Travel for the tastebuds

20,000 products at Lafayette Gourmet. I’m a little nostalgic for the old store, across the way. This one is so much more shiny new and theatrical. But it’s growing on me after a couple of years. Village-Lafayette – here you will find the butcher, the baker, the (candlestick) … no let’s say cappuccino maker, the cheese shop, the market gardener, the deli with smoked meats, the fishmonger (le boucher, le crémier, le maraîcher, le charcutier et le poissonnier) and all the other usual appurtenances of French daily life. Plus the restaurants and stalls whipping up a to die for foodie storm before your eyes. And finally the  crème de la crème of all the star French cooks and foodsters – from Alain Ducasse and Eric Kayser to  Pierre Hermé etc. etc.   All in all another very pleasant landing on Planet Foodie Paris – at a veritable temple for the taste-buds as well as one hell of a trip.

Au pays de parfum

Perfume definitely has an abiding presence here in France. It makes for a highly-scented life. This is one thing, thank goodness that doesn’t seem to have gone offshore (ok wine too!) … Happy smelly Sunday everyone!

(PS Apparently over 150 000 bottles of perfume are sold daily in France –  about 1.5 bottles a second – 55 million a year – which still equates to not even a bottle per person surprisingly … or not. The market is said to be suffering under an “avalanche” of new perfumes launched each year, 250 odd, but a dwindling creativity in their making … In other words, it’s the age of mass market smells, malheureusement. The commoner’s nose is not such a demanding one.  Alongside that, small traditional perfumeries are making a comeback, a phenomenon visible on the  parfumerie shelves.)

French Press review

An archaic thing, a press review? I actually love doing them occasionally (in here at Radio France International in Paris) – and no one said a press review can’t be digital. But I love getting my hands on the papers – and in this case the French weeklies – and feeling and thumbing my way through them. Unfortunately this has become increasingly rare over recent weeks. We are no longer delivered Le Monde, Le Figaro and Libération into our pigeonholes.

We do still get the ‘hedbo’s’ – the weekly magazines – thank goodness. (This is short for hebdomadaire, weekly).

I wonder if newspapers will gradually creep their way back again, as books seem to be doing. Probably not in the case of the French press because their readership numbers are simply beleaguered far more so than in the UK or Australia.

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The good ole hack at work … yes folks this is me (he he)

Today the French left-leaning weeklies not surprisingly put the spotlight on the personality clash gripping the country’s ‘gauche’ or left-wing politics, ahead of the final run-off vote for the Socialist Party’s presidential primaries.

L’Obs magazine sports a cover photo of Benoît Hamon, who emerged as a major contender in April’s presidential elections after a surprise win in the first round vote last Sunday (January 22nd). Hamon topped the poll beating previous favourite and former French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, 35 to 31%.

So this is where my audio kicks off. I also do the press review online in web version for RFI’s English language website before heading off for the day – at 7.30am! (After a 3.30 am start). Bonne lecture! Enjoyable reading.

19th century printing press … the idea of a press review does conjure up lovely images like this in my mind … perhaps we will come full circle? Fanciful thinking I know. And probably rose-coloured glasses thinking too as it would probably seem more like slave labour after the era of ZenPads and Ultrabooks

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US road trip: I left my heart in Utah

“Sitting in a forested field alone at night after I set up camp late – with just some distant voices and fire flickers to keep me company – then waking to sun blazing over pines and grasses, turning them into glistening golden hues.”

When I think to when I was last deliciously happy, it was here. And in all the US landscapes encountered on my recent road trip. I so miss them! Nostalgia? Nup. Just true love. When you’re confronted with this kind of nature it leaves a big imprint on the soul. You’re own personal road map. Of meaningful things.

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ON TOP OF THE WORLD … IN FEELING IF NOT PLACE

Reflecting on those landscapes … the wild natural ones, I’m speechless. A rare occurrence. Stilled by the enormity and scale of the beauty I saw … and by my immense longing to return.

I’m talking mostly of my adventures in Canyonland … the Grand Canyon north and south, Bryce, Zion … and hiking and camping out in the wild, just me and my trusty jeep and tent. Sitting in a forested field alone at night having set up camp late – with just some distant voices and fire flickers to keep me company – then waking to sun blazing over pines and grasses, turning them into glistening golden hues.

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MY WAKING VIEW IN THE KAIBAB NATIONAL FOREST … FREE, WILD CAMPING … ALBEIT FROM THE (BEAR) SAFETY OF MY JEEP ON THIS OCCASION

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AND MY WAKING VIEW THE FOLLOWING NIGHT ON THE CANYON’S NORTH RIM … MIND THE POTHOLES!

