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

Cold spell Paris

There I was thinking we’d gotten away with it lightly, with such a sunny Paris December .. then bam! Down came the cold … and down came the temperatures, to the coldest in decades. The coldest drawn out spell since the 1940’s according to Le Parisien … in Paris as in Lyon and across half of Europe. It’s been snowing penguins in Istanbul! Istanbul that Mediterranean Bosphorus blue city of copious sunshine and steamy hammams (and granted way more than its fair share of terrorist attacks of late . Yes of course any is too many.)

Even sundrenched Marseille, France’s Med capital where people’s accents implode with bouillabaisse as much as sun rays, is freezing its nuts off. Which brings me to the point of funny sayings about the cold. Topped off by that of a dear friend in OZ who always used to say, “Cold enough to put icicles on a penguin’s dick”. And I’m not normally crude or a great admirer of vulgarity of any kind but I just find this kind of Aussie gutsy, saying things as they are, calling a spade a spade, likeable.

I guess it’s the Australian equivalent of the far more polite (read British … an ancestral thing for us Aussies but far enough away for us to shrug such niceties off – along with layers of clothing), “Cold  enough to give a penguin chills.” 434cffcc-8765-4b6c-a190-1a8910643d28-179-00000019bcbfc5d6_tmp

I will keep those in min5d as I shiver away … There’s no light at the end of the tunnel until January 29th when we take a sudden upturn from minus 5’s and 6’s maxi 1-2 (i.e hovering in the 20 degree Fahrenheit range), towards 10-12 degree days.

On the bright side … and there is one. It’s going to be very sunny. This morning in -5 Celsius temps I took a glorious winter sunbath again with the door just lightly ajar in order to soak up that sun, without risking frostbite or snapfreezimg in the bitter cold wind.

Also I must and do pay a very big thought to the huge suffering this cold snap is causing. How could anyone survive that living in the streets? Thankfully there are some very big hearts out there lending a helping hand to those very much in need.

As to my little video, taken in front of the Louvre on the Quai de Francois Mitterand in my Prague babushka hat. Come Dr Zhivago yes. Well it is always guaranteed to score some looks and comments. One man passing me on the Pont des Arts said smiling “Vous n’auriez pas froid vous” (you won’t go cold) … to which I replied “No Monsieur mais I need one for my entire body.”

Then as I crossed the lights to my office, Bibliothèque Mazarine, a woman exclaimed “Madame Proust!” I played along with it for a few seconds before realising she hadn’t mistaken me for yet another character from a century novel, but a tour guide she and her group were waiting on.

For the video click here!

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Babushka does Paris 

Down home in Hobart

Hobart is my home (and not an American kitchen appliance in this instance). Like an umbilical cord that keeps pulling me in from afar, the tie will never be broken. Yet I have spent half of my life evading Hobart … escaping Tasmania, like an instransigent convict on the run. Planet Ends is my book (completed seeking publisher) about that tug of war between home and away, my love of my deep green island home, yet irascible need to roam. It also explores many universal themes – colonial history, nostalgia, wanderlust, island life and love – and is an ode to and plea for Tasmanian and all other beautiful, wild, but menaced natural spots in the world.

Here are a few small extracts (more to follow) … and a little readability poll! Bon voyage! There is no better vocation in life. At least not for me! And there may indeed be no place like home … such is the paradox of the travel itch and restless soul.

(Header photo thanks to Tourism OZ)

“A gnawing sense of un-belonging comes from staying in Hobart too long. A city whose coat of arms depicts the fourth Earl of Buckinghamshire flanked by the extinct Tasmanian emu and a Forester Kangaroo wrestling under an Esquire’s helmet and wearing garlands of apples.

Before taking leave of absence, I felt compelled to travel around my heart-shaped home and get to know it better. In doing so I was I was hoping I could ease the terrible tension between loving it and wanting to flee it for life. That was the only way I could ever entertain any thought of returning.”

Tamara Thiessen from Planet Ends: Beyond Temptation in Tasmania 

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Ch. 5 Pickled

“Living on an island, the ocean cuts you off from and connects you with the world in one fell swoop. This is where Europe seemed so strange and seductive to me. Nearly every time you go to a border you step into another country. In Australia your feet get wet.

The water’s edge is where I feel most reassured that there is an outside world. It also sharpens the urge to leave. Still I prefer to live with the lifejacket of the ocean in view, than succumb to my dread of heading into the Australian outback thousands of suffocating miles from salvation. Which is why after years of travelling outwards towards the rest of the planet, I am yet to visit the red centre of Australia. The thought alone has me short of breath.

Along with Sydney’s Miller’s Point, Copenhagen’s Nyhavn and Jaffa in Tel Aviv, Battery Battery Point is a place that drenches you in harbour history and the sea. “The village” as locals call it perches over the port like a boatman’s beret keeping a lookout down the river for the anticipated arrival of Napoleon, who never came. The old battery in Princes Park where I do my morning yoga, once used for canon firing practice, is now blissfully peaceful. I have been living here for 18 months, a merry little sea urchin, trawling my toes around the docks every dawn, as close to the edge as possible, my lungs marinating in salt air – a virtual ocean jog.

