Saturday, March 8, 2008

Une vie française

Now that we are past all that silly nonsense about 'freedom fries', I feel safe trotting out a couple of books that celebrate French culture and society.
Paris Café: the Sélect crowd by Noël Riley Fitch and Rick Tulka is an entertaining look at one of the most quintessential of the Parisian cafés. Its small little tables hosted the likes of Simone de Beauvoir, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller, and it continues the tradition of being for "people who want to be alone but need company for it". There are a few recipes in the back for café staples - Onion Soup, Welsh Rarebit, Croque Monsieur - but most of the book is about the culture of the café. One of the most appealing facets of the book are Rick Tulka's sketches of the patrons. It brings the whole place to life, and you could almost feel like you are sitting there with a hot café au lait in front of you.

The French Century: an illustrated history of modern France, by Brian Moynahan, is a more wide-ranging book. A chronological look at how France changed throughout the 20th century, this book covers all aspects of French society: arts, politics, sports, fashion, history, and economics. There is attention paid to the French love of vacations, the dark history of their treatment of French Jews in WWII, and the scandals that rocked the government in the late 1980's. If you want to know about the French, this is the book to read.

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