I seem to be on a Paris kick lately, and when I saw that Harper Perennial was offering John Baxter’s Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas for $1.99 on ebook, I jumped at the chance to read something both Parisian and Christmas-y right in time for the holidays. Baxter, an Australian who has made France his home for the last couple of decades, is well-known for his memoirs and travel books about Paris.
Playing on Ernest Hemingway’s concept of Paris as a “movable feast,” which argues that the pleasures of Paris can be found everywhere, Baxter posits another interpretation:
At certain times of the year, the spirit of Paris moves elsewhere. Its soul migrates and this most beautiful of cities falls empty. One such moment is August, when Parisians reaffirm their cultural roots by returning to the regions of their ancestors. Another is Christmas.
Baxter then takes readers back in time to the early days of his courtship and subsequent marriage, back when he was still considered an outsider by his then-girlfriend’s close-knit family and relatives. He was blown away by their multiple-course Christmas feast of traditional French fare; in fact, everything is based on tradition, right down to the wealthy family’s country house that dated “from before Australia was even discovered.”
Baxter quickly gained his place a valued member of the family–so much so that he’s been in charge of planning and executing their Christmas feast for years now. This is what Immoveable Feast is about: the daunting experience of planning and cooking the feast for the very first time.
I really enjoyed this book; it’s a charming, quick read that’s broken down into short chapters. If you like reading about food and French customs, your head will be swimming with all of the intricacies of planning a multiple course French feast. All of the food is procured locally, and I was practically salivating at all the talk of wine and cheese. When it came time to actually prepare the meal, I was amazed at how appetizing it all sounded. I’m a vegetarian, and I’ll admit that a few scenes in the book semi-horrified me, but ultimately, even I felt enticed by all the talk of perfectly cooked, juicy meat.
It’s easy to see why Baxter is such a popular memoirist: his prose is enchanting and a touch self-deprecating, and his Paris is quirky and warm. It may not be the Paris accessible to the masses, but it’s certainly the one that everyone has in mind when thinking about the City of Lights.
Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas was released on September 23, 2008 by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins.