Serious Reads: Lunch in Paris, by Elizabeth Bard
To Americans, Paris is a highly romanticized city. The winding cobblestone streets, the lilting language, the open-air markets and historical sites—many feel drawn to such an ancient and beautiful place. But vacationing in Paris or studying abroad in its universities is an altogether different experience from uprooting one's American life and moving to France for the foreseeable future. American journalist Elizabeth Bard did just that, in pursuit of love and a fresh start in her career. She recounts the surprising difficulties, and many joys, of moving to France in Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes.
While studying in London, Bard met her future husband at a conference. She began visiting him regularly in Paris, where they would share meals and increasingly weekends together. Their romance felt almost illicit; they were freed from the burdens of their jobs and friends as they discovered the many joys of Paris together. After more than a year of dating, Bard knew their relationship was heading somewhere serious. And so she moved in with her Frenchman, leaving London and any intention of returning to the States behind.
The first aspect of French culture that Bard embraced was, naturally, the food. She began to spend hours a day shopping at the many open markets, speaking to the vendors in her broken French, and preparing delicious meals in their cramped apartment on a two-burner stove. She shares recipes with the reader, for dishes as simple as baked fish and as complex as Savory 'Cake' with Bacon, Chervil, and Figs (I bookmarked that one). Indeed, many of the recipes are worth remembering—elegant and delicious dishes that are sometimes French, sometimes Jewish, and sometimes just inspired by the market.
But Bard knew that it was not enough to shop and cook all day. She sought writing opportunities and helped her now-husband build and develop his own career dreams. She fought to break into her peers' social scene, which largely consisted of mildly unpleasant ex-pats and her husband's highly insular French friends. And she constantly asked herself if she was doing the right thing by staying in this foreign land.
I found it compelling that this book is not necessarily a love letter to Paris. While Bard certainly embraces many aspects of the culture, and especially the cuisine, she is upfront about the unpleasantness of the winter months, the social isolation caused by the language barrier, and the difficulties of being an American journalist based overseas. She's honest but optimistic, and the combination makes for a thought-provoking read.
Calling this book a "love story" doesn't quite do it justice. Bard certainly tells a wonderful tale of building a new home and life with her French husband, and their relationship is supportive and admirable. But what I took away from this fun memoir was the story of a strong, independent-minded woman—one who is sharing the struggle of adapting and assimilating in a truly foreign culture. And it certainly doesn't hurt that I now have several mouth-watering recipes I'm dying to make; unfortunately, though, without authentic French cheese from the local fromagerie.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work is also featured in Rhode Island Monthly magazine.