I found myself nodding in recognition as I read David Lebovitz’s latest book, L’appart: The delights and disasters of making my Paris home. I may not have bought an apartment in Paris and renovated it, but lived in Paris in tiny garret apartments for nearly five years, much like David’s first home AND I’ve bought a house in France and renovated it so this story resonated with me much more than perhaps other readers.
This is the story of David’s search for the perfect home in Paris and the subsequent renovations, neither of which are la vie en rose as many people imagine life in Paris might be. Indeed, househunting and renovating in France is not for the faint of heart and David’s story paints a pretty honest picture. Some of the reviews I’ve read suggest David is simply sensationalizing the situation and others think he’s complaining about how hard life is but I argue that until you’ve lived through something similar (in France or elsewhere), you can’t possibly imagine just how challenging it’s going to be. I mean, hey, buying and renovating a home in your mother tongue can be tricky enough – let alone in another language.
Five things you might be surprised to learn about buying and renovating an apartment in Paris:
1. Noone “stages” their home.
When you start looking at online pictures of places for sale, you might be a little shocked. Not only does noone stage their home, many people don’t even tidy their house before taking the photos which will appear online. Seriously. Hello dirty laundry for all to see!
2. There is no one central listing service.
Uh huh. That’s as annoying as it sounds. One property can be listed on a number of different realtor’s sites (ours was listed at different prices on different sites too!). What that means is that house hunting in France is a very slow, tedious process that involves lots of screen time and/ or lots of legwork and an agent you can trust.
3. You may *think* you know how to speak French …
… but you probably didn’t learn DIY-speak in your French classes in high school. Even if you’ve lived there for years and are fluent in the everyday, DIY French will have you reaching for your WordReference app faster than you can say “tout à l’égout” (true story – my Mr Neil isn’t the most fluent French speaker but he does know how to use “tout à l’égout” in a sentence to ask if the house is connected to the town sewer system). You’ll come out of a home purchase/ renovation with a whole slew of weird vocabulary you never realised you’d need!
4. “Tout est possible” but… it might take much longer and cost a lot more than you imagine
Your contractor might assure you that your renovation project will not pose “des problèmes” and, indeed, David eventually got the work he wanted (well, most of it) done. But not on time and definitely not within budget. So, kinda like any renovation project, only more frustrating because it’s another language and culture…
5. It might feel like it’s killing you… but it’s also making your stronger… and a little more French.
Anyone who undertakes (and survives) a real estate purchase/ renovation in Paris is made of strong stuff. David’s tale is sometimes painful to read, sometimes downright hilarious, often completely ludicrous (the way things work in France sometimes, the things that are accepted as “normal”) but throughout it all, David maintains his (nearly) unwavering focus on the end result (a big kitchen! with lots of light! and lots of electrical outlets! Yup all these things we take for granted…). And becomes a little more French in the process.
Searching for sinks, flipping through toilet catalogs, and even trying to get a handle for a stove – it all made me feel a little more Parisian.
(David, I’m hearing you loud and clear as the person who felt victorious when she finally figured out where to buy the lace curtain panels that all houses in small French towns seem to have!)
Part-memoir, part cookbook, this is a must-read for anyone who dreams of one day running away to Paris (spoiler alert: reality check!). You’ll likely even learn a little French along the way too – in some parts of the book, David writes in a kind of franglais that those who’ve lived in France will understand (it’s how we think and often, speak, to other anglophone friends); for others who don’t speak the language, it might not be as amusing. But since I’d recommend this book to die-hard francophiles (i.e. the ones who will see the point in persevering through such a challenging situation, I’m sure the extra language lesson will be a welcome bonus.
The book also features 25 recipes – not necessarily French food but recipes from David’s kitchen (which just happens to be in Paris). Reading the book and ending a harrowing chapter with a recipe is kind of what it’s like to undertake a house puchase/ renovation in France. The day maybe awful and fraught with challenging situations but at the end of the day, there’s always the awesome food and wine to turn to!
- 1/2 cup packed (90g) light brown sugar
- 1/3 cup (65g) granulated sugar
- 8 tablespoons (4 ounces/115g) salted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup (110g) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (75g) buckwheat flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
- 1 1/2 cups (230g) coarsely chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
- 3 tablespoons toasted buckwheat groats, sometimes sold as kasha
- 3/4 cup (75g) walnuts, almonds, or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
- Flaky sea salt, such as fleur de sel or Maldon, to finish the cookies
- In a large bowl, mix together the brown sugar, granulated sugar, and melted butter. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, buckwheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter-sugar mixture.
- Mix in the chopped chocolate (and any small bits of chocolate), buckwheat groats, and nuts. Cover the bowl and chill overnight.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before you plan to scoop the cookies.
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
- Use a spring-loaded ice cream or cookie scoop (or a tablespoon and your hands) to form the dough into 1½-inch (4cm) balls, and place them 2½ inches (6cm) apart on the baking sheets (you will likely need to bake the cookies in batches). Slightly flatten the tops with damp fingers and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.
- Bake the cookies until light golden brown on top, about 12 minutes, rotating the baking sheets on the oven racks midway through baking.
- Remove the cookies from the oven and using a flat metal spatula (also called a pancake turner), tap the top of each cookie to flatten it, so each is about ½ inch (1.25cm) high. The bottom of the spatula may pick up some sticky chocolate, which can be wiped clean so the finished cookies have a neater appearance. Let cool on the baking sheets.
- Once the cookies and baking sheets are cool, remove the cookies from the baking sheets and finish baking the rest of the cookie dough.
Buckwheat flour and toasted buckwheat groats are available at natural foods stores and well-stocked supermarkets. Toasted buckwheat (kasha) is some- times sold in the kosher aisle, or in the tea aisle at Asian markets. A good substitute for the toasted buckwheat is roasted cocoa nibs.
Canadians – Win a copy of David Lebovitz’s L’appart! Enter here.
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Disclosure: I purchased L’Appart for myself and requested a copy to offer as a giveaway from Penguin Canada. I have not been further compensated for writing this post or hosting a giveaway. All opinions are 100% my own.