Are there ANY bad restaurants in France?

 

Why, yes! Well, according to Alexander McCall Smith in his latest Paul Stuart novel, The Second-Worst Restaurant in France. (I still find it hard to suspend disbelief that France could have a terrible restaurant. Hence the appeal of Smith’s great title!)

But this book was delicious enough to make up for the book’s restaurant that’s being run into the ground by a restauranter-hopeful named Claude.

It reminded me of how much I love to read. More than that, though, it also appealed to my former self that used to work in the restaurant biz, and loved shows like Restaurant Impossible and Kitchen Nightmares back when I had access to cable in a non-rural, non-frontier locale. This book is a great literary version of that.

But, more than that, I found that the side character of Chloe (Paul’s mysterious and unconventional cousin) upholds what Alexander McCall Smith does best–using the main character to develop secondary characters that are just as interesting, if not more so, than the main character. And, without giving away too much, I also related to the character of Hugo–a sensitive individual trying to create his own life based on his ideals and passions. During the course of his journey, he’s aided by Paul in fulfilling these dreams. And I can really relate to Hugo at his stage in life, even though he’s a lot younger.

(This review contains spoilers!)

This is where I struggled with the book. I love the works of Alexander McCall Smith that I’ve read but my own life development stage and mindset as I enter middle age sometimes made The Second-Worst Restaurant in France an emotionally fraught read. And, boy, did I have bias in spades that was hard to put aside while I read the book that I won via a Goodreads giveaway hosted by the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.

But that’s also the great thing about reading. It’s just you and the book and the characters that feel real enough to debate with in the privacy of your own mind and feelings.

As most writers will agree. Especially when you find out that Paul Stuart can’t work in his apartment where, for some reason, his girlfriend has decided to bring her noisy two cats for a staycation at his apartment, even though she has a flat of her own.

Anyone who’s ever had cats would be like “why on earth would she do that?” Naturally, the cats complain a lot to Paul about the situation, but he’s got a book to write, and eventually has to relocate his writing space into another apartment that Chloe offers him use of.

Poor Paul.

But the apartment doesn’t suit him either, as there are a bevy of young people upstairs doing what they do best–making sure everyone knows they are there with lots of loud music. 

And poor Paul ends up in a silly man-predicament with the younger woman, where he swears the interaction they have in the store is “innocent” to his girlfriend Gloria, who witnesses the weird olive-feeding interaction that somehow gets mistaken for a kiss. Let’s hear it, everyone: a big, resounding “Innocent, my a**!” *laugh*

So, poor, poor Paul has to pack up and relocate to the French countryside to finish his book that he doesn’t even want to write, but in between lecturing his experienced, worldly secret agent cousin about how to act and think, and nurturing poor, belittled, sensitive, chef-hopeful Hugo in fulfilling his cooking-promise, he realizes he doesn’t want to write the book he was working on, about the philosophy of food, and he also realizes that nobody will want to read it, either, despite the fact that his influential editor/girlfriend Gloria has pulled strings and gotten a publisher to back it.

So, wonderfully understanding and supportive Gloria arranges a whole other wonderful project for Paul to undertake, all the pieces fall into place, and everything is happily ever after–all thanks to Paul, presumably, not Gloria and Chloe (who comes to the aid of a local mother-to-be in an unconventional and fascinating way)–in the idyllic French countryside villa that I, and a million other hardworking writers who are also working day jobs (like me) and (unlike me) also trying to raise kids and maintain romantic relationships, are probably thinking that poor Paul is anything but poor.

But it’s proof positive that a main character doesn’t have to be likeable in order for you to fully engage with a book. And that’s why I like books so much. So much diversity there that gets left out of movies.

And, despite my mixed critique of Alexander McCall Smith’s book (which, again, I liked so much I read it twice!); yes, I’m a fan! I would definitely read more of the Paul Stuart series, including his first book in the series, and others. It comes down to the writing, which is, as always with Smith, so good!

And the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is fabulous, of course! Visit Alexander McCall Smith and discover his fantastic writing and compelling characters for yourself, here: https://www.alexandermccallsmith.com/.

 

It’s National Pig Day…

…and the Year of the Pig!

Glad you could come celebrate this wonderful animal…get into the pig love spirit by checking out the links below.

First draw a pig (as per the instructions) then compare your pig to the results: http://www.peopleconnectinstitute.com/client/images/pig.pdf

Learn about the traits of people who were born in the Year of the Pig: https://www.yourchineseastrology.com/zodiac/pig-personality/

And, even if you’re not a teacher, visit this wonderfully compassionate link that Peta created about the amazing nature of pigs: https://www.peta.org/teachkind/lesson-plans-activities/year-of-the-pig-classroom-ideas/

Have you fallen in love yet? (If you need any additional persuasion, re-read Charlotte’s Web or watch the movie Babe.)

