Paris to the Pyrenees: David Downie Eats His Way Down the Way of St. James, Interview by Elatia Harris

By Monday, April 22, 2013 Permalink 0


Left: Cross with Rocks, copyright Alison Harris.
Right: Forest Cathedral, copyright Alison Harris


Interview by Elatia Harris

Their 50th birthdays in sight, the acclaimed travel and food writer David Downie, and his wife, the photographer Alison Harris, decided that trekking from Paris to Spain, would be just the thing. They are based in Paris, so the Way of St. James, for a millennium one of the world’s most celebrated pilgrimage routes, was right at their back door. Neither Alison nor David is religious — the classical pilgrimage experience was not what they were seeking. What were they seeking? Renewal, changed perspectives. Perhaps to test themselves, over 72 days and 1100 km of — at times — very rough terrain. And thereby hangs a tale.

Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of St. Jameslaunches this week. Scroll to the end to see book tour information. Permission to post on TRE the superb photos from the book was granted by Alison Harris.


ELATIA HARRIS: There has been a lot in the news lately on pilgrimage, however one understands the phenomenon. People who do it talk about needing to lose their routine and find themselves. Most set out alone, meeting others en route. You and Alison started together.

DAVID DOWNIE: Our choice to walk together happened organically. I had planned to do this on my own. Alison came along to keep me out of trouble. If you ask her, she’s likely to say it was her idea about 25 years ago, when she suggested we do something similar.

EH: Readers cannot but wonder how they would hold up, in these circumstances. I pictured a long leisurely walk through a French countryside movie. Cows, chateaux…oh, perhaps a few mildly strenuous stints.  I was so wrong. This was a test of all your combined resources. It would be for any couple. 72 days of togetherness and real physical hardship. And you had already spent years collaborating on your books.

DD: Like some old couples, we have merged in mind and spirit — if such a thing exists — while remaining very different people, and very pig-headedly independent. So, while we were together on the pilgrimage, we were often apart both in our mental spheres and physically. Alison stopped constantly, ran ahead, took detours, disappeared, got lost—often, though not always, in pursuit of a photograph. She probably walked twice as many miles as I did. By the end of the pilgrimage, my regard for her had only deepened. I can’t speak for her, of course.


And here are the winners of the 6 Kuhn Rikon knives at our Expat Expo drawing

By Tuesday, October 4, 2011 Permalink 0

by Jonell Galloway

Husband Peter and I and Rosa Mayland, author of our column “Rosa’s Musings,” had a great time at the Expat Expo Geneva on Sunday. It’s a great way to make contacts in Geneva.

Jonell Galloway at The Rambling Epicure’s stand at Expat Expo Geneva 2011


We had a drawing for 6 red polka-dot Kuhn Rikon knives.


Kuhn Rikon Knives Drawing, The Rambling Epicure, Expat Expo Geneva

Here are the winners:

Paula Davies-Smith
M. Rowe
Peter Zornow
Alison Farley
Michelle Arevalo-Carpenter

Congratulations. You are now the proud owner of knives made by one of the most reputable brands of cookware in the world, and they’re made in Switzerland!

Related articles



David Downie: Gallette, Italian Riviera Sea Biscuits

By Tuesday, September 27, 2011 Permalink 0

by David Downie

gallette del marinaio, sea biscuits, panificio maccarini

Everyone knows about the focaccia of Genoa and the Italian Riviera. But who remembers the region’s hardtack?

Sea biscuits: those hard, dry crackers that sailors would take with them on long journeys, because normal bread got moldy within days?
In Italian, sea biscuits are called “gallette.” The same word is used for the surf-worn, flattened stones you find on beaches. That’s because sea biscuits look very much like those stones, with pock marks.

There used to be hundreds of bakeries up and down the coast of Italy, and in America too, that baked sea biscuits. Now only a handful continue the tradition, most of them in Liguria, and only one makes gallette in the old-fashioned way, meaning the way they were made in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


News from David Downie: Paris, Paris on 3QD and The Little Book That Could

By Monday, August 8, 2011 Permalink 0

by David Downie

Writer-chef-explorer extraordinaire Elatia Harris — no relation to my wife Alison Harris — interviewed me for a great website I did not formerly know, the 3 Quarks Daily.

It’s always jarring to be on the other side of the mike — or keyboard. I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews over the last 20-odd years. I’ve given a few, too. Of them, this is outstandingly good (not because I’m such a fascinating person, but because Elatia is such a good interviewer and writer).

Here’s the opening paragraph:

In 1986, San Francisco-born David Downie, a scholar and multilingual translator, moved to Paris, into a real garret — a maid’s room, in fact — to write himself into another way of life. Fresh from Milan, his marriage to a Milanese finished, he was still young enough for years more of getting it right. A quarter century later, his authority on matters Parisian is acknowledged by Jan Morris, Diane Johnson, and Mavis Gallant, to name only a few illustrious admirers.

Happily the interview is also about Alison and includes many fine photos from Rome, Paris and elsewhere.

Photos such as this one:

Much to my surprise and delight, The New Yorker picked up the interview. The power of new media is startling.

Speaking of which, Paris, Paris is a surprise bestseller. It was released on April 5 and in under four months has gone through four print runs… This is astonishing, given the publicity budget (budget? what budget?) and the not-dumbed-down nature of the book.

Thanks to all of you for buying so many copies, and telling your friends! Merci mille fois…


David Downie: Chartres: Sacred and Profane

By Wednesday, July 20, 2011 Permalink 0

by David Downie

Last weekend my travel feature on the cathedral and lively town of Chartres ran in the San Francisco Sunday Chronicle Travel section — the cover story. This was the first time I’d written anything for the Chron since 2007. I was a regular contributor from the late 1980s until then, but somehow, after John Flinn left as editor, things went quiet. I had 6 books to write — three Terroir Guides, a thriller, a history of the American Academy in Rome, a book about Rome’s quiet corners… and Hit the Road, Jacques, about our 750-mile trek across France… a book my agent is currently showing to editors in New York… So, there wasn’t much time for magazine and newspaper work.

I’m happy to say that the affable “new” travel editor, Spud Hilton, in the saddle for the last few years, was glad to have me contribute again to the section. I hope this is the first of many pieces.

Back to Chartres and a teaser, the first few lines of the story, and a link. Photos are included and, believe or not, I took them. The par-blind photographer.

The voices of vacationers partying at cafés faded as I left Chartres’ picture-postcard main square and entered the dusky nave of the cathedral. Blinking until my eyes adjusted, I stared up at dozens of jewel-like stained glass windows glowing an otherworldly blue. READ FULL ARTICLE