This has always been one of the most salubrious spots in town. Even when all else around was markedly insalubrious, it was one of the rare zones “placed, as to command the free access of the sea breeze” wrote colonial publisher and editor Henry (Saxelby) Melville in The Hobart Town Magazine in 1834.

Down narrow hilly streets with porthole views of the river, cottages called Colville, Cromwell and Barton cluster around historic pubs with salt in their pores. One renowned sea-swilling spot is the Shipwright’s Arms, “Your port of call in Hobart”. Shippies is proud to be a bastion of old-time conviviality, offering “no pokies, no TAB betting, no Keno lottery, no live music, no tofu and no bok choy.” This leaves little else to do other than drink, and engage in rowdy conversation, in the footsteps of our forebears.”

Tamara Thiessen from Planet Ends: Beyond Temptation in Tasmania

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Battery Point (there’s also one in California), was once home to humble little sailors … but now its real estate values sail high. None more so than in Napoleon Street (he never did arrive but was heartily expected — as locals kept a lookout down the river).

Planet Ends: Beyond Temptation in Tasmania

So you thought Armageddon was the end of the world right? Wrong! Have you heard of the island of Tasmania?

I have spent two decades evading the destiny of staying in Tasmania ‘for the term of my natural life’ … like the 18th and 19th century balled and chained convicts.

My 18 year in the making book on my island home is now in the hands of the literary Gods and Goddesses, in Australia.

Meantime I have decided to publish some extracts over coming weeks, to test the market … to test your interest! To engage with you.

Part travel literature, part memoir, a non-fiction narrative, Planet Ends: Beyond Temptation in Tasmania is full of history, humour, ‘islomania’ observations, a weird but wonderful love story, and most of all tells the tale of my struggle with my restless soul and isolation id, (alongside clearly my take on Tasmania).

Born on an island at the end of the world, I left ‘Tassie’ for France in 1996 and have been coming and going constantly since, in a life of global orbiting.

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The title Planet Ends comes as you can see from my mock up cover, from a graffitied street sign I saw in Hobart in 1995. It summed everything I was feeling at the time of the need to escape Tasmania … even if I was rather crazily also yearning my return (a paradox which endures today).

The book examines my relationship with my ‘island prison’ in a totally whimsical and no doubt whacky way, as well as many universal themes … island life, travel as an itch and an education, nostalgia, nature conservation, natural history, European and Aboriginal history, aviation history. (Yes it takes a bit of the provincial piss but all in good jest, as much as Bill Bryson decried Des Moines yet never stops returning … besides the provinces exist everywhere here too in Paris).

It also implodes with fascinating historical anecdotes and literary allusions – from explorers and writers who ventured Tasmania’s way – and delves endlessly into the magnetic attraction of wanderlust, and the life-changing power of travel.

Like all my writing it is an invitation to roam, whether you were born in the Big Apple or the little one … on my heart-shaped ‘Apple Isle’.

That which it is most reverent about is Tasmania’s ever-menaced nature. In my travels I have seen some incredibly beautiful places. Tasmania is way up there among the biodiversity gems, but nothing has changed in the 18 years since I first did my tour of Tasmania with the aim of writing this book … short-sighted natural destruction continues. Which is why Bloomsbury seriously considered it for their natural history list last year before knocking it on the literary head for the oddest of reasons.

Meanwhile Tassie has become the arty isle too … there is so much positive and so much beauty in the place.

My book ends “on an island off and island of an island” (guess? being?) … just a couple of years back, still pondering all these island themes, and thanking my lucky stars for my travelling freedom.

I’ll start with just one or two preliminary chunks, from early chapters, to set the scene without giving too much away … Then I’ll follow up with a few more (I hope you can hang in there!), as the main characters develop (moi TT and the mystery until published unless you’re clever enough to guess, other half of the travel writing duo, let’s just call him VV) … and the Tassie tripping takes off.

Please if you so wish reply to my little poll. At whatever stage … after snippet 1, 2, 3 etc. depending on how compelling I may or may not be. I realise there may be not enough writing here for you to decide, but I’ll  work on you in time … if I don’t win you over instantly.

Clearly you have to love more than hate your end of the world home to spend half your life writing about it … even from afar. Yes distance makes the heart grow stronger, and sooner than later like all good Tasmanians (and others) dispersed over the globe, I will return. The lucky exile. And a privileged travelling life.

Please do share my posts on Facebook and other social media if you feel you have friends who would enjoy this read. I so hope to muster up the publishing might to go forth and get it into print … or digitally alive, if I’m not signed up soon with a traditional publisher.

Thank you all, merci, danke, terima kasih, tak, grazia, gracias. You can also join me on my Facebook page Balades With Tamara (do like and share the page too please!) and on Instagram.

