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L'Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home

Review

L'Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home

Reading cookbook author and blogger David Lebovitz’s new memoir is like constantly vacillating between two extremes: intense envy of Lebovitz’s life in Paris and extreme relief that you don’t have to deal with the kind of real estate headaches he encounters there.

Lebovitz, an American expat whose previous books include MY PARIS KITCHEN, has always offered personal anecdotes along with his enticing recipes for everything from steak frites to ice cream. But L’APPART is probably his most personal book to date, as he takes readers deep behind the scenes of the home purchase and renovation that was going on even as he was trying to write MY PARIS KITCHEN.

Lebovitz moved to Paris knowing very little French and not much about the culture other than that he adored the food and that French attitudes toward fresh food and cooking seemed very familiar and appealing to Lebovitz, a former chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. But once Lebovitz arrived, he was surprised by certain elements of personal interactions --- including how one approaches a trip to the market (don’t touch the produce!) or a visit to the pharmacist --- as well as Paris’s notorious l’administration, which requires multiple visits to the bank for a relatively simple transaction or insists that Parisians keep five years’ worth of electric bills to prove residency.

"Each of the short chapters offers a brief, humorous, occasionally cringe-inducing glimpse into some aspect of the home-buying and remodeling odyssey on which Lebovitz embarks."

But Lebovitz eventually made friends, fell in love with his Parisian partner Romain, figured out the best places to go for fromage and baguettes, and won over his local pharmacist with an endless supply of homemade ice cream. He was pretty sure he had this whole Paris thing figured out --- until he decided to stop renting a top-floor apartment and buy a place of his own. What happened next can best be described as a comedy of errors, one in which Paris’s historic architecture, Lebovitz’s American optimism/naivete, and some unscrupulous real estate agents and contractors collide.

Each of the short chapters offers a brief, humorous, occasionally cringe-inducing glimpse into some aspect of the home-buying and remodeling odyssey on which Lebovitz embarks. From finding the right place only to discover it’s actually zoned as a commercial rather than residential property (despite the fact that its prior owner has been living there for years) to gratefully installing a glorious brand-new American-style refrigerator, only to discover that at some point it was apparently used to store fish, Lebovitz’s journey toward a place he can love and claim as his own is a true roller coaster ride. Readers may occasionally tire of the constant chapter-ending cliffhanger refrains, sort of an endless variation on “the scary part was about to begin,” but they’ll also --- regardless of whether or not they’ve gone through any sort of remodeling project themselves --- read Lebovitz’s account with sympathy and cheer him on.

Fortunately, L’APPART is tempered by (what else?) delicious and inviting recipes that follow most chapters; some are thematically linked to the preceding chapters, while others (like the fudge Lebovitz perhaps foolhardily makes for his workers) are linked to the events recounted therein. He also wins readers over by depicting himself as a well-meaning but ultimately clueless American, eager to believe the best in people and take them at their word. He expresses true affection both for his adopted home in Paris and for the American values that shape his own outlook and approach. Readers may not be queuing up to purchase their own “l’appart” after reading Lebovitz’s memoir, but they’ll certainly be daydreaming about their next vacation in a Paris apartment --- strictly short term.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on December 1, 2017

L'Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home
by David Lebovitz

  • Publication Date: November 7, 2017
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Crown
  • ISBN-10: 0804188386
  • ISBN-13: 9780804188388