Americans in Paris are a common literary trope, but Rosecrans Baldwin has rejuvenated the expat genre with his new, wryly astute fish-out-of-water memoir, Paris, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down (FSG). Baldwin's first novel, You Lost Me There, was named one of NPR's Best Books of 2010 and a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice. He is also a cofounder of the online magazine The Morning News. I spoke with Baldwin about unsung food choice in the City of Light, the machismo of French men and whether he will soon be victim of a lawsuit by a certain band who might take issue with his book's title.
How is the Mexican food in Paris?
Great question. By and large, the Mexican food in Paris is horrible. When I lived there, I tried almost every Mexican restaurant that was open at the time (2007-2008), and even the expensive joints still served their tacos with Italian white beans and crème fraîche. And you wouldn't believe what they could get away with charging for decent tequila.
Of course, there's no reason that Paris should have decent Mexican food. It's a silly expectation -- there's a Mexican population in Paris, but they're not exactly traveling there from across the border. Paris also doesn't do Peruvian all that well, either.
But I was always on the hunt. After a while, living out of the country, you crave the familiar. At a French supermarket, I bought a beer one time that was marketed to wannabe American frat boys, bragging that it tasted like a shot of tequila and a beer at the same time. It was reprehensible.
So there are some Mexican places in Paris that are decent, like the Hacidenda del Sol group (so I've heard), and Candelaria in the Marais. But those are exceptions. The beacon, for horrible Tex-Mex in Paris, is The Indiana Cafe. Fair warning to any visitors: It's a very popular chain, there are multiple outlines and tourists are suckered in by the minute, even Parisians. Who knows why. Does "Indiana" scream Tex-Mex to you? Does the restaurant's logo, a drawing of an Indian chief's head, have anything to do with Tex-Mex at all? And yet it thrives.
How does French machismo compare to American machismo, as exemplified by your coworkers?
I actually don't think there is machismo in America, unless it's the cowboy type -- the silent, smoking brooder. Machismo requires Latin blood. I'd say I never experienced machismo up close until I worked in a French office; the typical Wall Street gunner has the soul of a coffee filter in comparison.
The key isn't how masculine they are, but how feminine, how vulnerable. Forgive the generalizations here, but so many of the guys I worked with were impulsive, moody, keyed up or sulking -- just never boring. Even the shyest guys had a shadow of lothario somewhere. I found it all very impressive, if not very annoying some times.
Is LCD Soundsystem suing you over the title?
Recently I did a reading at New York and one of the members of LCD Soundsystem came. We were introduced. She said, "I'm here to collect evidence for our lawsuit against you." It was about a full three-second beat before she added, "I'm just kidding." It was the highlight of the night. And then, as a friend pointed out on Facebook, I changed pants.