roasted chestnuts and bolting butterflies

Papillon was the supposed autobiography of Henri Charrière. Perhaps he based some of his story on this man’s adventures

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René Belbenoit (April 4, 1899 – February 26, 1959) was a French prisoner on Devil’s Island who successfully escaped to the United States. He later wrote a book, Dry Guillotine, about his exploits.

Belbenoit was born in Paris and abandoned by his mother as an infant. His father was unable to raise young René himself, so the boy was sent to live with his grandparents. When René was 12, his grandparents died and he went to Paris where worked at a popular nightclub, the Café du Rat Mort (the Dead Rat) in the Place Pigalle. During World War I, Belbenoit served with distinction in the French Army from 1916 – 1917.

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In 1920, Belbenoit, having stolen some pearls from his employer, the Countess d’Entremeuse, was sentenced to eight years of hard labor in the penal colony of French Guiana, referred to as Devil’s Island. The fact that Belbenoit had had a veteran’s pension let him avoid the harshest work.

Two weeks after his arrival, Belbenoit tried to escape for the first time with another man. They took a raft to Dutch Guiana but were captured and shipped back to the penal colony. During his incarceration, Belbenoit begun to write his memoirs. He kept them in a bundle of wax cloth. He earned some money by selling roasted chestnuts and capturing butterflies.

Spicebush Swallowtail found here

Next Christmas Belbenoit again attempted escape with nine others who had stolen a log canoe. The canoe capsized and they took to the jungle where three of the men were violently murdered. Eventually local Indians who sheltered them gave them to Dutch authorities who sent them back to the French. In the following years, Belbenoit tried to escape two more times and was transferred from island to island.

Chateau D’If prison found here

In 1931, Belbenoit sent a copy of his writings about the prison conditions to a new governor. Before the governor was transferred back to France, he gave Belbenoit a one year permit to leave the penal colony. Belbenoit spent most of the year working in the Panama Canal Zone as a gardener. However, with the permit soon to expire he decided to go back to France in order to argue his case. He was arrested and sent to the island of Royale where he was put into solitary confinement for almost a year.

Panama Canal found here

On November 3, 1934 Belbenoit was officially released – but that just meant he became a libéré, a free prisoner who was still not allowed to return to France. When a visiting moviemaker gave him $200, Belbenoit decided to try to escape once more. On March 2, 1935 he and five others took to the sea with a boat they had bought. When his companions after three days at sea began to argue, he had to pull a gun to force them to continue. When they reached Trinidad, British authorities decided not to give them back to the French. They continued on but sixteen days later ran aground on a beach in Colombia and natives stole their clothing. They reached Santa Maria, where a local general fed them, but also notified the French consul and took them to the local military prison.

Santa Maria found here

A sympathetic local newspaperman helped him to escape in exchange for writing about prison conditions. Belbenoit traveled slowly north and stole a number of native canoes to continue his journey. In Panama he spent about two months with the Kuna tribe and later sold a large collection of butterflies in Panama City. In 1937 in El Salvador he hid in a ship to Los Angeles

Kuna and Embera tribeswomen found here

In 1938 his account, Dry Guillotine, was published in United States. The book attracted the attention of the U.S. immigration authorities and Belbenoit was arrested. He received a visitor’s visa but in 1941 was told to leave the country. Belbenoit traveled to Mexico and a year later tried to slip back into the United States but was again arrested and sentenced to 15 months in prison. After his release, Belbenoit acquired a valid passport and went to Los Angeles to work for Warner Bros. as a technical advisor for the film Passage to Marseille.

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spot the spider bite victim

The Brazilian Wandering Spider‘s venom is 30 times more powerful than that of a rattlesnake. A native to Brazil and northern Argentina, its diet includes lizards and mice. There is enough poison in an adult’s bite to kill 225 mice.

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It is incredibly hardy and can survive being frozen, thrown in boiling water and even microwaved for a short periodIf one of its legs becomes damaged it will amputate it with its own mouth – a new shorter leg growing within a few weeks.

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They have a distinctive defensive display in which the body is lifted up into an erect position, the first two pairs of legs are lifted high (revealing the conspicuous black-striped pattern on their underside), while the entire spider sways from side to side with hind legs in a cocked position.

