A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Bard.
But first, some backstory. It started as one of those quintessential city moments– I was on the subway headed downtown on a Saturday afternoon to run a couple of errands when I noticed a young woman reading a book whose cover caught my eye. Picnic in Provence, it read, adorned with the familiar bright watercolor illustrations, and so excited I was, that I immediately diverted my afternoon plans to include a direct stop at Strand so that I could pick up a copy asap.
My love of Elizabeth’s writing and their particular resonance date back to the first few days after my college graduation just before I was set to go on a three week trip to Europe. My sister gave me Lunch in Paris as a graduation gift and had scrawled, “create some amazing memories…bon appetit!” on the inside cover. I carried the book with me throughout the entire trip, feeling the full weight of the proverbial phrase, “the world is your oyster.” I relished every moment, imagining the myriad paths my life could take as I simultaneously read about Elizabeth’s experience as a young woman in Paris.
As a graduate student living in London, Elizabeth, a lifelong New Yorker, met her future husband during a chance encounter that would lead her to build a life in Paris filled with all of the trials of culture shock, new challenges, as well as fantastic food, rich cultural experiences, and new beginnings. Her story is so approachable, so human, and so warm that you feel as though you are speaking to a friend, but also touches on those broad, nagging questions that many of us ask ourselves on occasion. “Can I really make this leap? What happens if I don’t? Am I ready to imagine my future differently?” Reading her words while lying in the Montmartre apartment where I was staying, or while sitting in front of the Villa Borghese in Rome, my heart felt full and I was often moved to joyful tears with the hope and promise that all of the uncertainty ahead would work itself out and that my life, too, could be extraordinary and shaped by the very uncertainty I feared. Little did I know, that less than a year later, I would make a sudden move to New York, with no apartment, no job, in the middle of a blizzard. I endured and developed my own love story with a city and its food, its culture, its largess and quiet familiarity. I thank Elizabeth a bit for this too.
Apart from being a love story and a coming-of-age tale, Lunch in Paris details how Elizabeth discovered Paris through food, the epicenter of French culture. Filled with glorious recipes like braised beef with red wine, garlic, and thyme and chocolate cream with creme Anglaise, I was giddy to see what gems the next book would behold. Having spent years in Paris and expecting their first child, Picnic In Provence is the story of Elizabeth and her husband falling in love, this time with a tiny hamlet in Provence. They impulsively bought a house, made a move, had a child, and serendipitously opened up an ice cream shop. I am clearly oversimplifying here, so please read the book to enjoy all of the beautiful nuance that Mrs. Bard brings to her second story of discovery, motherhood, and of course, food that feeds the soul. This time, recipes like lavender honey and thyme ice cream and truffle toasts with salted butter were enough to make me want to sprint across to Provence and take up permanent residence.
Reading this book five years later at a different stage in my life reminded again of how important it is to take those leaps of faith, allow your life to divert in order to chart a more fulfilling path, and not to be afraid of doing the unexpected thing. I have spent almost five years in this city and have allowed myself to be a little hemmed in by my expectations of what this stage of my life should be, what my career should look like, so on and so forth. So like a breath of fresh lavender-scented air, this book gave me renewed energy to start writing again, start questioning and get cooking.
Back to the meeting, which took place just after I randomly saw on Facebook that she would be giving a reading and a book signing at the James Beard Foundation, mere blocks from my office. Meeting someone with whom you already feel intimately acquainted yet have never seen before can be somewhat disconcerting. Of course, in my mind, I’m thinking up my speech, which always starts with “we’re like the same person!” Not creepy at all… I had so many questions for her such as “What is the hardest part about writing a book? Is it the decision to just do it? What was the biggest challenge of starting your own business? How did you learn to make ice cream? How do you manage a business from far away? Do you ever envision returning to the United States to live? Is it difficult to be away from your family?” So many questions and yet after listening to her speak about the book, so calmly, so elegantly with just as much warmth with perhaps a little less sass, I found that all I could muster was a nervous sputter about how much I loved the first book, my experience in Europe, and how excited I was to chance upon the second. We had a nice little exchange, but of course, there was a line and I couldn’t really say what I wanted to say which was, “thank you, thank you for sharing and for allowing me to feel a connection that makes me feel there are others out there, like me, with the same passions, the same feelings, and a similar way of looking at the world.”
All in all, I walked out of the quaint West Village townhouse that afternoon, into the sunlight, feeling renewed. It was just a lunch-break detour during my arduous workday, but for me, it was the unexpected twist that took me somewhere different, even if only a different room on a different street with a familiar voice. It was one of those moments that feels rife with possibility and that (with an extra bite of a fluffy madeleine) was enough.