Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard
On Thursday, March 11, I attended a book talk/book signing with Elizabeth Bard, author of Lunch in Paris.
As afternoon sunshine set into dusky evening, forty or so people were seated before and around a desk creatively disguised as a bookshelf in the center of the ground floor of WH Smith book shop at 248 rue de Rivoli in Paris, France.
Upon the bookshelf/desk sat Elizabeth Bard, author of recently-published Lunch in Paris: A love story with recipes. As she was introduced by one of the bookshop personnel, the room quieted and all focused on Elizabeth, a tall, good-looking, dark-haired, Jewish-American young woman with lively eyes and an engaging smile.
Just before settling into her position atop the desk, however, Elizabeth handed out homemade (by her, earlier in the day) mini raspberry financiers, a recipe for which appears on pages 87-88 of her book. Petite almond cakes appearing as if they had been baked in a toy kitchen muffin tin, one golden cake, just a mouthful, could sit upon a miniature porcelain tea service dessert plate at a teddy bear tea party.
As Elizabeth passed the basket of goodies to each in attendance, I had a moment of regret and sadness at not being able to eat one. This quickly turned into numb resignation: it’s just how it is when one experiences food intolerance. I’ve gotten used to saying “no” with my grown up self, yet there is a child in me that feels disappointed at being refused a treat yet again on the grounds that “this will make you sick.”
(**UPDATE: Monday, March 22, 2010. My friend Karen just let me know that the WH Smith bookseller pictured is Kim, of blog Sassiland. I just spent a little bit of time on Sassiland, and Kim sounds like such a nice gal. I hope that you will go over and take a peek at her blog. I’m sticking her in Google Reader now and going to let her know about her appearance here. :))
As soon as Elizabeth began reading passages from the book, my inner child gave way to the part of my personality that perceived a kindred spirit in her: leaving her American life behind her (after an interval in London), she arrived in Paris for a man, for love, for good. Food and cooking, cuisine, becomes the force that mediates her relationship with Gwendal, her Frenchman, and her initial integration into French and Parisian culture. She fell in love with not only the Frenchman, but also with the preparation and consumption of fine food.
The twenty-two chapters of Elizabeth’s 336-page first book chronicle her journey from weekend visitor, to full-time resident, to wife of a Frenchman in Paris, each chapter concluding with at least one recipe for an appetizer, a main dish, or a dessert, and often all three to comprise an entire menu. Each recipe connects with the narrative — food and personal events are woven together to cover a tableau of themes emphasized in the story. As Elizabeth explained at the signing, “food moves romance along” and each of her memories of her love story with Gwendal is connected to what happens at a table.
The audience at the signing heard Elizabeth read about taking in an andouilette sausage (akin to eating haggis in Scotland) as Gwendal moved the romance on to a new level of intimacy. She recounted how it was that she believes Frenchwomen do not become fat with a food faux pas at a family gathering. Elizabeth humorously recalled her first experience gutting a slippery mackerel. I think there may have been one more section of the book from which she read, about connecting with some of her American girlfriends and realizing how content with her life she was, but I was so captivated with Elizabeth’s reading at this point, I abandoned notetaking for taking in the moment.
After reading from portions of the book, Elizabeth opened up the floor for audience questions, which included inquiries about her writing background and process (journalist and art critic. The manuscript took a year to write, six months to edit, and another six months to be printed and put on shelves — a two-year process). Elizabeth cleared up the misconception that she is a blogger-turned-writer (the blog was started in July 2009 after the completion of the manuscript, at which time Elizabeth wanted to continue writing and sharing recipes), shared how it was that she got published, if not by blog discovery (through submission of her manuscript to an agent), helped a young woman asking about the practicalities of becoming wed to a Frenchman (get your name on the utility bill. The utility bill is used as proof of existence in French bureaucracy), and, finally, explained how she learned French (by practicing with the folk who sold her food). I asked how the birth of her son enhanced or challenged the merging of French and American cultures in her household. Elizabeth replied that with the birth of her son, she recognizes that her ties to France are now permanent, indelibly linked to France by blood.
My favorite question was from another audience member who asked, “Who do you want to star as you in the movie?” Elizabeth laughed and graciously dodged a direct answer by saying while it had crossed her mind (with movies like “Julie & Julia” and, soon, “Eat, Pray, Love” arriving on screens, who would not think about it, if in Elizabeth’s shoes?), it was her mother’s already deciding Meryl Streep should play the mother in the movie that got us all laughing.
I have been reading Elizabeth’s blog for a couple of months now. I ran into it in the way I always seem to discover blogs: by link-clicking along in the blogrolls of other bloggers or by doing some kind of random Google search involving keywords “Paris” and who-knows-what else. I started reading and commenting every so often. At first, I did not know that Elizabeth was publishing a book. Her blog appeared to be another expat blog like the ones I had been reading, but with the addition of yummy-sounding recipes. I loved reading it, learning about the birth of her son, her daily happenings, and what new dish she’d tried that week. Soon posts began to mention the book was being released soon and it was with increasing anticipation that I wanted to get my hands on a copy.
I joined her Facebook page not long after reading about the book’s release and saw there one day a couple of weeks ago that Elizabeth would be doing a signing at WH Smith in Paris. I got really excited as my friend Tess had given me some WH Smith gift certificates for Christmas and I’d been meaning to get there to purchase a book or two from an ever-lengthening wish-list. I asked my friend Tess to join me at the reading. She, in turn, invited her friend Natalie (whom I had been hoping to meet for a while having heard much about her from Tess), and after I posted a little about Elizabeth’s upcoming reading and signing, blogger Sion of Paris (Im)perfect decided to attend, also.
