On her first date with her husband, Elizabeth Bard takes a bite of a pavé au poivre that melts on her tongue in a symphony of pleasure. He was, she says “half way to home base as soon as I cut into that marvellous steak.” It is a lunch in Paris that truly changes her life.
This is a book about many things, including cultural dislocation, falling in love, and, of course, food. As it opens Elizabeth recalls the nascent beginnings of the love affair that leads her to making a lasting home in one of the most romantic cities in the world. A born and bred New Yorker, she has often felt out of place in her own time and place. While growing up her worst fear was being ordinary, and she has always cultivated choices that will take her to the extraordinary – a place of “long ago and far away.”
In meeting Gwendal, her husband to be, she finds a soul mate who sees the imprint of past centuries on every Parisian Street and a fundamental magic in life. However once she makes Paris her permanent home- an event signified by the mundane fact of her name being added to the gas bill – she begins to explore what it truly means to move to a foreign city and to live with someone whose entire cultural frame of reference is so wildly different from her own. Suddenly she is no longer securely cloaked in the mantle of a tourist, she is now a resident.
What follows is a thoughtful journey of self revelation. Through her vivid descriptions of Gwendal’s family and immediate circle; her attempts to cultivate friends of her own in a new city; and her uncertainty about what the future holds; the reader is drawn into her very real dilemmas about the life choices she is making. We see the challenge her new relationship provides to her own family and friends, far away in the US. As they see her move further away from them, both physically and culturally, she seems, ironically, to feel more American than ever.
Alongside this she makes culinary discoveries that often prove to be metaphors for life and belonging. She learns about what it means to be French through gaining an understanding of the French people’s relationship with their cuisine. This is not a lesson learnt overnight, but rather a slow unfolding of hidden secrets, mirroring the measured Gallic understanding of the meaning and pleasures of food. From her early forays at the local markets, to the difficulties in buying the ‘smelly cheese’ for her wedding we taste each new sensation with her. Our palates too, are enticed and challenged.
And this tantalising does not stop at mere suggestion. Love in Paris is also a cook book. Each chapter ends with a small collection of detailed recipes. These have all been featured within the story and have their own particular significance. We are invited to share in the bounty and to make these dishes in our own kitchens.
Love in Paris will charm anyone who has ever fantasised about falling in love and moving to that great city of romantic possibility, Paris. Although the book’s view is not always a rose coloured, the very challenges that Elizabeth Bard faces in her new life add a piquancy to her story, making the possibility of a ‘happy ever after’ seem, paradoxically, far more likely than it would in a more fairy tale telling of the story. It will also appeal to everyone who loves good food. With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I’d recommend this as an excellent gift choice.
Elizabeth Bard is an American journalist and author based in Paris. Her first book is Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes, which has been selected as a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” pick for Spring 2010. Bard’s writing on art, travel and digital culture has appeared in The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, Wired, Time Out and The Huffington Post. You can follow Elizabeth’s continuing culinary adventures at www.elizabethbard.com