Monday, 2 July 2018

Paris in July 2018 - Zola and food



Paris in July for 2018 is upon us. It will be a wonderful month with exchanging anything French with fellow bloggers. Some of you have already started. The pressure (although pleasant) is on and here is my first post. The inspiration comes from Zola. I am reading his Nana and a non fiction book about him, The Disappearance of Émile Zola, Love Literature and the Dreyfus Case. The theme? Food.

After his J'Accuse article he was brought to trial for criminal libel, and rather than going to prison he left for England where he stayed for a year, before he was allowed back to France. Being a writer he kept a diary and his comments about everything English is fascinating. One thing he does not love though is the food.


The following quote comes from a dinner that Nana is hosting.
"Thick asparagus soup a la comtesse, clear soup a la Deslignac," muttered the waiters, carrying about platefuls in rear of the guests. ... The waiters took away the soup plates and circulated rissoles of young rabbit with truffles had "niokys" and powdered cheese. ... The third course, consisting of a Rhine carp a la Chambord and a saddle of venison a l'anglaise, was being served ... After the third course the entrees had made their appearance; they consisted of pullets a la marechale, fillets of sole with shallot sauce and escalopes of Strasbourg pate. ...Yet the supper was flagging; no one was eating now, though platefuls of crepes a l'italienne and pineapple fritters a la Pompadour were being mangled. The champagne, however, which had been drunk ever since the soup course, was beginning little by little to warm the guests into a state of nervous exaltation."

The following quote is from Zola's notes on English food.
"One way he could distract himself from these thoughts (the Dreyfus case and its implications for himself) was to read novels - though he was beginning to find Stendhal irritating - and then, just as we might expect, English food irritated him even more. Why didn't they put any salt in the food? The vegetables were cooked without any butter or oil; the cutlets and steaks were uneatable; the sauces were so bad they had to be avoided altogether; English bread was lika sponge. Plain, boiled, watery potato and greens were abominations. He found the roasts palatable, and these could be supplemented with ham, eggs and salad. Plum tart was bearable but why did the English insist on eating it hot, when everyone knew that tarte should be served cold? Apple pudding was a disgusting invention and who could have thought up the appalling idea of making 'gravy' by pouring water on steak instead of garnishing it with butter and parsley? A small pleasure could be found making visits to the fishmonger where he discovered the delights of the British kipper and bloater."
Well, I guess he has a point. I think though, that English food has improved since his days.  It is quite interesting to see with what love he describes the food in Nana, although it is just as a line here and there inserted into the description of the evening with its guests and discussions. Reviews of the two books will follow.

15 comments:

  1. You didn't say much about the book by Michael Rosen -- does it do a good job on other aspects of Zola's life and political views? As I'm sure you know, Zola is very well known for including food descriptions in his novels, above all in "The Belly of Paris" ("Le Ventre de Paris") which is set in the market at Les Halles.

    best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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  2. Interesting, I did not know that food is a big part of his writings. Well, I can imagine having read this. I have only read Thérèse Raquin by him and is now reading Nana. I have just finished the book by Rosen this evening and a review will follow. I think it gives quite a personal insight into his life and views, although it mostly covers his year in England and his return to France.

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    1. I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on the Rosen book.

      I still can't decide if I found Rosen's writing style particularly dull or if I decided that I simply didn't like Zola as a person fairly early on or whether I was just in the wrong mood for this book, but it sounds like you found something to enjoy which I'm looking forward to :-)

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    2. Hmm, I still have not made up my mind if I like the book or not. There are certain things in the writing I don't like. Considering the life he led, I am not sure if I like Zola either. I am still digesting the book.

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  3. I think that once you have had French food, nothing else compares. That has been my experience.

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    1. Well, that is the thing. You hear all these wonderful things about French food. I find, however, that when you are in France it is difficult to find it. You probably just have to know where to go.
      I think all in all that my favourite cuisine is Italian!
      I want to make a French dinner so have to look at your posts to get some inspiration.

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  4. A fascinating post, Lisbeth! I read each quote and found myself nodding in agreement as I did. Why not butter and parsley indeed? And nothing is more nauseating to me than a thick soup. I much prefer the clear broth based soups of the French!

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  5. I think the Rosen book sounds especially interesting. And like Mae I'm curious about if it mentions his political views. I don't think I remember he wrote Therese Raquin. Looking forward to learning more about him and his work! Happy Paris In July and I love the button you made!

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  6. Interesting duet reading. Happy Paris in July.

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  7. While I was in France the most french food was at the Patisserie!

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  8. I would love to read both Nana and the Michael Rosen book--it's only recently that I learned that he died under mysterious circumstances. Great post with interesting quotes.

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    1. Thank you. I have just posted a review of the book, where I also mention the mysterious circumstances. I did not even know he died like that. I think it will still be a mystery. I left a link to an article in History today that tells more about the circumstances.

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  9. Zola’s Major food book is The Belly of Paris, set in The Paris food market.

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