(From the Preface)

Geography pretty much sealed Tasmania’s fate as the underdog. Though immense in terms of most islands, bigger than Sri Lanka, much the same size as Ireland and almost twice that of Switzerland (which is a kind of island isn’t it?), it represents a mere one percent of the Australian land mass.

When Europeans first sighted its shores in 1642, they presumed it belonged to either continental Australia or to Antarctica, for they couldn’t imagine anything more isolated than that existed. All early documentary mentions of it classified it as part of the polar frontiers. In later maritime charts, based on those of Captain Cook, it appeared as a long protuberance from the mainland, “shaped like a pig’s snout”.

It was Cook’s countrymen, explorers Matthew Flinders and George Bass, who categorically proved Tasmania was an island by circumnavigating it in 1798. It’s debatable whether they actually helped put Tasmania’ on the map or take it off, by starting a long trend of alienating observations.

“Judging from appearances, the west coast of Van Diemen’s Land is as dreary, and as inhospitable a shore, as has yet been discovered,” Flinder”s wrote in his journal.

(From Ch.1 Ticket of Leave)

Nemo sibi nascitur, “No man is born unto himself an island”, we were told ad nauseam at The Friends’ School in Hobart. But the motto seemed totally out of touch with the reality into which we were born.

8,500 kilometres west of Tasmania is Patagonia, the Antarctic Shelf lies 5,500 kilometres south. Our nearest neighbour is the biggest island in the world, yet smallest and most isolated continent. All this provides one with sufficient reason to feel out on a limb.

In his Voyage autour du monde in 1868, the Marquis Ludovic de Beauvoir announced Hobart Town as “the nearest to the South Pole after Patagonia and Te Waipounamu”, the latter being the Maori expression for New Zealand’s South Island.

Naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace judged the account “a gossiping journal”, “often amusing and spirited, but of little permanent value (… due to) the usual exaggerations of a novice in the tropics”.

The young Frenchman did not for a second however overstate Tasmania’s isolation.

In my teens, friends and I would sit for hours with our legs dangling over the docks, eyes glued to the horizon, wondering what lay beyond. This undoubtedly sharpened my incorrigible need to escape, in a similar manner that staring from a grocers’ window over the English port of Staithes drove Captain Cook to sea.

As was the case for the 18th century explorer, staying at home seemed to offer me as much liberty as a coffin, and as little living experience.

(From Ch.3 Flotsam & Jetsam)

These persons are the travelling species. The pleasures of travel need no reiteration. But when the impulse is so imperious that it amounts to a spiritual necessity, then travel must rank with the more serious forms of endeavour.

Robert Byron, First Russia, Then Tibet: Travels through a Changing World, 1933
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Hobart’s nautical environs titillate the travel itch. Tucked within a swirling mass of clouds and marble black mountain silhouette, the city lies deep in the Derwent River like Jonah in the whale’s belly. Along the riverbanks suburbs slippery slide down part-forested hills to its eastern and western shores.

The 19 kilometres between the port and the Tasman Sea does little to dull the raw maritime feel. Life here is at times like that on the deck of a ship – windy, thalassic and unruly. I can hear Heave away! Haul a-way and other farewell shanties echoing around the masted wharves.

Several months before my planned tour of Tasmania, I attend a readers and writers festival at the Arts Centre on Salamanca Place. The salty sandstone strip of Georgian warehouses is awash with seafaring history.

In the 1840s the air was thick with the pungent smell of whale blubber oil and clanks of rolling barrels and leg-irons. Dozens of foreign ships stopped over here while hunting Southern Right Whales. They were so populous one colonial governor apparently complained that their moans and belching kept him awake at night, while small vessels were advised to stick to the shores to avoid being scuttled by the 12 to 15 meter long creatures.

The theme of the festival ‘Border Crossings’ is unbelievably close to home. Assailed by signposts to the world, I sit through the weeklong event on the edge of my chair, my traveller’s erogenous zone tickled beyond bearable limits by allusions to far-off places.

Even rather horrid places sounded alluring, simply because they were foreign.

It could have been deeply unsettling to hear about other writer’s intrepid ventures into warzones, and intriguing cities such as Bucharest and Belgrade, when I was about to head off to Devonport on Tasmania’s northwest coast.

Yet how can one sense the wonders of the outside world without having a mundane yardstick at hand with which to compare them? Perhaps overseas travel even makes residents of Devonport acutely aware of the wonders back home.

“After Rome, everything seems wonderful,” enthused French writer André Gide. For otjhers the effect is precisely the reverse. I belieuve hit was Jan Morris who wrote that in the footsteps of Rome everything else appeared ugly.

Autumn in Perigueux

It was outstanding the morning sun at the Perigueux cathedral. Pouring inside and out. As I shuffled through those glorious blazing-hued leaves, I made the most of knowing this would almost be my very last occasion to do so (and perhaps to soak up the sun) for sometime. I will post a photo gallery of my weekend in Perigueux to come. Thank you for joining me on my peregrinations. Tamara