Most often he asked, 'How should the book taste? Of ice cream? Spicy, meaty? Or like a chilled rosé?' — Nina George, The Little Paris Bookshop

August 2, 2015

Only connect: Henry James and John Singer Sargent

They seem to chop the sentences out of themselves, with great preliminary spouting, as of whales. And when you meet them at dinner, you felt an embarrassment about both of them, as if they'd never been out of an evening. And they went out every night.
I'm just back from our Museum of Fine Arts, giving myself the treat of seeing 'Yours Sincerely, John S. Sargent,' their new exhibit of letters, sketches, paintings and studio props from their new John Singer Sargent archives, But a Henry spotting was an unexpected treat. {I remember that they were friends, in part because  this portrait of Henry is hanging in an exhibit, 'Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends,' at the Met. I'm still hoping to see it.. Frances has!}

I couldn't resist scribbling down these lines, written by British writer and artist Max Beerbohm,who drew this portrait of Sargent for Vanity Fair in 1909.

July 29, 2015

Because something read by chance can just make your day...

... we are missing Home Fires* on television very much and can’t wait for it to return.  There is a curious Persephone link: one of the characters is played by Leanne Best and her sister Sarah a) lives very near the shop b) is co-producer on the proposed televising of Miss Buncle’s Book (which is far from being definite but on the other hand there is a very good chance it will happen)...  

{*On PBS here this fall, so that's two good things.}

July 26, 2015

Le petit déjeuner

Here is the beauty of the French breakfast. Whether the morning be rushed or staid, time is given to it just as it is to every other meal. Even on a weekday morning breakfast gets it specific moment. Someone gets the coffee made and the bread sliced, someone else pulls out the accompaniments, then everyone sits down together. There is a big basket of fresh or toasted bread on the table, but no plates because,somehow, the French psyche doesn't mind crumbs and even the occasional drip of jam on the tablecloth. There won't be a napkin and there isn't much conversation; breakfast is focused. It's about waking up, a quick but rich moment to gently emerge into the day, fueled by coffee and chocolate, toasted bread, the luxury of butter and jam.
      'But what about croissants?' you ask. What's really happening at breakfast time in most households is that toasters are working overtime. The French buy their bread one day and toast whatever is left over for breakfast the next. Croissants are considered special, and they're also the original fast food — you eat them for special occasions and for those desperate moments when you're starving and there wasn't time to make toast. ...
      Those gorgeous, golden, shattery pastries that sit on patisserie and boulangerie shelves, which are called viennoiseries because they were based on Viennese pastries and popularized by a Viennese baker in Paris, don't go to waste, but they are not the stuff  of the everyday French breakfast. As my friend Michael Ansalem, a professional pastry shelf and baker, said, laughing, 'I spend my time making croissants and pains au chocolats, but sometimes I wonder who eats them all. My coworkers might eat one or two but I never do.  I like my toast and jam.'
      Michel's wife, Chantal, who spent her time serving customers at the boulangerie the couple owned, definitely knew where they went. 'Weekends,' she said, her hand on her perfectly clad hip. 'Weekends are the big moment for viennosseries, People have time then, and viennossieries deserve a little extra time.'

As I emerge not-so-gently into my Monday morning tomorrow, I'll spend a little extra time thinking about how good all of this sounds, and try  to be more French in this way at least. :)

... After a French breakfast, once everyone has gone on their way, the lingering peace remains. I love walking into a French home at that moment.  There is the scent of toasted bread, the underlying aroma of butter and the tempting perfume of coffee. Bowls — which are, somehow, always pretty, rarely color coordinated, filled with personality, as each belongs solely to its owner are right where they were left, there is that messy scatter of crumbs on the table. The tableau speaks of warmth, comfort and togetherness.

from In a French Kitchen, tales and traditions of  everyday
home cooking in France
, by Susan Hermann Loomis

{bowls found here ... enraptured}

July 25, 2015

Anticipation: baking edition



And literally just yesterday, I was breathing a virtuous little sigh of relief because there didn't seem to be any new cookbooks to tempt me this fall  Sigh.  At least, they're not all coming out in the same month. :) 

July 24, 2015

Paris in July: Les femmes du 6e étage

My reading has been a little inorganisé, but I loved this French film I found at the library.  We're in 1962, in the elegant Paris apartment building that is home to Monsieur et Madame Joubert.  M. Joubert is a quiet, gentle stockbroker, running the firm that he has inherited from his father and hopes to pass on to one of his sons, and fussing over how long his morning egg is cooked. Mme. Joubert is {as she describes herself} a girl from the provinces, a little insecure, a lady who lunches, visits her dressmaker and gossips with her friends. When they part ways with Germaine, who has been the maid for the Jouberts and his parents before them for 25 years, the other ladies tell her that no one has maids from Brittany any more, they're all from Spain. These are the women on the 6th floor, lively middle-aged women living in tiny rooms in the attic and looking out for each other. One of them takes in her beautiful young niece, Maria, and she finds work as the Joubert's new maid.

M. Joubert begins to notice the women who live over his head, to wonder about their lives, to help them in little ways — and, but of course, to fall innocently in love with Maria. But when he is carried along to a paella party in the flat he has found for a maid who is beaten by her husband, Mme. Joubert is convinced that he is really having an affair with a rich widow who comes to him as a client, a woman who her friends tell her is a maneater. When she kicks him out, it's the perfect chance for him to move into a little storage room on the sixth floor, the first room of his own that he has ever had.

It's all a little sweet, and funny, and charming, and all in all, a wonderful way to end the week.

July 16, 2015

The Little Paris Bookshop

... is a little confection of a book, one that tout le monde seems to be reading, with a wonderful premise, and very good, in spots.

Monsieur Perdu is a 50-year-old Parisian bookseller, or, as he calls himself, a literary pharmacist, diagnosing his customers and dispensing books to (or not allowing them to buy them) to help them with their emotions. {This seems to be a thing now.} His own emotions are caught up in his anger and grief over Manon, a beautiful young woman from Provence who he met on a train.  They were lovers years ago,  when she was in Paris, but she was engaged to a vintner at home.  Perdu thinks she left him, but when he gives an old kitchen table to Catherine, a divorcee who moves in across the hall, she finds a letter that tells him that Manon was waiting for him to come to her. So he sets off, piloting his book barge down the Seine,

Nina George's writing is imaginative, and lush, and wonderfully descriptive, and often a little over the top. But Jean Perdu was nice to spend time with, there was a romance, and even though I wish there had been more Paris (and more of the bookshop), there was nothing wrong with finding myself floating through France every morning instead of just riding the bus down grotty old Massachusetts Avenue.