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Features

January 29, 2013

Parisian history comes to life

— Having lived in the same house for the last 35 years, “The House I Loved” by Tatiana de Rosnay (St. Martins Press, 2012) immediately caught my eye. Set in Paris in the 1860s, the novel explores the great rebuilding project spearheaded by Baron Haussmann under Napoleon III that shook the City of Lights out of its medievalism and into the sophistication and progressiveness of the modern world.

The novel is told in first person through a series of letters and reflections written by Rose Bazelet, a 60-year-old widow who owns a house on the rue Childebert, a street that has been in existence since the Merovingian king himself in the ninth century. This ancient and narrow rue is scheduled for demolition to make way for the broad boulevards so characteristic of Paris today.

Rose’s home is the last link to her beloved husband, Armand, and the life they shared. The house, with its shops on the ground floor, also represents her only means of income. Faced with extinction of all she loves, Rose makes a decision; she will send everyone else in the house away and wait for the bombardment of shouting men and equipment advancing in the name of progress. When the house goes, a secret Rose has kept locked away for decades will go with it.

De Rosnay has woven a fine story whose themes are as diverse as the individual versus the state or the importance of memorializing history on both a personal and a civic level. Other works by de Rosnay include “Sarah’s Key” and “A Secret Kept.”

The renowned French chef, Auguste Escoffier, first went to work in Paris at Le Petit Moulin Rouge in 1865, the year the houses on rue Childebert were destroyed. While his definitive “Le Guide Culinaire” encompasses more than 1,000 recipes, he is best known today for his perfection of tomato sauce and inventing Peach Melba. Here are a couple of recipes based on his originals.

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