Over the years I've occasionally read David Lebovitz's blog and recently have found his tweets to add pleasing moments to my days, so I decided to read the book about his life in Paris. After cooking at Chez Panisse for years, he had a life-changing experience (he unexpectedly lost his partner) and after some numb months, decided to make this big change.
The foibles of the strange foreigners' ways always gives a writer plenty of material; writing about that subject well, though, can be much trickier. David Lebovitz does it well: he is funny about what makes the Parisians so different and even more funny about his ability to react well and cope with the differences.
I liked the way he recounted the importance of speaking to people you encounter in the world of commerce:
It is imperative to know the two most important words in the French language — "Bonjour, monsieur" or "Bonjour, madame" — which you absolutely must say first thing to the first person you make eye contact with. Whether you step into a shop, a restaurant, a cafe, or even an elevator, you need to say those words to anyone else in there with you. Enter the doctor's waiting room and everyone says their bonjours. Make sure to say them at the pharmacy, to the people who make you take off your belt at airport security, to the cashier who's about to deny you a refund for your used-once broken ice cream scoop, as well as the gap-toothed vendor at the market who's moments away from short-changing you.
This is so engrained in him that back in the states for a visit once, there was a thinly-veiled all out alert issued in a Wallgreens after he entered and spoke to everyone manning a register.
Another difference he observed is in medical care:
The medical care that I've received here has been great. The only uncomfortable moments I've experienced were because doctors don't think twice about prescribing treatments that aren't always taken orally. I had a bad cough that I couldn't shake and when I stopped by the pharmacy with my prescription, I was handed a box of bullet-shaped, waxy pellets. I questioned the wisdom of placing the remedy in the end opposite from where the problem was, but the pharmacist looked at me like I was crazy to think that cough medicine might go anywhere else.
Somehow this 50-something man has an unassuming, almost boyish tone that I find endlessly endearing. He seems like someone it would be great fun to have a few drinks with, in fact, that's how it felt each time I sat down to read a few chapters in this book.
He's written four other books, all dessert cookbooks, and this one includes recipes with each chapter. They all sound wonderful and I may have put on a few pounds just reading them.
David Lebovitz, The Sweet Life in Paris, Broadway Books, 2009, 282 pages.