Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas by John Baxter


 "Paris changes you, alerts you to new experiences, new relationships waiting just around the corner. Alan Jay Lerner expressed it well in his script for An American in Paris. 'It never lets you forget anything,' Gene Kelly says of the City. 'It's too real and too beautiful. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way.'"

More a culmination of Christmas dinners rather than the advent of a single specific, John Baxter's Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas, is a rich and vibrant homage to the traditions, Yuletide and otherwise, of the City of Light. Weaving beautifully between his childhood in Australia, his professional life as a film critic in Los Angeles, and the ghost of Paris, always lingering around the corner, calling him back, Baxter's tale is part memoir, part cultural analysis, and most definitely, a culinary revelry. Arguably more about food than the holidays, Immoveable Feast is a book that will make the stomach of any food lover rumble with pleasure as they follow Baxter along on his culinary coming of age, as well as his search for the perfect components for Christmas dinner. From the selection of the perfect cheese-- an art only the French have mastered, to the oysters of dreams (a whole, lovely, delicious chapter on Oysters, actually), a short dissertation on roast pig, the search for an unexpectedly choice apple, the joys of fresh baked baked bread, and the inevitable quest for the best wine, Baxter's passion for the gastronomic is highly contagious and undeniably satisfying.

If food is the strand that holds Baxter's Immoveable Feast together, then it is fair to say that the underlying soul of the book is Baxter's profound appreciation for the ancient traditions of French culture. It's evident that Baxter admires not only the well-known gastronomic traditions of France, but also the bones of the country as well- of which the food is, undeniably, only a part of. With a deep sense of respect Baxter examines the French attitude towards Christmas and the sacredness, religious and otherwise, of the holiday among families there, as well as the respect for craftsmanship, the sense of loyalty and national pride, the joy in the unexpected and unique, and the overwhelming sense of order and rationality that encircles everything- after all, France has been home to some of the world's most famous philosophers and, as Baxter points out, their minds have left an indelible mark on the French Consciousness. For all of his admiration, though, what makes Baxter's book such a pleasure to read is that he himself is able to look at the French with a sense of mingled humor and respect, avoiding the pitfall of so many writers these days who write as if they want to be French- Baxter is Baxter, an Australian born film critic with set opinions of his own who admires the traditions of the French without sacrificing himself or his past to it, making for a palatable refreshing take on the "I moved to Paris story."

So, whether you love food, or France, or are simply longing to master the art of living well, John Baxter's Immoveable Feast is a well written treasure that is sure to please. This is a book you'll want to devour in one delicious gulp, preferably with a good bottle of wine and the snow falling outside your window.

{images}: Barnes & Noble

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