Dec 30, 2016

Into the Pages: Tome Leconet


There's a magic to getting lost in the pages of a great, vivid book, but how much more magical it is when you can turn around and get lost in the very area described in the vivid book. One of the beauties of living in the heart of Paris is that it's referenced so often in literature. Recently, I find myself loving All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, then walking around wide-eyed in the setting described and feel, just for a moment, like I get to live inside the pages.

The Jardin des Plantes, just around the corner from me and a place I frequently take walks, features prominently in the book. When the author describes the buildings, flowers, museums, and walking paths of the gardens, I can picture them clearly in my mind's eye. And then, I can go outside and just take pictures of them.

I am walking with Gigi the other direction in our neighborhood to go shopping and stop to contemplate this street sign. At first, I can't figure out why it's so familiar. Then it clicks: I'm reading about this very street, right now, in the book. The protagonist lives on this block, and walks over to the Jardin des Plantes from here, which would take her pretty much right by my apartment. The street is very  much how it's described in the book, except that there's not the cheese and grocery shops described, and there a couple slightly modern buildings that probably replaced one of the buildings that would have been there in the 1940s, when most of the story takes place.

Gigi, another huge reader in our family, discovered this joy on our trip to Guernsey, when she was reading the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

In the book, they talk about a small chapel, made entirely of mosaic tiles. We were at this chapel and had to wait about 15 minutes for a taxi. While we were waiting, Gigi picked up her book to read and happened upon the very passage that described the chapel. She found this such an incredible, delightful coincidence. You'll notice she pronounces the word "mosaic" like a French person, having possibly never (or rarely) heard it said in English.


It's a magical place, made more magical by reading about it -- while she's actually there. Having the connection between the printed page and the physical place makes the story come to life, almost literally.

And this is true not just for books, but for movies, too. We just watched The Hundred Foot Journey, during which the film's protaganist stops to take a photo in this spot, which we considered our front yard for the 4 years we lived on Ile St. Louis.

One of the funny things about being so intimately familiar with a place described in pages or on film is that you really feel it deeply when they get it right, but you feel it even deeper when they get it wrong. In the film, a group stands on this bridge to watch the Bastille Day fireworks.

But they are facing the wrong direction in the film. To see Paris' Bastille Day fireworks from here, you'd have to be facing the same direction as Pippa is, towards Notre Dame to see the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower which stands far beyond. Even then, because of the angle, you could not stand on this particular bridge -- between the Left Bank and the islands -- and see them. You'd have to go over to the Right Bank and walk further west so that Notre Dame is behind you, and the Eiffel Tower in front of you. I know this, indisputably, because I've made that walk to watch those fireworks several times.

The film Midnight in Paris is about the magic of Paris and being transported through time. Well, standing here on the steps where filming took place (in the 5th arrondissement, at the St. Etienne du Mont church), it feels like we're not just transcending the magic of time but also the 4th wall between the story and real life.

THE CHEESE: Tome Leconet

The farmer at the stand where I taste this cheese seems kind of crabby. Perhaps he's having a bad day. Perhaps he needs a break from selling cheeses and just to go read a good book somewhere in a big fluffy chair with a nice cup of tea. I only get from him the basics: Tome Leconet is a raw goats' milk cheese -- a farmhouse cheese made with organic milk. It comes from a family farm, the Leconet Farm, in the village of Saint-Julien-aux-Bois, in the department of Corrèze, in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine

The outside is a bit scary and looks something like a fuzzy cow costume. Which is funny, because it's a goat cheese. And, in fact, it's not very scary tasting at all. It doesn't have a strong gamey flavor, but rather a mild, lightly herby flavor and a dry, almost crumbly texture.


A "tome" in English is, of course, a hefty book. In French, it is just another way of spelling a wheel of cheese. So for a story about stories, a posting about tomes, I wanted a "tome". Which tome though? How about one that sounds like the word "connaît " which means to "know something, to be very familiar with it." It's an especially magical moment of enjoying a tome when I am closely familiar with the setting of the book I'm reading. I highly recommend you all come live in my apartment, in my neighborhood, and read All the Light We Cannot See while you're here. It wouldn't be bad accompanied by this cheese.


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