If you are secretly (or not so secretly) fascinated by the sight of car wrecks (where no one is injured, of course), you might really like this book.
That's not why I bought it, or course; I thought I'd be reading a breezy memoir about moving to Paris and buying a fabulous, though a tad run down, old apartment and the joys of renovating it. I imagined living vicariously through the author as he haunted the flea markets and found fabulous old doors, lamps, hardware, crockery, etc. Sure, the title says "disasters", too, but they're probably the run of the mill disasters everyone faces when building/renovating, right? Someone painted the kitchen the color meant for the baths, or switched the hot and cold taps.
Not even close. In fact, looking at the title, I'm not at all sure where the "delights" come into play. Maybe book 2? Because I gotta tell you, after reading this, I have a lot more sympathy for people who burn the house down for the insurance money. I also have a new appreciation for just how much worse Australian real estate could be. I've always tried to be positive or, at least tactful, about my current home country, but I've never held back on how bent I believe their real estate industry is, particularly Melbourne's (I'm not wrong either: Victoria has been cited numerous times for fraudulent real estate practices; not that it slows anybody down). But boy howdy, Paris makes it clear Aussies are in the minor leagues.
But the buying dramas (did you know you need a medical examination to get a home loan?) were just the amuse bouche; the real nightmare, the one you can't stop reading because it's like a train that just keeps on wrecking itself, a metal snowball gaining mass and spreading destruction, is the renovations. There. are. no. words.
This is where I stop to give a heartfelt thanks to my Daddy, an electrical engineer, and for the grace of god that I was born curious. Foreign country or not (and you can't discount how big a difference that makes - even if the foreign country speaks your language), I'm fortunate that I know enough about electricity, plumbing, and (very) basic building construction to suspect when something isn't right, or safe. Lebovitz was not so blessed and neither was his partner, although he was at least Parisian, and so was able to bridge the language - and sometimes the cultural - gaps, as well as throw well timed fits of temper. But even so, what happens, what they end up with... nope. Still no words. I cannot imagine what I'd have done in his shoes, but it probably would have been neither legal or sane.
It ends well enough, but, though he doesn't give any real figures, one has to assume he had a shit ton of money somewhere because by my rough reckoning, that renovation cost him more than 3 times the original budget.
Throughout this nightmare, he does paint a vivid and gorgeous picture of Paris markets and food, both of which, from what I read here, are better experienced as a tourist. And most of the chapters end with a recipe; some easy, and some for the experienced baker. At some point in the future I'll be giving his Swedish meatball recipe a shot.
And Swedish meatballs leads me to this final thought: there is nothing on this earth that would ever compel me to stand in line for 4 1/2 freaking hours in Ikea. Nothing. Not if the kitchen cabinets were made of solid mahogany and gilded in sold gold. Omg...4.5 hours in Ikea...