At the signing, I eagerly purchased Elizabeth’s book, plus a couple of others I wanted to read, and then was so inspired by the reading and signing that I stayed up way past a reasonable bedtime to start the book. Within 36 hours of beginning, I had gobbled the entire thing up.
Now that I have met Elizabeth briefly in person, I have trouble separating the the person, the blog, and the book from one another, so it is a little difficult for me to focus on objectively critiquing the book alone. Here are some thoughts I have about the gestalt of it all.
I think it could be really easy on the surface of things to peg Elizabeth and her book undeservingly to a specific nail on a wall. For example, looking at these descriptors of Elizabeth (which are derived from the book as well as Elizabeth’s sharing at the event at WH Smith), things could go a couple of ways. She is:
- a former New Yorker (she lived very near the City growing up)
- from a Jewish family**
- an appreciator of fine food and drink
- living in one of the most romantic cities in the world with a loving husband and new baby, just having published a book
(**Note: I am not emphasizing this characteristic to single out Elizabeth negatively in any way because of having this cultural background. It is a point that she, sometimes with attendant stereotypes, points out herself in her book.)
I could see a person with a lot more snarkiness (or maybe just plain meanness) than I have looking at this list and connoting that perhaps this young woman is a well-off, smug foodie snob, a privileged Jewish Princess living a charmed (deserved?) existence in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
In fact, I was a little worried about meeting Elizabeth with a tiny piece of my insecure self: what if she really was a New York Princess-type and a bit of a snob? I was hoping not. From the blog, I really didn’t think she could be that way, but you never know, eh? I hoped she would be the genuine person she seemed in her blog but was a little worried based on the laundry list of surface details about her that maybe we would not be able to connect because of some of our differences.
Imagine my joy when the woman I met was a Really Nice Girl (“girl” used here as a compliment, like in a “Sex and the City,” sisterhood of girls and girlfriends kind-of-way). Well-read, articulate, smart, personable, friendly, warm, and caring (she baked all those financiers for her fans!), Elizabeth oozes with authenticity. Yes, she may have some privilege in her past (and maybe in her present, too), but any blessings she has received have been tempered by some difficulties in life: illnesses and deaths of parents (hers and her husband’s fathers), pressing financial and career struggles, not to mention the task every woman must face: the finding of herself and HER dreams, not capitulating to anyone else’s ideas of what a life should be. I felt from her as she presented that night and as I read her book, that I had found someone who had the qualities of a girl who could be a good friend: a normal, humorous, real, intelligent, and engaging person. Her book exudes these qualities with solid descriptive writing to boot. Elizabeth is your elementary school best friend, your college roommate, the cute girl who lived down the street from you that found herself living a different sort of life than you or she might have surmised she would, but entertains us with tight prose the things she learned through the love story she experienced.
I think one of my only disappointments about the book is that, given the current problems with my body and food, cooking and eating most of the 60+ recipes is out of the question. I’m hoping that maybe preparing the Fennel Salad on pages 58-59 will work, but there are only one or two others that I can eat without major adaptation of the recipe. This book, and others like it such as David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris really are a kind of torture for me right now. The emphasis on food in this book and the others like it is painful to read about as I have the feeling I will never be able to experience cuisine in Paris the way Elizabeth has. I envy her ability to prepare good food and eat it. I envy how she was able to visit cafés and restaurants and try new things. I got a little depressed with reading all the mouth-watering descriptions and the joy that is experienced around food in the book. This is not the best nor easiest book to read as a food-challenged person.
Still, Lunch in Paris is a way for me to vicariously experience good food through another’s taste buds and like I had to do with the financiers, I detached emotionally from the desire and just felt happy that someone has found her bliss in Paris through food. I don’t begrudge a sister’s discoveries about what brings fulfillment in life. My own joys cannot be found in food right now but I am not going to have sour grapes about Elizabeth’s being able to find fulfillment in food.
Beyond the aspects of the book focused on cuisine, I found the anecdotes about some of her cultural adjustments to be true to my own experiences of living in Paris and I learned more about French culture through the eyes of an expat, something that is really beneficial to me living here in the city, too. All-in-all, Lunch in Paris is as delightful as the title implies: it is a mostly lighthearted tale of an American girl finding not only the man of her life in Paris, but also herself.
Sion and I had hoped to meet there, and when I did, I was so pleased to know she bubbles in person just as her blog does.
(At the request of Carol, I have removed the photo of her that formerly appeared here. Thanks for your understanding!)
Meeting Carol was a complete surprise! Carol lives in New York City but travels to Paris two or three times a year. I read her blog often, and it is a very fun one, filled with wonderful photos capturing Carol’s observations of Parisian food, fashion, and fun. She is also a painter and her artistic sensibilities really come across in her blog. Carol just happened to take a seat next to me just as the reading was beginning, so I could not ask just then, “Are you Carol of Paris Breakfasts?” But that is exactly what I did after Elizabeth’s sharing and the Q&A had ended. She was. 🙂
I am so glad to have met them all!
After the event, Tess, Natalie and I decided to have a small snack and a glass of Médoc at the L’Imperial at 240 rue de Rivoli where we sat and chatted for another couple of hours before heading home via Métro Tuileries.
To see all the photos from the event, see this set here at Flickr.
As I was finishing writing this post, I sighed with the satisfaction of recounting an evening well-spent, surrounded by girlfriends, old and new. I encourage you to buy Elizabeth’s book at your local bookseller.
Over and out.
(an alien parisienne)