Or perched a meter from the Canyon’s rim, eating breakfast and coffee cooked up on my Coleman.

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A SURREAL BREAKFAST SPOT … DON’T ROLL OVER!

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BEAM ME UP BREAKFAST (ORGANIC MUSELI, YOGHURT, BREAD, FRUIT  … (THANKYOU TRADER JO’S) ON THE NORTH RIM … BLISSFUL NATURE SOLITUDE

I truly don’t believe there is a more ecstatic feeling, than setting yourself free, unleashing yourself in the natural world in such a way.

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PHALICALLY SPLENDIFEROUS BRYCE CANYON HOODOOS

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HAPPINESS PERSONIIFIED … OUTDOORS AND ACTIVE – MIXING JOGGING WITH PHOTOGRAPHING – IN A NATURAL WONDERLAND OF EXTREME PROPORTIONS

Now just couple of final notes. Yes I know the North Rim is in Arizona and I’ll be returning there soon, in writing as life. But this blog went way off rambling like me. It’s an uncontrollable urge you see.

Clearly these photos are no chefs d’ouevre. These are my Samsung snappies and selfies. Shot all the same with a 16mp camera (I still have to pinch myself to believe that my phone outstrips by far my former 10mp Nikon d80!) 

I’ll be posting some hopefully inspiring galeries soon on my photography blog/page taken with my Nikon D810. A marvel!! So do subscribe to stay in tune … and please come walk with me! There is no better vocation in life. 

TRIP LINKS

And finally some useful links for preparing that trip.

UTAH TOURISM https://www.visitutah.com/

ARIZONA TOURISM  https://www.visitarizona.com/

THE NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE https://www.nps.org/

BRYCE CANYON For Bryce Canyon specifics also naturally the NPS.

THE BRYCE NATIONAL PARK LODGE http://www.brycecanyonforever.com/ This is like something from Daniel Boon. An historic lodging full of vintage ethnic chic. And if it was any closer you’d go over the void in your PJ’s. Sleep walkers (and drunks) watch out! (I’ll be revisiting the lodge in upcoming blogs as well as the thrill of camping out in the wild in National Forest … I’m a woman of extremes. Digital nomad. Back to nature vagrant. Hard yakka solo woman traveler. Hotel fiend).

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The Sweet Life in Flavigny

And I’ve just updated my Flavigny bonbon factory visit with a link to a little video from Burgundy. A chance to practice some French, salivate and ogle up some true French paysans at the same time. Just press on the photo below to watch.

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A bit like Willy Wonka in the chocolate factory, the story of Tamara in the Anis de Flavigny bon bon factory. “A very bon bonbon” – that’s how the jingle goes isn’t it? “Un bien bon bon”… The visit to Flavigny-sur-Ozerain is a sweet, sugar and chocolate-coated one. Quite a contrast coming from the once très bloody battlefields of Alesia … The hilly cité medievale was a key location for Lasse Hallstrom’s film Chocolat in 2000.

This time I’ve come to see, and taste, the famous Anis de Flavigny. Not the hilltop village itself, officially one of the 100 most beautiful villages of France.

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I have a rendezvous with Madame Anis, Catherine Troubat, at the aniseed factory. What I hadn’t realised is that behind the picturesque shopfront (with the quaint bonbon truck parked outside) …  lies another historic Burgundy Abbey. The Abbaye de Flavigny.

The aniseed smell hits us in the face as we open the door on the bonbon boutique. Its shelves implode with sweets and sweet sights – charming old world style boxes of bonbons and other specialty products from France and beyond: Italian Amarelli Liquirizia from Calabria – Pierrot Gourmand sucettes (lollypops) – honey, mustard, miel, pain d’epice, artisan chocolate.

In a second room tasting platters of all the Anis de Flavigny flavours – classical and modern convolutions – are laid out on a table. As we wait for Catherine, I stuff so many in my mouth my cheeks are bulging. And I can no longer tell my rose from reglisse. Far from the connoisseur treatment and much more the glutton – the way to fully appreciate the flavour is to melt them in your mouth two by two to reveal the heart of the essence. A flavour explosion contained deep in each sweet.

I’m so excited to see the new organic range – aniseed, ginger, mint, blackcurrant, tangerine – popping up among the iconic oval tins of little bonbons. The most classical of which have to be the aniseed, violet and rose.

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Today there are also pocket size, pastel boxes of mini or “petit anis” – “no larger than a grain of rice” says Catherine – stacked on the shelves. Her grandfather bought the factory in 1923.

