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How to Eat a Small Country: A Family's Pursuit of Happiness, One Meal at a Time [Anglais] [Relié]

Amy Finley

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Having never been to Marseilles before, all I know about it is what I’ve gleaned from The French Connection, which I’ll admit isn’t much of a starting point.

Indy and Scarlett are bone-tired from our early-morning train trip from Brianny, dragging their feet, always three steps behind Greg and me as we roll our suitcases through the glass-and-concrete train station, which is actually both (marginally) cleaner and less seedy than I’d been led, cinematically, to expect—and with no obvious gun-toting drug dealers or strung-out hookers in sight, which is a bonus.

And so my very first impressions of Marseilles will always remain of what it actually isn’t. And as it turns out, it isn’t a lot of things.

Scarlett finally stops in her tracks. “No more walking!” she wails and throws herself face-down on the ground.

I double back and pick her up quickly, lest she contract anything nasty from the grimy tiled floor, and balance her precariously on my hip. So encumbered, together we lumber downstairs to the taxi stand, me cajoling Indy—who’s now begging Greg, of course, for a lift—the whole way.

From the taxi window, rolling through the windy streets where litter blows down the sidwalk, you can get a pretty good look at what else Marseilles isn’t.

For example, it isn’t Paris, the only French city where I’ve ever lived. There the streets are grandiose. Marseilles’s streets are, I hate to say it, plainer, narrower, a little ugly even, having been reconstructed in the 1950s after the retreating Nazis blew up most of the town. (It was high times for concrete and stucco.) And Paris is all gray and white. Somber colors, for sure, but when the sun is shining, those old stone buildings glow as if they were lit up from within, wrapped in lacy ironwork; and in the mist of a cold, wet winter, they are positively majestic. Marseilles’s buildings are all chalk-toned pastels, pale and bleached. The trees lin- ing the sidewalks are bare. We pass a bus on the road and our driver points to a grainy picture of Barack Obama plastered on its side, already looking confident and presidential on the cover of the weekly L’Express, though the election is still months away. The driver grins in the rearview mirror, flashing me a thumbs-up, the international symbol of “We like this guy.” “He’s going to win, yes?” he asks.

“We hope,” I say, but without my usual enthusiasm. Drab Marseilles just isn’t stoking my optimism at the moment.

The city isn’t the opulent, fleshy Côte d’Azur of my previous imaginings, either. For the most part, the women I see shuffling down the streets look nothing at all like Brigitte Bardot. They’re all older. Grandmotherly types in black skirts wearing flimsy plastic shoes, carrying food in colorful plastic shopping bags. I elbow Greg, dozing with Scarlett on his lap. “No bikinis,” I observe wryly.

“It’s January,” he retorts, yawning. But then looks around at the grandmothers and adds, “Thank God.”

Our travels have officially begun.

On our way to the hotel the taxi drives through Marseilles’s commercial port, swarmed with ferries and cargo ships, but it isn’t as imposing or impressive as the waterfront I remember in Genoa, another old Mediterranean city. And then we’re passing through the old town, the Vieux Port, which isn’t as crowded with wizened fishermen selling their morning catch as I’d heard it would be, either. There are just a few scrappy-looking boats, a few tourists taking pictures. “What time is it?” I ask, and Greg checks his watch. “Nine,” he answers. We’ve been on the road from Brianny for five hours—an hour to drive to the station in Montbard, four more hours on the train—and away from San Diego for seven days.

Just past the Vieux Port we finally reach the coastline, and it isn’t the string of soft, white beaches or sublime cliffs that I’d imagined, either.

And now I am officially starting to freak out.

It’s true that I have a habit of great, some might say impossible, expectations, but frankly, I have a lot riding on this trip. Because we’re not just here to buy a car, though that’s the reason we’re in Marseilles. We’re here because this is stop number one on a journey intended to save our marriage. We are recuperating from a truly awful, horrible year, and from what I think can fairly and empirically be called a betrayal. Besides some five hundred pounds in suitcases and a behemoth crate bearing Doobie, the family dog, we arrived in France a week earlier with a lot of baggage: several years’ worth of bad, marriage-toxifying relationship habits to unlearn, some wounds to lick, and two small kids who are still a little gun-shy from a year in which the big, bad d-word—divorce—has sadly been aired frequently and volubly.

But how we’re going to fix things, exactly, well . . . actually . . . I still have no idea.

But a beautiful setting would surely help, right?

So, no pressure or anything.

The taxi zips along the corniche road next to squat, narrow buildings constructed right up on the cliff’s edge, housing dive shops and pizza parlors buzzing with teenage boys. And as we fly past I can just barely make out glimmers of turquoise from the water beyond.

As we get closer to the hotel, the sidewalks are thick with strolling pedestrians: more grandmothers, the teenage boys, an awful lot of small children weaving expertly through the dense crowd on kick scooters. But amazingly, no one stands still and gawks, slack-jawed, the way I want to when there’s finally a pause in the buildings and a low sea wall and before me spreads the full beauty of the clandestine sea.

