French Kisses 

Adam Gopnik

It could be argued that Paris is Berkeley with beaux-arts architecture and cigarettes, but that would be unfair to both cities. Paris, to most of us, is anything and everything we want it to be: a palace of dreams, the world capital of chauvinism, a launching pad for a Gene Kelly ballet, beloved homeland of butter, or the last refuge of small, passionate cinemas and record stores.

Adam Gopnik knows better. In his appreciation of the French capital, Paris to the Moon, now published in trade paperback (Random House, $14.95), the New Yorker staffer explains his lifelong love affair with Paris in terms that anyone who has soaked up the autumn sun of the Jardins de Luxembourg will immediately recognize and embrace. And yet Gopnik, describing the city with A.J. Liebling-like elegance in his now-defunct "Paris Journal" in the New Yorker, pricked the dream-bubble and set foot squarely in the real world of petty bureaucratic encounters and rowdy World Cup soccer crowds. Paris to the Moon, a collection of those columns, is a beautiful corrective to the croissants-in-Provence school of travelogue.

Alix Pitcher of Berkeley's Black Oak Books, where Gopnik reads from Paris to the Moon Saturday night (7:30 p.m.), describes his style as deceptively effortless. "In the foreword [of the book], he talks about James Thurber, and he's one of the few people I'd compare to E.B. White or Thurber," says Pitcher. "His writing is very conversational, and so funny, but so very hard to do. I'm hoping they do another collection of his New Yorker pieces, especially the marvelous one he did on Bill Evans, or the one he wrote on the flocks of wild parakeets in Flatbush."

Gopnik has his detractors. Salon's grumpy Chris Lehmann disparaged Gopnik's "disconcertingly tiny worldview." But when the farce ("a stuffing of finely chopped orange and lemon zest, sugar, ginger, mint, pistachios, star anise, cloves") and Gauloises hit the fan, the rest of us will applaud from our table at the sidewalk cafe and then curl up with Gopnik's irresistible obsessions. Chapeau!


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