Has anyone else noticed Australia's current fascination with all things French? Our guest blogger is Matilda Marseillaise, a French woman living in Australia who regularly keeps us informed about anything French happening in our city. Who better to discuss why it is that we are so intrigued by French culture.
According to the 2017 ABS Census (yes that one which was a bit of a disaster so may not paint an entirely accurate picture of 2017 Australia), there are 69,898 French speakers in Australia (the stuffed up census may mean that there are in fact more). So almost 70,000 people who speak French à la maison.
When we Australians think of France, we think of a lot of the finer things in life: fashion, art, ballet, renowned film, wine, champagne, and great food, just to name a few. Say Paris and most will think of romance and it being the city of love. Our love of all things French is a long enduring one, not a passing fad or the latest instagrammable trend to be replaced by another in a month or a week. It’s what we come back to encore et encore just like we come back to our family home for a home-cooked meal from Maman.
Fashion extends beyond clothing to the superb accessories that accompany it. The National Gallery of Australia is currently hosting Cartier: The Exhibition featuring 300 exquisite pieces of crystal and precious stone comprised glamour. This exhibition is fashion on a scale and at a price-range that most of us can only dream of, and as such it is apt that it contains pieces worn by royalty and the celebrities of current and past times.
Fashion often also overlaps with art, for which the Australian public is equally enthusiastic. The Art Gallery of South Australia is presenting an exhibition Colours of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée D’Orsay¸ which constitutes South Australia’s first exhibition with a French museum. In it, you will find 65 priceless impressionist paintings, some known, some not so known.
From impressionist art to medieval tapestries, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is proudly showing an exhibition of The Lady and the Unicorn, it being only the 3rd time in 300 years that these exquisite tapestries have left their native France.
The French have of course also given us ballet and in a mix of ballet and fashion, French company Ballet Prejlocaj is bringing back its production of Snow White to Sydney and Melbourne following its Brisbane Festival exclusive premiere last year. The production is a dark retelling of the story we all remember from our childhoods which features incredible costuming by well-known French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier.
French film is so loved in Australia that the Alliance Française French Film Festival is one of the most attended film festivals in Australia. This year it had 184,713 admissions across the country! This far exceeds even the Italian Film Festival, which is impressive when you think about how many Italian speakers we have in Australia! France, and all it gives us, has always been à la mode.
But what is it about French film that we love so much? The films shown vary from comedies, which the French do well (and the Americans then try to remake and replicate, without success) to intense family dramas. For me, the French Film Festival and its 50 or so films is a way to travel to France without the airline ticket. To hear the language, to see the familiar Parisian streets but also to indulge in the beautiful countryside such as in the film Back to Burgundy, which transported us to the wine-making Burgundy region and its rolling vines.
Wine and champagne
And those rolling vines aren’t just pretty to look at but produce some of the finest wines, and of course the only bubbly allowed to be called champagne, in the world. Australia is one of the top 10 consumers of champagne globally – let that sink in when thinking about the size of our population compared to the populations of the other countries. In 2017, Australia imported 8,534,351 bottles of champagne making it 6th globally (https://www.champagne.fr/en/champagne-economy/key-market-statistics). The USA leads the champagne markets with 27,762,045 bottles of champagne imported for the year, but when comparing its population to the number of imported bottles it is merely 0.07 bottles per American. Conversely, Australia imported 0.35 bottles for each of us. By population, Australia consumes 5 times as much champagne as the Americans!
But we don’t just drink French champagne, we also try to emulate it with our own sparkling wines made using the méthode traditionelle being the method used by champagne makers (only they are allowed to call it méthode champenoise). We even have an Australian wine-maker, Kate Laurie of Deviation Road winery, who learned her craft at, and was the first native English speaker to graduate from, the esteemed Lycée Viticole d’Avize situated in the Côte des Blancs in France’s champagne region.
French food fills our stomachs and warms our souls. The French do everything with a bit of flair – take for example the croque monsieur, which is no ordinary ham and cheese toastie. For the French everything is about quality, from the gruyere cheese used to the béchamel or its variations included.
French food is not about the latest trends. You won’t find the latest matcha lattes in a French café or restaurant, instead you will find French classics, well done.
Winter brings to mind Bouillabaisse, a warming provençale fish stew; coq au vin chicken with mushrooms in a red wine sauce, and boeuf bourgignon, that dish Julia Child brought back into the cooking repertoire some years ago.
French food is also about delicate sweet pastries that look too pretty to eat (but that we doubt anyone could actually resist) and that make our eyes bigger than our bellies. The classic tarte au citron or crème brulée is always a perfect finish to a French meal.
You will find some of those very classic French dishes, that we so love, at Bitton Gourmet. The fact that David Bitton has managed to keep not one, but two, restaurants afloat in tough economic times is not only a testament to the food plated up but the old-fashioned service and attention to detail you will find in his restaurants. It is also emblematic of the Australian love and enduring support for French cuisine. Bitton has also found success in its line of gourmet products, of which there are about 20, and which you can find across 500 stores both in Australia and abroad.
Art, fashion, ballet, film, wine, champagne and food are but a few of our favourite French things. Even the country itself inspires rêverie. Paris conjures up romantic images of strolling along the banks of the River Seine or through the cobbled streets and stairways of Montmartre with our love. If we can’t make it over to France, we will enjoy anything French that we can get our hands on, and our mouths around!
For your fix of all things French (and francophone) in Australia go to www.matildamarseillaise.com and subscribe to receive emails each time a new article is published.
All things French and francophone in Australia
Toutes les choses françaises et francophones en Australie