Saturday, April 18, 2015

Picnic in Provence: A Memoir with Recipes

I read nearly half of Elizabeth Bard’s new book, Picnic in Provence, on a flight from L.A. to New York. This honest and often humorous account of becoming a mother and moving to a small village in Provence is pure pleasure. I interrupted my husband from his book several times to share a paragraph or two.

Bard bravely explores the difficult personal conflicts that arise from cultural differences between herself and her French belle-mère. And between her newly French self and her American mother. Her description of celebrating a Jewish holiday in France is enlightening and sobering. 

“Five generations of my Russian peasant ancestors are rolling over in their graves. Long did they toil, sweat, struggle, to escape the shtetl. Hopeful, they passed through Ellis island to live the American dream of a chicken in every pot and a dryer in every mudroom. And now one of their progency is reduced (voluntarily no less) to hanging her washing on the line of the garden. Oy.”

Elizabeth recounts experiences with idiosyncratic French customs, a residue of Napoleonic France. The judge who approves baby names to ensure that parents don’t give their children offensive or silly names that might subject the child to ridicule. She is encouraged to attend perineal rééducation classes paid for by the state. She is admonished by a man on the street, “Attention aux kilos” while snacking on a pain au chocolat between meals.

There are Delicious Recipes: Dark chocolate Mendiants topped with chopped nuts and dried fruits. (Mendiant chocolat is my favorite ice cream from Berthillon Paris.) Zucchini cream soup. Chicken livers salad. Broiled sea bass. Yellow lentil puree (memories of last summer in Puglia). Tuna tartare.

Bard met Diane Johnson, doyenne of American expat writers and author of Le Divorce, after the publication of Lunch in Paris, and her endorsement appears on the cover of her new book. At a dinner party at Diane's home in Paris in 2009, I passed my phone around the table to share initial sketches for Paris-Chien, my first book. Diane's encouragement and story advice were incredibly helpful to me.

As good as Lunch in Paris was, Picnic in Provence is even better!

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