a future lover in her 2010 offering Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes. The man in question happens not only to be European, but French to boot.  What follows is a witty and well-written chronicle of a relationship with that man, his culture, family, and, of course, the food.

I am sure many of us have been nervous about meeting a significant other's family, but I could not imagine a trial by edible fire.  Love is indeed the stuff of bloody meat and smelly cheese in France, and for an American girl looking for a love to last, she will face many obstacles on her way to sitting at that table.  The relationship is chronicled by food, but not in an overbearingly obvious manner; particular dishes make appearances in each chapter the same way a beloved cousin or grown-up sibling pops in to say hello.  Like the food itself, these eating rituals (along with family and social etiquette) add texture and culture in a way that fascinates Bard and also makes her wonder what her true role is and where her place in the world lies.  Bard struggles with her identity as an individual - the person she always planned on being has not just made a right turn, but at times, the road to that very definite vision has disappeared completely.  Mix that in with moderate discussions of U.S. vs French viewpoints on everything from grocery shopping to career planning, it is little wonder that Bard did not flee for the kindness of her homebase of New York City at times.

Particularly poignant to me on a personal level are recollections of her father and commentary on her mother.  Like Bard's, my parents are divorced, and very often, I caught myself nodding in agreement when she made certain observations.  The good thing about being an adult is that you start seeing your parents as people; the bad thing is that you start seeing them as people.  It's a catch-22 that is confounded further by painful memories.

This book is wonderfully written, although things get tied up rather quickly in the end.  I would recommend it for any woman looking for a good 'real' love story that's built on equal parts of frustration, adjustment and compassion.  Anyone who has every felt out of step, out of time or like a stranger in a place they love will connect with it.  Of course, any cook will appreciate it, too - I got my copy from the library, but I plan on purchasing my own copy for the amazing recipes alone. 

Overall: A-

Bonus!  Bard blogs about her culinary exploits and discoveries!  Check it out!

Favorite quotes:

"It's not that there's no free spirit in me.  But it's a free spirit with a five-year plan"
-Chapter 1, pg 3

"There were awkward moments like this, when the twenty-first-century woman in my head was forced to confront the consequences of my deliberately cultivated, poorly paid nineteenth-century interests.  It was like I had Charlotte Bronte sitting on one shoulder and Gloria Steinem on the other.  Gloria leaned over and whispered into my ear: Where's your [expletive] parasol?"
-Chapter 13, pg 179

"Irish pubs are better at brand management than Starbucks.  They look and smell the same all over the world: dark booths, sticky tables and smoky carpet in hunter green."
-Chapter 16, pg 218

"Implicit in the American dream is the idea of self-determination.  The result of our can-do-it attitude is that anything you don't do is your fault. . . In the end, our level of expectation -- and the accompanying fear of failure -- can be just as paralyzing as the French notion that nothing is possible in the first place."
-Chapter 19, pg 261

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes
by Elizabeth Bard
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (February 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 031604279X
ISBN-13: 978-0316042796

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