Paris, the city of lights. Also, the city where poverty and misery reign in Orwell’s slums. They are “a gathering-place for eccentric people- people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and given up trying to be normal and decent. Poverty frees them from ordinary standards of behavior, just as money frees people from work. Some… lived lives that were curious beyond words.” Orwell’s earlier life was desolate, desperate, and famished. There were days he went without food, scouring for sous to buy bread. This is a Paris without the violent beauty of Henry Miller’s prose. Instead, a languishing tumble that has him washing dishes as a plongeur at a fancy hotel. “A plongeur is a slave, and a wasted slave, doing stupid and largely unnecessary work.” The hours are relentless, exhausting, and petty politics reign (described as an “elaborate caste system”). There are some horrible members in the cast, none sugarcoated or given a doublespeak nobility. The book feels as onerous and depressing to read as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. As for the eating conditions behind the scenes at the restaurants, I ate a lot of French food on my recent trip to Paris. “I imagine that the customers at the Hotel X were especially easy to swindle, for they were mostly Americans,” Orwell wrote. Gullible Amer- wait, that’s me.