All the buzz in Paris

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL MAR­GARET KEMP SPEC­TA­TOR SCOFF!

THE term vol­un­tourism is now in wide­spread use. The prac­tice seems to be the per­fect so­lu­tion for bat­tling com­mu­ni­ties that need help and ad­ven­tur­ous trav­ellers happy to give it. But there’s in­creas­ing concern about the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of an in­dus­try sus­cep­ti­ble to abuse.

‘‘One of the con­cerns is that there are a lot of com­mer­cial op­er­a­tors whose guide­line is to make a profit and they are not nec­es­sar­ily in­ter­ested in the on­ground re­cip­i­ents,’’ says Stephen Wear­ing, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the school of leisure, sport and tourism at the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, Syd­ney.

Well-mean­ing trav­ellers of­ten cause more harm than good in re­mote com­mu­ni­ties, dis­tribut­ing funds in­equitably and dis­plac­ing lo­cal jobs by pro­vid­ing free labour. ‘‘A lot of the com­mer­cial op­er­a­tors don’t do that lead-up work. They may not go in [at all] or only go in very briefly, and may not do a proper anal­y­sis of how the [com­mu­nity will ben­e­fit],’’ Wear­ing says.

In the 1990s, he helped set up the UTS-based Youth Chal­lenge EVER since the achingly chic Left Bank restau­rant La Tour d’Ar­gent an­nounced the in­stal­la­tion of six bee­hives on its rooftop over­look­ing the Seine, bee­keep­ing has been the new black in Paris.

La Tour’s must-have honey pots, with notes of lin­den and laven­der, are sold in the restau­rant’s bou­tique and used by chef­patissier Guil­laume Caron in his fig and honey dessert.

Pollinating bees thrive in Paris — where pes­ti­cides are banned — work­ing bal­conies, parks and tree­lined boule­vards. ‘ ‘ Spray­ing chem­i­cals dis­rupts bees’ ner­vous sys­tems, mak­ing them vul­ner­a­ble to disease,’’ ex­plains apicul­teur Ni­co­las Geant. ‘‘Bees are an im­por­tant part of the food chain, play­ing a ma­jor role in agri­cul­ture by pollinating crops.’’ Ni­comiel (Nick the honey, as he’s known) sup­plies wannabe honey-mak­ers with bee­hives and swarms from his em­po­rium near Paris.

‘‘Due to the di­ver­sity of the flora the best French honey har­vests are in Paris,’’ he says. ‘‘In the coun­try­side there are end­less fields of crops but fewer flow­ers.’’ He should know: he in­stalled the hives at La Tour d’Ar­gent, those on the roof of the Grand Palais, sev­eral above Louis Vuit­ton’s Champ­sEl­y­sees flag­ship store and two perched on a tower at La De­fense, the high-rise busi­ness district west of Paris.

He also ad­vised Pa­trick Roger, ar­guably Paris’s top choco­latemaker. The win­dows of Roger’s five Paris bou­tiques al­ways fea­ture sur­re­al­is­tic sculp­tural dis­plays and his spring-sum­mer spec­ta­cle is ded­i­cated to bees and the 10 hives in­stalled in the gar­den of his chocolate work­shop at Sceaux, near Ver­sailles.

‘ ‘ Be­tween the park and the town’s mar­ket gar­dens, 800,000 bees for­age for pollen, re­sult­ing in a fra­grant, polyflo­ral honey. There’s plum, cherry and aca­cia blos­som in spring, chest­nut and lime in sum­mer, then ivy and heather in au­tumn,’’ says Roger, who learned the art of honey- mak­ing from his par­ents in the Perche re­gion of France.

Roger’s lat­est mouth­wa­ter­ing jewels, abeilles (bees), are glossy, bee-coloured semi-spheres of chocolate filled with ganache and thin lay­ers of runny honey, and as one might ex­pect, they’re fly­ing out of his shops.

There were once 1000 hives in Paris, all of which dis­ap­peared dur­ing World War II. The first of the new gen­er­a­tion was in­stalled 15 years ago on the roof of Palais Garnier, which houses the Paris Opera, by Jean Pauc­ton, an opera props man with a pen­chant for bee­keep­ing at his Palais Royal apart­ment. When neigh­bours com­plained, he was given per­mis­sion to keep his bees above the opera. To­day, Pauc­ton’s honey sells as fast as tick­ets to a Placido Domingo pro­duc­tion. Find it at the opera bou­tique and Chez Fau­chon, the French an­swer to Lon­don’s Fort­num & Ma­son.