It turns out to be stunning after all.

I hadn’t even realized I was holding my breath, but when I see the water it all comes rushing out in a great big billowing sigh of relief.


Our car connection—the eighty-one-year-old grandmother of a friend of Marc and Sophie’s—has made us a reservation at the Hôtel le Rhul, directly across the street from the much more expensive and much more famous Petit Nice. The Nice is a modern whitewashed wedding cake right on the rocky calanque, replete with a swimming pool and on-site babysitters and a Michelin three-star restaurant and a coiffeuse. The Rhul looks like a sea captain’s turreted, balconied fantasy, especially on the inside.

In the interest of economy we are all sharing one room, and the kids, as kids will when faced with a clean hotel room, immediately jump up and down on the neatly made beds, strewing pillows and blankets willy-nilly, while I scoot our luggage into the closet. For me, I’m ready—more than ready—to touch the water. If in the taxi, my exhale was one of relief, the very next inhale was like a rush of nitrous oxide, euphoric but disorienting. I am a San Diego girl and the water, I hope, will bring everything back to normal. Considering our mission, it may even be like a baptism. Rebirth. “Okay, let’s go,” I say, ready to dash back out the door again.

But Greg, as Greg will when faced with a plethora of leaflets, is taking his time. “Just a second,” he says, happily making piles on the rumpled bed of the maps and literature requisitioned from the Algerian ladies downstairs. “Let’s get settled in first. No need to rush, right?” He rifles through the pamphets. Boat tour information: check. Map of the metro system: check. Sensing no immediate departure, the kids keep right on jumping—it looks like we’ve lived in this room for days already—so I clear my throat a few times until I finally break the leaflets’ potent spell over him.

“What?” he looks up, God love him, apparently not even noticing that Indy and Scarlett are now practically kicking down the hotel room door. It is covered in thick black skid marks from the bottoms of their shoes. Manic energy floods the room. Doobie cowers between my legs, ears flattened.

“Dad, let’s go-o-o!” Indiana whines.

“I’m ready!” I say. I grab Scarlett before she can aim another kick at the door, hoist her to my hip, and sling my purse over my other shoulder, jangling the hotel room keys enticingly.

“Oh, okay,” Greg says. “Just a second.” He digs through a suitcase, muttering, “Now, where’s Doobie’s leash?”

Lord, it seems as if it takes an eternity until he’s found it, snapped it on, and led us down the stairs and across the busy street, dodging whizzing buses and speeding scooters, and alongside the Nice to a stairway leading directly to the sea.

Scarlett flies from my arms as soon as we reach the bottom. “Let’s go!” Indiana shouts joyfully, grabbing her hand, and together they rush toward the waves that slap against the sun-bleached rocks. A moment later he doubles back and starts shedding layers of jacket, sweater, and sweatshirt, like a little Swede rejoicing on the first day of summer. “It’s hot here!” he announces in happy amazement. A pile of clothing—my own sweater included—grows quickly at my feet where I sit on a rock watching Greg skip rocks for Scarlett while Indy runs around in his T-shirt, slashing at imaginary ninjas with his plastic sword.

Slowly the knot between my shoulder blades relaxes as my fragmented, fragile calm resumes form.

During our week in Brianny, I had been so bombarded by satisfy- ing everyone’s immediate needs that I never let myself dwell on the monumentality of our move to France, no doubt why it finally all came rushing at me in the taxi. And maybe there had been an aspect of self-preservation i... --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Revue de presse

“The Food Network’s loss is every reader’s gain: Amy Finley is a smart, funny writer and a really good traveling companion.  Packed into the car with Amy, her husband and two kids, you’ll see and taste France in a completely original way.  Whether you know the country well or are hoping to discover it, savoring its fare with Amy is a treat.”
 --Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table
“What comes first—food or family? How to Eat a Small Country is a delicious story by Amy Finley about balancing them both, and ultimately finding happiness in a country where family life still revolves around the dining table.”
--David Lebovitz, author of The Sweet Life in Paris
“An unexpected and delightful memoir. How Amy Finley slipped under the wire of Food Network and into our homes is an enduring mystery, and her tale of moving to rural France to preserve her marriage and family is a great read filled with joyous bites.”
--Anthony Bourdain

“How to Eat a Small Country shares a few key traits with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, in particular an infectiously likeable narrator and mouthwatering descriptions of European food. But Finley’s memoir is less precious, more honest, and ultimately more rewarding.”
--Boston Globe

From the Hardcover edition. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Biographie de l'auteur

AMY FINLEY was the winner of the third season of the hit show The Next Food Network Star. After her win, she hosted Food Network’s The Gourmet Next Door. A Paris-trained cook and pastry chef, she was a regular contributor to Bon Appétit. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband and their children. 

From the Hardcover edition. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .
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