New South Wales
13 JUn 2018
A local France
I was actually in France last month, and the world’s laziest travel blogger – moi! – must get around to writing that trip up one day. I just happened to be in Cannes when the film festival was on, and that was a busload of fun, for sure!
I returned to France a couple of days ago, and it was a quick and pleasant trip. No passport required, no twenty-four hours on a plane, no zombie hotel check-in.
Just a short drive from Canberra, as it happens.
I’ve discovered the University of the Third Age, a school for seniors, for which I have the requisite entry qualifications, being well into the ninth year of my seventh decade. There are courses on every subject imaginable, taught by unpaid volunteer members, and I’ve taken a few on history and literature, but my heart is really into Photography and travel, where there was one class that stood out. The aptly-named Photography for Travellers, taught by a serious snapper named Rodney.
Well, serious in that he knows what he is talking about. He delivers his material with a smile on his face, and we have a pleasant time of it, which is not necessarily my memory of earlier studies.
My own photography is of the hit-and-miss, point-and-shoot school, and for every photo that is half-way decent, there are a dozen more that get locked away for their own good. It is gold to see something through the eyes of others, and my experience is that if I think I know something about a subject, I know nothing. I hope that my own photography is now visibly improving.
Travel photography is best experienced through travel, and Rodney arranged a lunch at a French restaurant in the nearby town of Bungendore to give us a little hands-on experience.
Bungendore itself is forty minutes drive away along the Federal Highway and Macs Reef Road, or out past the airport, turn left at Queanbeyan and roll through sheep paddocks along the Kings Highway. Count the teddy bears hiding on the trees.
The town is small, historic, and home to some delightful cafes and restaurants, galleries and antique shops. The Bungendore Woodworks alone is worth the trip, where local Australian timber is crafted into items ranging from letter-openers to intricate desks and elegant dining tables.
Le Très Bon, housed in a weatherbeaten old cottage, run by a fair dinkum French chef, and full of atmosphere – including some magical aromas from the kitchen.
On arrival, we were handed berets, a cafe au lait, and ushered into the backroom, where the students were happily murdering their high school French. I felt right at home. In Paris, they wince when I speak, and tell me, mains clapped over sons oreilles, “Please M’sieur, do not speak French!”
It wasn’t all food and fun. First a guest lecturer. Professional landscape photographer Paul Kowalski, whose gallery is just across the street – well worth a look – gave us a talk on photography permissions. This can be an expensive business for a professional, obtaining the necessary licenses and documents, often hundreds of dollars a pop.
Most people just whip out their phone and snap away, but if you have so much as an intention of making money, you need a licence, even if you never sell a sausage.
We were advised to ask permission of chef Christophe, should we snap him at work in the mini-kitchen which was part of the backroom where he runs photogenic cookery classes.
Paul Kowalski also runs photography tours to Australian locations. Small groups, under his personal and sometimes quirky direction. You might be allowed just one shot per location, and that with the rear screen on your camera covered up. Now that’s incentive to get it right!
Le bon vin
Lunch began with an “amuse bouche” – something to entertain the mouth – and a glass of wine. Our choice of Beaujolais or Sauvignon Blanc, both from France.
Our mouth treat turned out to be a grand example of “slow food”. An escargot in garlic sauce. Delicious!
Most of the students chose a dish of six more for entrees, and we may have gone a good way in one sitting to eliminating Bungendore’s snail population.
Other treats were available, with ingredients ranging from goat cheese through caramelised duck to “l’oignon gratinée”.
Christophe’s wife Josephine later complained – on the subject of permissions – that if she had a dollar for every time a diner whipped out their camera to photograph a dish, she would be a rich woman. “But you do!” someone ungraciously commented.
Les mains were served: classic French dishes of lamb ragout, duck confit, Moules Frites, Beef Bourguignon. I had the chef’s cassoulet and it was a mighty dish, served piping hot, with flavours and textures that didn’t just entertain my mouth but partied hard. There was so much I couldn’t finish it. “Un sac de chein, possiblement?” a fellow student offered.
Just desserts to go
For dessert – Crêpes Suzette – a special treat. Christophe prepared them in the mini-kitchen, speaking French, aided by one of the students, and hamming it up for the many cameras. “Une petite photo du chef grand?” I asked. He may have winced a little.
The pans sizzled, the brandy flared, we got our shots, and we ate the results. Oh, my goodness, were they heaven on earth!
Christophe and Josephine also run tours, as we discovered. Gastronomy tours of New Caledonia and Alsace in France. They spoke at some length about the “terroir” of the regions of France, and the various farms and vineyards, meals and people. Sounded grand, and the photographs sold the thing. I would have signed up on the spot if I had any money left after my last trip.
My own travels in Iran, guided by someone who knew the land and the history, tells me that having a tour leader who is at home with the country, on first name terms with the chefs, a connoisseur of the cuisine, would be a life highlight. And maybe the chance to stack on another twenty delicious kilos.
I love France. And French cooking. And the chance to photograph some of rural France that doesn’t involve hurried and harried lost moments off the motorways. I’ve marked this one down as a possiblement.
All told, the lunch was a great success. Quite apart from the food, the words of Paul Kowalski gave me something to chew on. Photography, if done right, needs to be done right. My usual “spray and pray” technique is not the correct path to walk.
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