When in France . . .

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - BAR­BARA SAN­TICH

BRIGHTON, SA DE­SERVED or not, the French have a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing log­i­cal and ra­tio­nal and, nat­u­rally, they have ap­plied this to the lay­out of their su­per­mar­kets.

Where do you look for fresh fruit juice in a French su­per­mar­ket? Not with milk, as it’s not a dairy prod­uct; log­i­cally, fresh fruit juice be­longs with fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles, and that’s where you’ll find it. Jam? That’s break­fast fare, and there­fore with tea and cof­fee and su­gar. Savoury bis­cuits? Op­po­site pastis and Dubon­net and other aper­i­tifs, since they ac­com­pany pre-din­ner drinks. Af­ter many trips to France, I’m used to these twists of logic. I thought I had en­tree to the work­ings of the French mind. But the search for char­coal stumped me.

We had rented a spa­cious house in a quiet vil­lage in south­ern Bur­gundy, and in­vited English friends to join us. (I sus­pect the rea­son for this tran­quil­lity was that many of the res­i­dents had trans­ferred to the re­tire­ment home, for­merly the hospi­tal, up on the hill.) With the prom­ise of fine weather for the last few days of our stay, we wanted to make the most of the bar­be­cue — os­ten­si­bly for the ben­e­fit of our guests, but in re­al­ity for a dis­play of cul­tural supremacy.

Hav­ing used the last of the char­coal Madame had thought­fully pro­vided, we set off for the vast labyrinth of the In­ter­marche in Cluny, 10 min­utes away. List in hand, we ticked off fresh milk, cof­fee fil­ters and but­ter — the demi-sel va­ri­ety speck­led with fine crys­tals of fleur de sel. Plus some ex­tra wine, in case we run out.

Char­coal, I as­sumed, would be with things for the back­yard and gar­den, as that’s where you bar­be­cue. The gar­den aisle had small pots and dig­ging im­ple­ments and wa­ter­ing cans and hoses, but no char­coal. Then it must be in the hol­i­days sec­tion, I rea­soned; bar­be­cues be­long to sum­mer, and from June to Au­gust all French su­per­mar­kets have a spe­cial depart­ment with pic­nic sets, beach um­brel­las and out­door games. Wrong again.

I had to re­sort to ask­ing the girl at the check­out. ‘‘ Est-ce que vous avez du char­bon?’’

‘‘ Mais oui,’’ she replied, and gave me direc­tions to the butch­ery sec­tion. Of course. You buy your char­coal where you buy your meat. It’s log­i­cal. Bar­bara San­tich is the au­thor of Bold Palates: Aus­tralia’s Gas­tro­nomic

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