08 September, 2011

Of confluences

The following has been written by our guest on Malua.   Mark & Sue. Lyon is a city nestled at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers in the Rhone-Alpes department. It is a small and lovely city of warm pastel hues, old churches, a rich silk industry heritage, its buildings climbing from the river up the surrounding hills. Lyon is known for many things, particularly for food. In this wonderful country with its food obsession, Lyon is the epicentre.

We are on a boat with Harry and Denny. Our presence in Lyon emanates from one of many intersections with these dear friends, going back to our original meeting at UNE (University of New England) circa 1972.

Harry and Denny converged on Armidale from South Africa, Suzie and Mark from Apollo Bay and Sydney respectively. There began a friendship that has endured 40 odd years. By way of South Africa, Sydney as an emigration destination for H and D, and our respective journeys with jobs, kids and other life events in different places and over time, we have remained closely connected. Recent convergences at Malua, after which our host boat is named, were the catalyst for us getting together

All of this history found a new stage when we met H and D at Lyon Part Dieu station at the end of a long day’s commute from London via Paris.

Our path then takes us to Restaurant Georges, a Lyon institution. Despite its vastness, Georges is an almost perfect embodiment of the great tradition of the French brasserie, Waiters in white, service at its best, boudin noir jostling with lamb and duck as our mains arrive. Only the surprise inclusion of snails in a fish dish creates any discomfort. Georges’ own label beer, Sancerre and Crozes Hermitage complete the experience.

The Saturday riverside market in Lyon provides a wonderful array of cheeses, many from the local district, meats, fresh and cured, fish and crustacea, fruit and vegetables, fois gras, wines and other delicacies. At that point of the weekend it seemed likely to be the pivotal experience of our visit.

Pivotal in that experience was the search for the famed Bresse chicken. Unrivalled elsewhere. Harry was on a mission and after several false starts, found THE BRESSE PLACE. The bouchier offered a range for selection, Harry chose the perfect chook, and was then asked whether he wanted the head on or off. Off was the decision. The chicken was then prepared for sale, head off, organs removed and cleansed than returned with the chick for wrapping and sale. All for 34 Euro. That’s a lot of money for a chook. The reason for this investment was to marry the chicken with preserved truffles purchased in Macon. Days later this marriage took place but that’s another story.

This was enriched by a visit to the Parc de Tete d’Or near the Museum of Contemporary Art, a very tranquil park containing the Lyon zoo.

Though the Saturday market experience reduced one of our members to tears however, it paled against our visit to the Paul Bocuse Les Halles markets on Sunday morning. This market is different from the riverside one by virtue of its quality and diversity and particularly due to the eating experiences available in the market. Fois Gras restaurants, local people eating freshly shucked oysters with a small glass of pastis or wine, a large pan of paella being cooked for takeaway, with large side pans producing some of the components including grenouilles (frogs legs) and prawns. All in all, a wonderful, evocative sensory experience!

And helped by the insight provided by our friends, we observed first and second hand the French approach to customer service – their focus is only on the person being served, not allowing distractions for others in the queue (who will find their time in focus) nor anything else. All this is very different from our Australian experience.
So as rivers and friends find their confluence, here is a poem to celebrate the experience . . .

Confluence Lyon
A fusion of perspex, steel and timber. Colours and textures.
A coming together of truffles, rosemary and thyme.
Poulet Bresse and butter. Juxtaposition of modern and mediaeval.
Glass reflecting and intriguing.
Desperate consumers, shoppers teeming – later, sheltering, teeming rain.
Tranquil gardens, cycling, jogging in train en famille.
Back on board, sharing the market spoils. Making memories.
Swans sail by in pairs. Partners forever.

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