Adopt a rescued pig from a pig/farm sanctuary, or make a donation/sponsor an animal if you don’t have the room.

https://happytrailsfarm.org/category/meet-the-animals/piggies/

http://www.pigplacementnetwork.org/

https://bestfriends.org/adopt/adopt-our-sanctuary/pigs

https://www.farmsanctuary.org/

 

 

An Open Letter to Children (& Young Adults)

 

I am sorry that you have to follow so many rules and restrictions that may feel onerous to you as kids with lots of natural energy. Some of them I agree with, like not hitting or bullying, or even not being mean to yourself. I would not want any one of you to get hurt, even though you are just being kids and playing around, or feel bad about yourself because of what someone else did or said (including a teacher or a grownup). Some I like, like the indoor voices rule, as a means of self-preservation, as my ears ring at the end of the day from all the noise, even though I prefer a noisy, chatter-filled and laughter-filled classroom. Even as a substitute teacher, I want you to feel safe and respected, and if that means this challenger of the established order has to enforce the school rules, so be it.

I want to tell you to hang in there. Soon you’ll be a grownup too, and you will have the choice not to live by any of those rules and restrictions. You won’t have to walk in a “Four-S” line (for those of you who don’t know, it’s “Silent, Smiling, Still, Straight”). As one of us adults, you’ll have the perfect right to walk side-by-side and take up whole sidewalks with all your friends. Even on narrow sidewalks, even if it means pushing someone (walking single file, or by themselves) into traffic, so that you don’t have to be inconvenienced with walking single file, or interrupting the conversation with your friends. Although I would imagine the sounds of tires squealing or large metal vehicles crashing into each other to avoid the person you just pushed into traffic might also be a rude disruption to your conversation.

Speaking of conversations, you can forget all about that silly “indoor voices” rule. You can talk as loud as you want, wherever and whenever you want. In restaurants, in malls, in movie theatres, in libraries, at presentations or lectures, during plays or other performances, at zoos, and in wildlife areas.  Animals, especially, love it when you yell at them, at maximum volume. And, even better, you can talk when others are talking. And, when you get bored or tired of talking, you can get on your phone at any time you want. Even in we grownups’ version of school, the workplace.

You’ll also have the perfect right to throw a temper tantrum if you don’t get the flavor of drink that you wanted, or the food that you wanted to eat. Even better, we adults can ask to speak to the manager if our white chocolate mocha came without whipped cream and probably get a free drink out of it, or some other reward for complaining about the food or drink we ended up with.

Even though it’s against the law, you as an adult can get away with throwing trash wherever you pretty much want to. You can also leave messes in restaurants, in malls, in public bathrooms, in landfills, in the ocean and waterways, and all over in nature and the outdoors, if you want to, because “someone’s getting paid to clean it all up.”

And let’s talk about destroying property. Largely, us grownups have gotten a free pass on that as well. For thousands of years, actually. And not just a desk, or someone else’s work. A whole planet. Especially if you’re a big corporation. Yes, I’m talking about pollution, pesticides, and any of the million other ways we are “allowed” to destroy the environment, resulting in irreparable species loss, and point-of-no-return climate change.

So, kids, you, too,  will soon be a grownup, faster than your family wants, as time flies faster and faster for us when we get old. I only hope that you don’t follow our example, that you continue to make “good choices”, as they say in some schools, and that you become a better grownup than many of us that are currently out there, right now.

And, I am so, so sorry we’ve left such a mess for you to clean up, and have significantly destroyed the world that you are to inherit. I tried to make good choices, myself: using eco-friendly products, not using pesticides, cleaning up after myself, diligently recycling, eating a largely vegetarian diet and avoiding foods with GMOs. I don’t fish or hunt, but I do continue to drive my car. 

I only hope that you’re able to fix all of us grownups’ bad choices. Because, the way things are going, you won’t even be able to get paid for cleaning up the mess we grownups have left behind.

I’m not asking for forgiveness, or even that you accept my apology. Because no matter what kind of grownup that’s out there, we are all hoping you will be the generation that can fix the damage we’ve done to the world. Maybe that’s why we are so hard on you. And why there are so many rules–we grownups are trying to fix our own mistakes, and you kids have to bear the brunt and the burden of our bad choices.

From what I’ve seen of kids today (like kids suing the federal government over climate change), I have no doubt that any choice you make will be better than any we’ve made over the past tens of thousands of years.

Go out and take back your world. Make it into the world that you want to live in. Demand the education and the school that you want for yourself. It won’t be easy, but you also don’t have to wait to be a grownup to create the world you want to live in. You don’t need anyone’s permission but your own to begin the process. It will be tough to change the system, and overthrow the established order (don’t give up!). But do it with kindness and heart and compassion and respect and love. Because, as a kid, those are your strengths.