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Keith Austin: When the world is your lobster Stories from a former Travel Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.

Fete de la Musique, wine and cassoulet ...

FRANCE | Tuesday, 23 June 2009 | Views [993]

* My quest to make cassoulet here in Paris has to be deemed a failure. While expat Australian author John Baxter, who has lived here for 20 years, might have been a bit of a purist for insisting that cassoulet had to be cooked in a wood-fired oven he was most certainly on the money in the general sense. (By the way, if you can get hold of Baxter’s book Immoveable Feast, do; it’s hideously well written, witty, and a food lover’s dream quest.)

I have made a cassoulet, and a damn good one at that, but it was at Popsi Bubblehead’s sister’s place down south in the Lozere. We gathered together all the ingredients and, voila, 18 hours later there it was.

Sadly the two-ring electric hob here isn’t up to it, even with the assistance of the electric oven which will take a very small chicken at most. And even then you have to keep turning the thing because only three of the four heating elements work and it’s the only way to give it an even tan.

In the Lozere we even had to buy a new casserole dish to fit all the ingredients – it’s not really a dish you can whip up for two. Indeed, we fed four adults and two teenage boys (second helpings all round) and still had enough left over to do it all again.

Here in the Marais we could feed that many only by pretending it was a relay race.

* The Marais, by the way, went off like a frog in a sock last night (June 21). It was the annual fete de musique and the place was packed. It was a bit of a shock to tell the truth as I wasn’t expecting it. Popsi Bubblehead was off visiting family in the UK and I was planning another quiet and tragic night in watching old Man From Uncle movies when a new American friend and her daughter mentioned it.

We three had met up at the beautiful Place des Vosges in the morning and were on our way to a Sunday morning market not far from here at the Bastille – a huge thing that, somehow, we have manage to miss in 5 months of living here.

The market, by the way, is terrific. We have been doing most of our daily shopping at the two small supermarkets nearby but this was an eye-opener. Churros, chickens, chops, cheval stalls, wonderful wet fish and all manner of mushrooms, herbs, veggies, cheeses, olives, saucissons ... it was delightful.

I was also introduced to what I’d like to think of as the Lucky Dip Vino Collapso stall. This is a stall which gets, I suppose, collections of wine from deceased estates and the like. There are wines priced from reasonable up to “whoa!’ but there is also a selection in boxes marked up at 2 and 5 euros.

As American Carole explained, you just have to take pot luck. She knew people who had bought 20-year-old wines from there for 2 euro only to find that they tasted like vinegar but that on other occasions they had hit the jackpot.

So, you guessed it, I came away with a 5 euro bottle of Chateau Gontier, a “Premier Cotes de Blaye ... mis en bouteille au chateau” and dated 1996. It was the first one I picked up and it was 13 years old. The last time I drank anything that old it was a scotch.

What’s it like? We’ll have to wait until Popsi Bubblehead gets back. I’m not attempting this stuff without someone around to call the ambulance.

* Yes, the Marais and surrounding areas went off. Seems this happens every June; bands, DJs, and various other musical acts just head out into the streets and start playing. I passed one band who’d set up on a street corner who were bashing out a passable version of Riders on the Storm; there were samba bands, rock bands, a huge DJ-led street party in the central Marais that reminded me of Sydney’s Mardi Gras without the Straights; an a capella group performed wonderfully in a side street; and a reggae band got the crowd going in the upper Marais reaches near Temple.

An idea for Sydney perhaps?

The only downside to the night was the number of bands with bongo drummers. I’m sorry but it all sounds the same to me and after the first 45 minutes or so of bong-bong-bongoing I always want to take a knife to their skins.

The group playing in the square at the front of the Hotel de Ville earlier in the evening was a case in point. On and on and one and ...

Still, it does fulfill one very important social function: it gives white hippy-dippy chicks who can’t dance somewhere to throw themselves about.

Tags: bastille, bongo drums, cassoulet, fete de la musique, hotel de ville, lozere, marais, market, paris, wine

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