Remembrance of things Paris is a collection of essays from the past sixty years from Gourmet magazine. Let me just come right out and say that this is going to be one of those books on my bedside table; I will beam at it every night and every now and then, when it is raining and I need something besides my faded flannel quilt, I will open its pages and take a fanciful flight right into the Parisian rooftops. That's the sort of foolish reaction any such cosy patchwork quilt of a book that is part food shrine, part travel memoir should elicit and in recent times, this collection has been among the very best.
The book opens with an adorable piece from Irene Corbally Kuhn; the year was 1921 and the month was May. In her own words: "The world had passed through the long darkness of the 'war to end all wars' and was more than ready for the frenzied gaiety and brief brilliance of the roaring twenties." And at the end of the essay: "Paris is also today - and tomorrow. Despite the encroachments of the startlingly new as in the Centre Pompidou or the ring of towering skyscrapers that seem to be closing in on all that has made Paris a place of unique beauty, it remains after two thousand years, more immutable than any other capital city in the world. Perhaps this is because so many of us left our youth there. And gladly."
There are essays that describe so eloquently of Paris coming to life after the second world war and about a shopper who bit into a baguette and cried out in pleasure because it was made of pure white flour and not the "coarse dark one" Parisians were forced to stomach during the occupation. There are vivid essays of the old flower market, Marche aux Fluers and Les Halles; having never been to that iconic market place, nevertheless, I ached along with the rest of them when I read about it being torn down. There are several pieces by turns charming, by turns satirical, by turns so lovely that you are almost dizzy and by turns down right contrary like Chicken Demi-Deuil by George Bijur, Paris One Step at a Time by Joseph Wechsberg, A Night at Les Halles by Alaire Johnston, An Insincere Cassoulet by Michael Lewis and my favourite in the entire book, She did not look like an actress to me by Hilaire du Berrier to name just a few.
There are several delightful write-ups on Paris's famed restaurant and bistro scene and there is one touching piece called The Three Musketeers by Patrick Kuh. Being as it is about Paris and more importantly, from Gourmet Magazine, the focus is on food but there several other eclectic pieces that are so absolutely Paris. The recipes given in this book are a treasure trove and I can't wait to try out some of the chocolate recipes but like Michael Lewis, I am something of a hypocritical non-vegetarian and found the descriptions of Sheep's Trotters and Calf's Bladder and tripe and giblets a little um, yucky.
This is the sort a book that will delight readers who love to read up on faraway places (even one that may be as overrated as Paris) and the million and one things that make up their soul. Readers who love a generous shot of the quaint and the whimsical in their reading will adore this book. This is the sort of a book that makes for a great holiday gift; one that sits by your kitchen counter as you try out one of the dozens of delicious recipes in it; the sort of a book that can grace any coffee table with aplomb. Read it on a train or plane or keep it by your night lamp like me. Beneath its covers Paris is spread out in splendid panoramic view; it pulls you in, drenches you and leaves you longing for the Paris of years gone by.
In the one week that I took to finish this book, it didn't take me too long to realize that I was being throughly seduced one page at a time by Paris. Read it and enjoy. I did. It was such fun to unravel so much about a city I know and love.
If you think you might be interested do read a similar article on my other blog There'sh a Moshkeeto in my Foog :)