Today I attended a university-sponsored lecture by The New Yorker staff writer, author, culture commentator and fellow ex-expat Adam Gopnik. From 1995 – 2000 Gopnik lived in Paris with his wife and son. During his time there, he wrote “Paris to the Moon”. I’ve included him in past posts about favorite authors and books.
Mr. Gopnik gave a talk on food and his latest book, “The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food.”
The book explores the history, evolution and culture of food. A packed room of foodies gathered near the UC Davis Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science to hear Gopnik discuss the book and what factors determine taste, like the relationship between taste and frame of mind and taste and social identity, or rather what he calls mouth versus moral taste (what does the organic carrot I’m buying tell you about me?). He suggests we see the irony and have the ability to laugh at ourselves about our tastes – which he easily does - while at the same time have the confidence to recognize the pleasure and role it provides in our lives. None other than Ms. Margrit Mondavi provided his introduction. While I appreciate his intellectual curiousity on this subject, it’s taking me a bit to finish ”The Table Comes First” so I will reserve my comments until later.
The real reason I wanted to hear Gopnik speak today is because I so enjoyed “Paris to the Moon” and “Through the Children’s Gate” about his time living abroad in Paris and his repatriation to New York City.
So prior to attending the lecture, I flipped through my old copy of ”Paris to the Moon” to remember exactly why this book and this author have stuck with me for so long (and why all of you expats, ex-expats and lovers of Paris should read Gopnik if you haven’t yet).
“Paris to the Moon” is written in a series of intelligent personal essays, at times knee-slapping hilarious and other times very tender. (Not an ”Almost French”, “Bringing Up Bébé” or “Under the Tuscan Sun”.) In the book, Gopnik describes his experience living abroad - the “New York-style” Parisian gym, the separateness of the expat family unit , Christmas tree shopping, a father/son baseball bedtime story ritual, and a particularly funny exchange between heavily accented American father (Gopnik “as comic immigrant”) and son’s teacher (“with son shuddering at father’s words and father inadvertently shaming the ‘immigrant child’.”)
My favorite “Paris to the Moon” quotes include:
“There are two kinds of travelers. There is the kind who goes to see what there is to see and sees it, and the kind who has an image in his head and goes out to accomplish it. The first visitor has an easier time, but I think the second visitor sees more.”
“It’s true that you can’t run away from yourself. But we were right: you can run away.”
“Family life is by its nature cocooned, and expatriate family life is doubly so.”
“Barney is Bill Clinton for 3 -year -olds.”
“The loneliness of the expatriate is of an odd and complicated kind, for it is inseparable from the feeling of being free, of having escaped.”
And finally a quote by his wife that I’ve repeated since returning home:
“We had a beautiful existence in Paris, but not a full life,” Martha said, summing it up, “and in New York we have a full life and an unbeautiful existence.”