beware the 5:00 pm miasma

Despite her Gallic sounding name, the Comtesse de Noailles (1824 – 1908) was English and lived near Eastbourne for nearly 20 years before moving to France later in life.

Beachy Head from above Eastbourne circa 1890 found here

When she was 40, she saw a portrait of a young girl by the artist Ernest Hébert. De Noailles attempted to buy it but it had already been sold so she decided instead to adopt the model, named Maria. Her Italian father, Domenico, had brought her to Paris to be adopted for two bags of gold with which he would use to create a vineyard.

Pasqua Maria by Ernest Hébert found here

De Noailles encouraged her cows to graze near open windows believing the methane they produced was good for her health. She also left England every winter for fear of catching flu. When Maria became an adult, de Noailles instructed her to do the same with her family, saying the climate became too unhealthy when leaves fell, especially from oak trees, which de Noailles believed England had too many of.

Majesty Oak of Kent found here

After Maria married, if the Comtesse came to stay, all the trees in the vicinity would have to be felled in case she caught some disease from the bark. During Maria’s pregnancy, the Comtesse instructed her to drink only water in which the tips of pine branches had previously been boiled, which was  problematic, since all nearby trees had been cut due to a previous demand.

felled pine tree stump found here

Other habits included sleeping with a loaded pistol beside her bed; having a string of fresh onions hung on her bedroom door to protect her from infections; wrapping silk stockings stuffed with squirrel fur around her forehead to prevent wrinkles; eating large amounts of fresh herring roe to prevent bronchitis. She also believed that port wine should be drunk at sunset, mixed with a little sugar and diluted with soft rainwater collected from the roof of their house by her servants under her husband’s supervision.

bald squirrel found here

She refused to travel anywhere if the wind was blowing in an easterly direction and was liable to call the train to a halt and return home should she notice the trees blowing the wrong way.

During a visit to southern France where de Noailles and her daughter met other members of polite society, she instructed her family to accept no invitations to afternoon tea after 5 o’clock, believing that most people caught flu at this time because of dangerous miasma in the air at the end of the day.

dangerous invitation to a late tea found here

The Comtesse lived until she was 84, her diet in the last weeks of her life consisting solely of milk and champagne.

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48 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “De Noailles encouraged her cows to graze near open windows believing the methane they produced was good for her health.” I should start this practice as well. “I swear honey…it was the cows”

    • swear all you like, you’re still not going to get any dinner

  2. Nothing better than releasing a wee bit of methane for others to share.

    • Nothing better? How about a wee dram of whisky? Sleeping in on Saturday mornings? Eating bacon butties? Finding Lars Mikkelson in your bed? Well, scratch that last one if it doesn’t apply to you jimmy

  3. Onions and methane… fairly certain I’ve been sprayed with something similar at a mall perfume counter… :)

    • The smell of frying onions will make you very attractive to other men :-)

  4. Now if you have old Sicilian women around it is worse than this. If you have a disease, infection or a broken limb they scrub you with brown soap and think it will make you better. They heat up onions and wrap them around your body. They do the same with garlic. They light dozens of candles which are supposed to cure you. You cannot go to the doctor because they do not know anything and just take your money. Then they give you Castor oil until your entire abdominal is empty. This includes all your organs not just waste. If you don’t get better they beat you with huge wooden salad spoons and scare the sickness away. Not only that….

    • Oh don’t stop there Carl

  5. Naked Magazine.

    Sometimes it’s the simplest things that work the best.

    But I’m a little disturbed that both my mother and aunt in law are on that cover.

    • I too am a little disturbed by your family entertainment

      • Just the aunt would have been fine.

  6. I have always wanted my own vineyard. Wonder if someone in Paris will buy my daughter, who doesn’t look half as sweet and docile as your Maria.
    Off to make myself a squirrel Alice band now, can’t do much about the methane, wonder if my dogs’ gas is as goods as cows, in which case I’m at no risk of any diseases.
    Have a good weekend, Myra.

    • With all that cooking and travelling you do Cindy, I’m impressed you could find the time to whip up a squirrel Alice band as well

  7. Oak trees are beautiful and they have acorns and it’s fun to try to catch their falling leaves and kick about in the fallen ones even though that makes your socks all dirty and dusty.

    • Let’s go to Centennial Park one day and kick some fallen leaves

      • Ok, let’s; when my chest gets better and I can breathe properly again. Will you scatter rose petals, too? :)

      • Yes, we’ll leave some roses under Stephen’s tree…..

  8. I love the captions on that magazine cover “Twelfth Tingly Issue”.

    Small correction for you – it’s Beachy Head – best known spot in the South of England to top yourself.

    • Thanks Nick, all fixed now x

  9. As an “out of the closet” tree-hugger – that is one extremely huggable Oak!

    • Um… how long are your arms Archie?

  10. I’ve always found the 5:30 miasma to be worse…

    • For me it’s the 5:45 :-(

  11. that child looks so sad. she needs a pet monkey, or a naked squirrel, to amuse her…

    • Or a holiday in Dubrovnik

  12. Poor Maria! She was probably so grateful to have someone adopt her away from her asswipe father that she’d put up with anything. “Cut down all the oaks around the house? Sure, Mom. Not a problem.”

    • “Methane inhalants? Sure, Mom. They smell delicious”

  13. I’ve installed special fans all round the house to blow away the 5 pm miasma. Unfortunately there was a power cut yesterday and I’m now floored by a nasty infection.

    • That was quick! Your miasma must be particularly virulent

  14. poor child. how long did she live up to ?

    • Not sure. But long enough to marry twice and have two children.

  15. Ughh, bald squirrel dont look the same as hairy ones. lol

    • I prefer them furry too

  16. I’m starting on the milk and champagne diet right now. I expect to live for ever emitting my own methane

    • I expect you’ll break that diet the minute someone starts frying bacon in your vicinity

  17. Fresh herring roe must be what I need to cure this awful cold!

    • Doesn’t your nana make one of those famous Jewish chicken soups that cures everything?

  18. I have similar quirks except instead of sleeping with a loaded pistol beside my bed and fresh onions on the door, I sleep with a loaded onion next to my bed and a string of pistols on the door.

    • ….and a copy of “Friday” by the bed?

  19. I’m amazed. What gave her so much power that she could just tell the train to stop and take her home again if the wind changed. Why wasn’t she in an institution?

    The oak is so beautiful — how many years has that trunk seen?

    • Between 500 and 600

  20. it’s hard to believe she wasn’t
    locked in a tower for all time.

    • Eastbourne was probably glad to be rid of her, perhaps they were hoping for a revival of the guillotine

  21. Good lord, hypochondriac is an understatement for her.

  22. This post is so full of valuable health tips that I shall never be sick ever again.

  23. You introduced me to an artist. I’ve been reading about and looking at online copies of Hebert’s works. Thanks.

  24. I wonder if anyone ever told her that falling sick was normal. Mostly, my sympathies go to her poor adopted daughter although she probably doesn’t need it anymore.

  25. My diet, as well, consists of only milk and champagne.


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