It is certainly hard to believe that as a librarian I found myself at a coffee shop one morning without a book in my bag and about 30 minutes to kill. I browsed the “give-away” shelf and one book immediately caught my eye, From Here, You Can’t See Paris: Seasons of a French Village and Its Restaurant by Michael S. Sanders. It was both title and cover photograph (a quintessential French countryside scene… tables and chairs in an outdoor café-type setting, potted geraniums, and climbing vines meandering up limestone houses, all this perched atop a winding road overlooking a peaceful vista of a small village in the distance) that called me to pick up this book. And, was I glad I did.
The author, an American, sets out for a year to observe, experience, and record the life of a small chef-owned restaurant in Les Arques, a small village nestled in southwestern France. This is not simply the story of the restaurant and its owner, but, of the village, its inhabitants, and the struggle of this rural town to defy the likelihood of becoming extinct as the dwindling year-round population ages. The restaurant, La Recre (short for “playground”) is housed in a revitalized old schoolhouse building located in the center of the village. Outsiders to Les Arques, Chef Jacques and his wife, Noelle, have cultivated a thriving business over the years and, subsequently played an integral role in the renaissance of this rural village. The challenges and dramas of running a successful restaurant are illuminated in this book. An underlying theme explores how the viability of Les Arques depends upon its ability to retain traditions of generations past while being relevant in the twenty-first century. The push and pull of these opposing goals provides the tension in what would appear to be a book solely about a restaurant and food.
A keen observer of life in Les Arques, the author introduces the reader to the residents, their relationships, and the hum of life in this rural village. As the title suggests the book is ordered according to the seasons of the year and the events in the village’s calendar, including outdoor markets, truffle season, town meetings, local elections, blissful summer days, and the dreary winter months. All of these make for an interesting glimpse at life in this rural French village. Peppered throughout the book are French phrases and rich descriptions of the town, its residents, and the countryside, all of which give the reader a real sense of being in southwestern France. As the book progresses the reader becomes immersed in the lives of the villagers, who quickly become new friends and acquaintances. This is the perfect book to fulfill one’s fantasy of escaping from one’s current life to a world that is tranquil, but never boring, and gentle and satisfying. I encourage you to read From Here You Can’t See Paris, images of life in Les Arques linger with me still.
Check the WRL catalog for From Here You Can’t See Paris