The bee­hives of the Left Bank Lux­em­bourg Gar­dens have been buzzing since 1856 and to­day pro­duce close to 500kg of honey per har­vest. It’s sold to the pub­lic on the last week­end in Septem­ber, with pro­ceeds go­ing to bee­keep­ing and honey-ex­trac­tion classes, for which there’s a wait­ing list.

Seems you feel a fool in this city with­out a hive on your roof, bal­cony or gar­den. At the ex­clu­sive Westin Paris they’re not only us­ing their rooftop bounty in the kitchens but also for honey-based spa treat­ments. The Westin hives were in­stalled by Stephane Bazin and Guil­laume Char­lot, cre­ators of L’Abeille du Grand Paris (Paris Beekeepers).

‘‘We’ve set up a dozen pri­vate hives in gar­dens south of Paris, teach­ing the own­ers how to main­tain their ruches (bee­hives), help­ing them make honey. This form of ur­ban bee­keep­ing is our de­fence against the demise of the bees. Ev­ery time you put a flower on your bal­cony, you’re help­ing pol­li­na­tion,’’ they say. The duo works free of charge and takes 10 per cent of the honey, which is sold in lo­cal mar­kets, by word of mouth and at the Westin. New equip­ment is bought with the pro­ceeds.

In Paris, be­gin­ner beekeepers need a bal­cony or pro­tected ter­race and must reg­is­ter with the Ve­teri­nary Au­thor­ity: Char­lot and Bazin can do the rest, as they did for a Parisian fam­ily near the Bastille. The fam­ily had room for just one hive, and in the first har­vest achieved 40kg of honey. They have never been stung, leav­ing the busy bees to their work: ‘‘It’s in­cred­i­ble how or­gan­ised they are, keep­ing the queen warm in win­ter: groups crowd around her, bat­ting their wings to make heat. It’s a mar­vel­lous ex­pe­ri­ence for us and our seven-year-old daugh­ter.’’ la­tour­dar­ ni­ patrick­ Aus­tralia so his stu­dents would have the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pand their per­spec­tives while bring­ing about pos­i­tive change. But while vol­un­teer­ing with them in Costa Rica and Guyana, he no­ticed not much of the fund­ing was go­ing back into the com­mu­nity.

To coun­ter­act this deficit, the group de­cided to set up a rain­for­est re­serve with a more ex­pan­sive reach. ‘‘We es­tab­lished the re­serve [in Santa Elena, Costa Rica], built an in­ter­pre­ta­tion cen­tre and changed the school around. At that time it would have been called eco­tourism, but a lot of the work was [with] the com­mu­nity rather than just na­ture-based. I was in­ter­ested in vol­un­teer­ing and the mo­ti­va­tions of the stu­dents in­volved,’’ Wear­ing says.

The ex­pe­ri­ence prompted him to write Vol­un­teer Tourism: Ex­pe­ri­ences that Make a Dif­fer­ence, which is now used as a univer­sity text­book. And Wear­ing now sits on an ex­pert com­mit­tee that ad­vises the In­ter­na­tional Vol­un­tourism Guide­lines Pro­ject, which was ini­ti­ated by The In­ter­na­tional Eco­tourism So­ci­ety and is sup­ported by Plan­eterra, a non-profit foun­da­tion set up by Gap Ad­ven­tures.

It draws on in­put from a wide range of prac­ti­tion­ers, in­clud­ing those who re­ceive vol­un­teers and man­age lo­cal projects, and will be rec­om­mended for use by the vol­un­tourism sec­tor in Aus­tralia and abroad.

‘‘There is an in­creas­ing need for ef­fec­tive tools that help providers make smart de­ci­sions,’’ says Plan­eterra di­rec­tor Me­gan Epler Wood. ‘‘The goal of the pro­ject is to de­velop a set of cri­te­ria that will help in­ter­na­tional vol­un­tourism providers plan and man­age their pro­grams in a re­spon­si­ble and sus­tain­able man­ner.’’ Al­though these aren’t the first vol­un­tourism guide­lines to be pro­duced, TIES hopes its pro­ject goes one step fur­ther by en­cour­ag­ing in­ter­ac­tion and cre­at­ing tools for sus­tain­able and re­spon­si­ble vol­un­tourism de­vel­op­ment.


Bee­keeper Ni­co­las Geant tends to a hive on the roof of the Grand Palais on the Champs-El­y­sees

Youth Chal­lenge Aus­tralia vol­un­teer Isaac Wee­tra in Vanuatu

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