“Visiting from Dijon he fell head over heels in love with the history of the anis and the Benedictine Abbey the factory is located within,” she says leading us out to the crypte des anis. The ancient crypt concealed within the abbey’s golden colonnades dates to Charlemagne’s reign – and is a remnant of the 8th century abbey-church – echoing back to Gallo-Roman style. (History buffs can read more here).

Though we seem a world away from the battlefields of Alesia in the plains below, we’re still entrenched in the Roman history of the area. As is the village of Flavigny itself. You can never get too far away from the Romans in Burgundy! (And thank goodness for that, for without them it would be a very wineless stay).

Caesar set up a hillside camp on the slopes here during his siege of Alesia. The village’s name comes from one of his generals Flavinius, who received a big chunk of hillside land for his bloody battlefield efforts in 52BC. It was first called Flaviniacum. The monks of Flavigny had been churning out bonbons since 1591.

That’s quite an historic sweet!

Their true source dates to Caesar’s days – he apparently took aniseeds with him to help sustain his troops. Flavinius – a great traveller – brought the anis back from Syria. The monks are thought to have replaced the usual almoDSC_3328bnd found in sugared candies of the day with aniseed.

“The sweets are still made with the same 5 century old recipe – using just three ingredients – sugar beet, essential oil of star anise, and one green anise seed,” Catherine says guiding us through the boughs of the factory then up a spiral staircase to the anis production hub.

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Up in the factory the bonbons are taking a shower – cooled down with water to harden each progressive layer of candied sugar added over a 15-day period … Like wrapping layers and layers of robes around an increasingly tubby monk. Only these are far thinner layers.

Placed in traditional copper pans, the bonbons are gradually enrobed in a totally natural dress – free from all artificial colours, flavours, sweeteners and preservatives. 95% of the ingredients and all the packaging comes from France.

Exported all over the world, (a total of 220 million sweets to 35 countries) the bonbons are made in enough flavour scope to cater to cultural differences.

“Americans love the violet flavour,” says Catherine. “Latin’s love the traditional star anise flavour but aniseed doesn’t go down very well in Asia … Asians love the lemon and rose flavours …” (Something I will have to keep in mind before packing my case with bonbon tins later in the year before flying home to Australia via Asia). No doubt ginger, mandarin and orange blossom will work a treat in the Orient too.

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Back downstairs, in the Café des Anis – a lovely wooden den with a French window view onto Flavigny – Catherine introduces us to a host of other taste marvels, from France and abroad.

The Bonnat chocolat – which I know well –the rather exotic Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat, a Vietnamese French hybrid in exquisitely designed packets. The Saigon made chocolate is wrapped in gorgeous Indochine inspired colours and print high on the flavour of oriental voyages.

 

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As I sip on my limonade artisinale – Mojito flavoured and beautifully apple hued – Joseph downs an absinthe. Wow after one small drop, I wish I could join him – but not with such a big day ahead of me!

I love this photo below with the drip caught in motion from the beautiful vintage drink dispenser from the Maison Guy Pontarlier distillery. Of course the absinthe must couple up superbly with the anis de Flavigny, being aniseed flavoured itself.

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The café walls are hemmed in by glass cabinets filled with anis de Flavigny curiosities.  Old signs, boxes and bonbon dispensers.

The Musée des Anis spills over into the neighbouring room – I love particularly the vending machines which were placed in metro and train stations and department stores in the 1950s. (This is when the tins were invented – prior to that the anis were sold in long cardboard tubes – beautifully faded in time into vintage pastel glory)

… And then there’s the love story that underpins the package design. Of the village shepherd and rose-embracing shepherdess he falls in love with. Each of the tins depicts a scene from that somewhat mushy but sweet tale.

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I come away set for a bonbon and chocolate overdose. Catherine kindly presents me with a stack of takeaway goodies – gift packets of the tins and the mini bonbons in myriad flavours. I have to say my preference is still the traditional anis, and the organic ginger, as my pick from the ‘new world’ flavours.

As we exit through the old city door, haybales are doing roly-poly down the equally undulating Auxois countryside. A landscape of pleated hillside pastures, bottle green forest folds and distant plateau. The wafts of anis embalming the village and blowing in the breeze signal rain – according to village ‘elders’. For now we have nothing but blue skies (and a couple of aniseed-plump clouds) hovering above.

Practical Info:

The Anis de Flavigny website with visiting hours and tours: www.anis-flavigny.com

Burgundy Tourism www.burgundy-tourism.com

The Most Beautiful Villages of France www.les-plus-beaux-villages-de-france.org