Cole Porter famously wrote, “I love Paris in the springtime.” Of course, he went on to love Paris in every other season as well, but the city persists in seeming particularly alluring in the spring. For Winnipeggers, spring may have felt as if it was just around the corner for most of this unseasonably warm winter, but Paris is a little less attainable. Fortunately, the armchair traveller has many choices to help transport them to the City of Light.
In Paris Times Eight: Finding Myself in the City of Dreams, author Deirdre Kelly visits Paris eight times—initially as a 19-year-old, and later through work as a writer and reporter, and as a traveller with family. The chapters serve as snapshots of her life at different stages and highlight what she sees in the city, depending on where she is in her life’s travels. At every age, though, Paris is a source of inspiration, as it has been for so many before her.
In Buying a Piece of Paris, Australian Ellie Nielsen seeks to fulfill the romantic dream of an apartment in Paris, complete with charm and character and chic French style. Given an impossible timeline and minimal grasp of French, grappling with the foreign real-estate system proves challenging, to say the least. All the stereotypes seem to be accurate, from snobbish agents to impossibly complex banking procedures, showing that more than mere distance separates her from her geographical home.
Many biographies and memoirs interperse reminiscences with recipes. When Paris is the setting, it is almost impossible not to discuss food! In Lunch in Paris: a Love Story, with Recipes, Elizabeth Bard recounts the unfolding of her romance with a Parisian, along with the many small encounters which comprise getting acquainted with another country at the same time. A greater challenge she faces is living without the familiarity of her own language, which leaves her adrift when faced with navigating the unspoken nuances of French culture.
The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious—and Perplexing–City by David Lebovitz assembles a series of musings on various aspects of Parisian life followed by a recipe or two. Some examples are chapters about the rudeness of the residents he encounters or peculiarities of the medical system, which make for entertaining reading. The recipes do not always have an obvious connection to the anecdotes, but the writer is a cookbook author who spent substantial amounts of time cooking in a very tiny apartment kitchen!
The author of numerous cookbooks, Doris Greenspan tours some of the most noted bakeries in Paris Sweets: Great Desserts from the City’s Best Pastry Shops. This collection comprises the most classic of French recipes, including favourites such as madeleines and crème brulee. As one might expect, many of the concoctions are fairly complicated and require a degree of expertise, but the “armchair baker” will still enjoy anecdotes about the bakeries and histories of the most noted sweets. The charming illustrations may just tempt you to whip up your own batch of homemade marshmallows.
Moving to a more rural setting, author Susan Herrmann Loomis brings together house-hunting and cooking in On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town. After her culinary training, she and her husband immersed themselves in the search for a French home and its subsequent renovations. Attempts to bridge the cultural divide lead to humorous encounters with a cast of incorrigible characters, providing background to a collection of local recipes.
Finally, you might want to check out the recent Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris. A writer travels to Paris and falls in love with the city, and unexpectedly encounters the literary greats who have shared his passion over the years. Readers will appreciate the references to Paris’ literary history, and the Paris streetscapes are a treat for any viewer.
So even if your travels take you no further than your local library, you can still get a taste—literally and figuratively—of Paris in the springtime!