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Call of the wild in wine country 2017/09/22 Dijon, Burgundy

Brame des cerfs / Bell of deer
The landscape has a feminine silhouette, a small rise between dark, curving thighs. The air is sweet and cold. Silence is punctuated by the high, round sound of owls and the deep bell of the deer. The stag with the deepest, strongest bell will be chosen by the does. Bellows, roars and staccato grunts sound from near and far. Brame, bell, mating call. Stars centred over the valley take the form of a running deer. One of the stars drifts away to the right... a satellite. Still the star deer was running, and the Milky Way spilling light into the falling night.

Travelling mostly among strangers since August, it's special to be welcomed by a dear friend in her family home. Besides my dad, Sophie was my only visitor from Europe to Sydney, so it's a joy to return the favour and visit her in France.


On my first day S. proudly showed me around her town of Dijon. Owls are recurring emblem, reputed to bring creative inspiration. Many of the buildings in the historic centre date back to the peak of the Duchy of Burgundy – around 1450. The palatial city council houses a museum of religious and royal art from this medieval period of great wealth. Here we visited the tomb of the Dukes, featuring life-sized sculptures of two Dukes and a Duchess lying supine. White lions at their feet symbolise resurrection. Angels with golden wings stand at their heads. Their marble biers are supported by an army of 'pleurants' – crying monks.

When our feet were sore from walking, we did yoga on the roof of the family's beautiful apartment building. Its tall, antique windows open over a lush, circular park with a fountain. Ornate furniture and other family heirlooms crowd the former home of Grand-mere. This is elegant apartment living, complete with a courtyard, attic and stone wine cellar.

Even in this city centre home, a strong connection with the land is held through French cuisine. Mere D. collects tree flowers to deep fry, sloes for jam, preserves the meat of wild boar in terrines. She can even do a clever thing with dandelions. 'Dandelion' comes from the French 'dent de lion' – 'lion's tooth'. The recipe for the flower jelly requires removal of all the golden petals... quite a meditation. The serrated leaves are good for salad. Pere D. cooks pears from his mothers garden in a black currant liqueur, ages local wines in the cellar.

On our day tour of the vineyards I picked some grapes to offer to Bacchus/Dionysus the god of wine and dancing. The region is rich in world-famous wines, and a network of abbeys and convents maintain centuries old traditions of gourmet cheeses and other delicious produce. Their distinctive flavours give the local cuisine its complexity. One such dish is 'Chicken Gaston Gerard' – a recipe named after a mayor who allegedly invented it. To serve 6 people, use a whole bottle of Macon wine to boil a chicken, then smother it in a thick sauce of Comte cheese and strong Dijon mustard before browning the dish in the oven. With such fine food, wine from the cellar and other local delights, I was utterly spoiled in the home of my friend. Merci mille fois famille D!


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