We are very pleased that Miranda Seymour chose to review our book, Eating Eternity: Food, Art and Literature in France, in The New York Times Book Review!
Food, Art and Literature in France
By John Baxter
267 pp. Museyon. Paper, $19.95.
Entertaining, wide-ranging and gorgeously illustrated, “Eating Eternity” — despite its weird title — is a book you’ll want to lend to a friend. (But insist on its return.) As generous with his anecdotes as with his apt quotations (rejoice in Brillat-Savarin’s “a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine” and Molière’s “I live on good soup, not fine words”), Baxter broadens gastronomy into the fields of art and literature. The results are beguiling. Who ever suspected that Proust’s famous madeleine almost lost out to a plain slice of “pain grillé”? Or that Chez Voisin’s 1870 siege menu of antelope, cat and rat also offered its famished clients the impeccable liquid refreshment of Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Palmer?
Some of the best treats provided by Baxter’s delightful book are his startling asides. Comparing Picasso’s utter indifference to haute cuisine with Matisse’s daintier palate, he embellishes a description of Matisse’s penchant for brandade de morue with unexpected advice: that the repeated washing of the codfish was best achieved, some housewives found, by a day’s soak in the cistern of a flush toilet. He also informs us that Alexis Soyer, the 19th-century father of modern celebrity cooking, couldn’t tolerate clothing cut on straight lines. And that wasn’t all: His visiting cards, cigar case and even the handle of his cane had “slightly oblique inclinations.”
One grumble: Why is it that such an insider’s guide fails to point out the virtues of traveling outside the familiar tourist precincts? It’s there that some of the tastiest and least expensive food in Paris is to be found, but perhaps a dedicated gourmand is reluctant to share with visitors what to Parisians is an open secret. Then again, it’s also true, as Baxter briefly reminds us, that McDonald’s has met with great success in France. The French gave America the Statue of Liberty. It seems they like the “merci” they received in return.
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