Nicole Ress took me on a virtual journey to a village in Provence during our podcast chat. Her love of the region came through in every word! I was completely transported momentarily. Close your eyes as she tells of her perfect Paris day and you will be there too xx
Guest: Nicole Ress
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Nicole Ress is Melbourne’s go-to Frenchie for language and travel! Nicole grew up in a French speaking household with her mother who had come to Australia from Paris in the 1950s, met Nicole’s dad and settled here. It was a wonderful and unusual childhood not just because of the French influence. Nicole’s father and grandfather were in the hotel business and owned the Ress Oriental Hotel in Collins Street Melbourne. When her mother saw the hotel she exclaimed to Nicole’s father, with the plane trees and the architecture it looked like Paris, all it was missing were the tables and chairs on the terrasse on the street. So Nicole’s father applied for a permit to have the outdoor tables and he then coined the phrase, “the Paris end of Collins Street” which has stuck to that part of Melbourne to this day!
Nicole’s mother brought the children up to be fluent in French and ensured they had French manners as well. They weren’t allowed to leave the table without asking “s’il te plaît maman, puis-je quitter la table?” (“please mum, can I leave the table?”) Nicole says it was almost as though she had been through a finishing school with the politeness her mother insisted upon!
Nicole noticed some cultural differences between Australia and France, even in the little things. This was highlighted at a greengrocer one day where a woman was about to buy asparagus. Nicole asked what she was going to do with the asparagus and the woman said she was going to cook and roll them up in white bread slices. Nicole said her mother would blanch her asparagus lightly, then cover with a light vinaigrette and then shredded hard-boiled egg on top. A far cry from the asparagus rolls I recall as a child in 1970s Australia! I’d only ever had tinned asparagus until I was in my 20s! And only rolled up in white bread slices that had crusts cut off and the bread rolled flat with mayonnaise. If we were being exotic, we might have spread sour cream on the bread too!
I listened to Nicole, fascinated hearing of her experiences living in the city hotel in Melbourne with the Treasury Gardens as her back yard. As she grew up in this environment with guests like Maurice Chevalier staying at the hotel, she felt both French and Australian. Once she had finished school and university majoring in French, she decided she needed to move to France. For six months she stayed with family friends who spoke no English, so perfected her French further. I loved her stories of times she visited Paris and France with her family. Especially the times she had experiences with extraordinary chefs and famous wine houses that most of us can only dream about! One of the perks of working in the hotel industry!
Nearly every time I have been to France I have taken a road trip through a new region. Nicole described a road trip she did all the way from the south of Provence to Bordeaux, a huge road trip which I would love to do! But my favourite part of my chat with Nicole is how she described her perfect French day. I have asked that question 90 times before, but this is the first time that a guest has taken me on a tour for the day where I could close my eyes and actually imagine myself there as Nicole walked me through one exquisite experience after another. She picked me as a cassis sorbet lover as we sat virtually under the orange trees in a Provence village looking out over the countryside to the Mediterranean. Bliss!
Nicole stays connected to France by listening to French music, but also through teaching French via conversation mornings at a café. I’m going to keep an eye on her Instagram as she is planning on various other opportunities for Melburnians to connect to other Francophiles.
Charles Aznavour et Zaz – J’aime Paris au mois de Mai