FROM HERE, YOU CAN'T SEE PARIS: Seasons of a French Village and Its Restaurant

Michael S. Sanders, Author
Michael S. Sanders, Author . HarperCollins $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-018472-8
Reviewed on: 10/07/2002
Release date: 11/01/2002
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-06-095920-3
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With his wife and young daughter, Sanders spent a year in southwestern France, in the village of Les Arques, tracing the rhythm of rural life and the restaurant at the town's heart. As in his first book, The Yard: Building a Destroyer at the Bath Iron Works (which followed the construction of the USS Donald Cook at a shipyard struggling against modernization), Sanders explores a threatened way of life: before 1988 (the year citizens founded the Zadkine Museum), Les Arques struggled to barely survive. Inspired by Ossip Zadkine, the Russian sculptor who summered in the town until his death in 1967, the museum attracts resident students and tourists year-round. Now, the local restaurant, La Récréation, not only feeds the locals, it draws an international clientele. Chef Jacques Ratier and his wife, Noelle, established what is locally called La Récré (French for "recess") in the town's abandoned schoolhouse in 1993—and this is Les Arques' sole business. Sanders affectionately observes the restaurant in action, from morning prep to full swing service. As he contemplates a bid for star status in the Michelin guide, Mr. Ratier personifies Les Arques' struggle to stay in the game. Sanders also investigates French country ways, devoting entire chapters to foie gras and truffles and explaining the history of a region where every house has a name and children grow up on four-course school lunches. He unveils a culture wholly at odds with fast-food America. The book's back matter offers advice for travelers, but Sanders's account is so lovely, and Les Arques so sensuous and ripe with magic, to visit seems vaguely sacrilegious. (Nov.)

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