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Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas (P.S.) Paperback – September 23, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
In this witty essay collection, Baxter (We'll Always Have Paris) chronicles his years of learning to prepare elaborate Christmas dinners for his French in-laws. After leaving his Los Angeles home to follow a woman (who would later become his wife) to Paris, Baxter was charged with the serious task of cooking the holiday meal for his relatives. Calling to mind other expatriate writers such as Diane Johnson and David Sedaris, Baxter gives readers insights into both French culture and his own expanding culinary range. In Ninety Degrees of Christmas, he muses on Christmases in his native Australia versus France, and details his mother's preparation of her holiday pudding. Never condescending or obsequious toward his adopted home, Baxter shares insights with the wry perspective of an outsider permitted into a secret world and eager to share the rules with other visitors. Achieving a particularly sensitive balance of allowing readers glimpses into the intimacies of family life while retaining a degree of journalistic distance, Baxter is autobiographical but never intrusive. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Paris’ Christmas celebration combines the family values of American Thanksgiving with a quintessentially Gallic banquet. Having moved from Los Angeles to Paris to marry, Australian writer and film critic Baxter seeks his new bride’s family’s approval and hopes to earn it by preparing a worthy Christmas dinner. In evocative prose, he deconstructs the dinner’s elements and travels from market to vineyard and from butcher to cheesemonger to assemble a dinner his judgmental relatives will appreciate. Baxter continually compares the joys of the French feast with his memories of Australian Christmas, celebrated in the antipodean summer’s heat. He also recounts his own journey from palate-challenged consumer of overcooked meats and vegetables to a world-class connoisseur. Gathering together the freshest oysters, impeccable apples, perfectly ripe cheese, a prime Bordeaux vintage, and a show-stopping roast suckling pig laid out on antique linens finally earns him the family’s acceptance. This is a perfectly realized, utterly enjoyable history of holiday tradition. --Mark Knoblauch
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The author and also narrator of this book, John Baxter, tells his story of how he felt in love with a French woman, Marie-Dominique, and his experience of preparing a french Christmas dinner in Paris for eighteen people. He is from Australia but he moved to the US for college where he met Marie-Dominique. Throughout the book he explains different french traditions and how different they are to what he is used to and different anecdotes he has in which he has trouble with the different culture.. Each chapter is dedicated to one French Christmas tradition like eating oysters or how they eat cheese as if it was a delicatessen.
When I started reading the book it wasn’t as I expected. I thought the whole book would be a story about a guy falling in love with a French woman and that most of the book would take place during the day of Christmas with him having trouble to prepare the dinner. Instead, the dinner he has to prepare takes place at the end of the book and the rest of it is him explaining different french traditions. It surprised me that the narrator explains all the french traditions because it wasn’t what I expected but I still liked it because it made me think about how different cultures have completely different traditions for the same holiday. Some parts of the book would become a little boring because the explanation of the french tradition was very long and the anecdote he would use wasn’t very interesting. Besides some exceptions, I liked the way he explains a french tradition in each chapter giving it a sense of humor and comparing it to the American culture “ ‘Did they think we wouldn’t offer them a drink?’ he growls. You would no more bring food or drink to a French house than arrive at one in America bringing your own plate, knife, and fork.”
Overall I think it’s an interesting book and it’s not too long so that makes it easy to read. I would recommend it if you are interested in learning about other cultures or just looking for a different type of book, but I wouldn’t choose this book if you want to read a story that makes you enter in it.
Baxter goes on to explain that there are no hotels and restaurants open on Christmas; they're all closed. Immoveable Feast is the story of how he, an Australian, has to cook a Christmas dinner for his wife's French family. Like The Most Beautiful Walk in the World, this is an amusing book about Paris, and in this case, fine cuisine. Baxter is also the author of A Pound of Paper, but these two were much better.
Now, you're probably wondering about the title. Baxter explains it in the preface pages 4-5: "Ernest Hemingway called Paris 'a moveable feast.' He meant to compare it to those events of the Christian calendar- Lent, Pentecost- that change their date depending on when Easter falls. There is, the term implies, no 'right' time to discover Paris. Its pleasure can be relished at any moment in one's life. But the phrase is subject to another interpretation. At certain times of the year, the spirit of Paris moves elsewhere. Its soul migrates, and this most beautiful of cities briefly falls empty. One such moment is August, when Parisians reaffirm their cultural roots by returning to the regions of their ancestors. Another is Christmas. But where do the French go at Christmas? And what takes place there? That, among other things, is what this book is about."
My favorite part about this one was definitely the mouthwatering cuisine and food that is required for the dinner. It made me really hungry. The oysters, the pork, the apples, even the cheese (and I don't really like cheese), sounded wonderful. (I was going to say heavenly or divinely, but that would be a bit of an exaggeration.) Though Baxter is an amusing writer, I don't think he's exactly a model citizen, and he was a bit nasty to his first wife. On page 68, he says, "Divorce ran through Joyce's family like one of those genetic conditions that passes down the female line. Her grandmother, mother, and sister, were all divorced, so, when she and I separated, it seemed no more than a case of succumbing to the family disease." Yes, I'm sure he wasn't to blame at all. But that's beside the point. This one was a good read, amusing and mouthwatering.
All of my reviews can be read at my blog novareviews.blogspot.com.