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In Brazil, emergency room staff can immediately spot the victims of a bite from this spider. Patients not only experience overall pain and an increase in blood pressure, they also sport an uncomfortable erection.

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Scientists separated the different components of the spider venom and ran tests on rats to seek out the erectile enhancer. Then they injected the venom-chemical into rats stimulated to begin an erection. A tiny needle-like device inserted into each rat’s penis measured the pressure change, which corresponds with the increase in blood flow to the blood vessels inside the penis. Compared with control rats, those injected with the peptide showed a significant increase in penis pressure.

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But erections don’t last forever. The erectile party crasher, a substance called PDE-5 breaks down the cGMP and in turn transforms the erect penis into its normal limp stateThe most popular erectile-dysfunction drugs work by blocking this party crasher.

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The spider chemical works in a different manner, affecting an earlier step in the erection process. Somehow, the toxin ups the amount of nitric oxide, which sort of sets into motion an erection. The scientists suggest that a combination of a synthetic version of the spider venom with a drug like Viagra would result in a magnified effect.

selling peanuts to the pope

Marthe Hanau (1890-1935) was a Frenchwoman who defrauded French financial markets in the 1920s and 1930s.

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She married, and later divorced Lazare Bloch. In 1925, she and Bloch (the two remained business partners after the divorce) founded an economic newspaper, La Gazette du Franc et des Nations. Hanau used the newspaper to dispense stock tips to financial speculators. Bloch worked for his wife as a jolly, cigar-smoking customer’s man. He described himself as “the kind of fellow who could sell peanuts to the Pope.”

French Popes found here

Hanau’s paper promoted the stocks and securities of her own partners, whose businesses were mere shells or paper companies. French banks began to investigate the non-existent companies and soon there were numerous rumors about Hanau’s shady business practices and she and Bloch were arrested.

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A preliminary trial began and Hanau protested that the court did not understand financial business, that she could return all the money, and that she should be released on bail. Comparatively few people had seen her till she appeared, aged 46, in the prisoner’s dock. She was an unusually short, round woman, with vulgar, virile gestures, a taurian head, full rouged lips and a fulminating vocabulary. When the court denied bail, she went on a hunger strike.

Taurian head found here

Three weeks later, Hanau was moved to Cochi hospital, where she was forcibly fed. When she was left alone, she made a rope out of sheets and climbed out of the window. Clad only in her chemise, stockings, slippers and a handsome sable coat, Madame Presidente hailed a taxi and returned to St. Lazare prison. Police chief Chiappe was afraid that she would die in his hands and requested that she be released on bail. She was moved to a hospice, where she still announced that she would return all the money. Not everybody believed her.

crocodile overalls and sable coat found here

She was an exceptionally intelligent woman, as the prosecution stated; so intelligent indeed that, as the judge agreed, only when she was in prison would the stupid be safe. The average provincial xenophobic Frenchman swallowed her rhetoric like a tonic. Along with their cheques, investors sent presents of homemade pates, garden flowers and knitted scarves.

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During her trial Hanau revealed the names of all the politicians she had bribed and caused a scandal. She received a two year sentence, but the court credited her with the 15 months she had already spent in prison.

When Hanau was released later in the year, she bought Forces magazine. In April 1932 she published an article about the shady side of the financial markets — and quoted a Sûreté file about herself. Police arrested her but she refused to reveal who had leaked the file, just that it had been taken from the financial minister Flandin. She was sentenced to 3 months in prison for receiving classified information.

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serenity now

The Kumari, Nepal’s living goddesses, are real little girls worshipped as deities.

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“The best known is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu, and she lives in the Kumari Ghar, a palace in the center of the city. A Kumari is believed to be the bodily incarnation of the goddess Taleju until she menstruates, after which it is believed that the goddess vacates her body. Serious illness or a major loss of blood from an injury are also causes for her to revert to common status.

Kumari Ghar found here

Once Taleju has left the sitting Kumari, there is a frenzy of activity to find her successor. The selection process is conducted by five senior Buddhist Vajracharya priests, the Panch Buddha, the Bada Guruju or Chief Royal Priest, Achajau the priest of Taleju and the royal astrologer. 

Eligible girls are Buddhists from the Newar Shakya caste of silver and goldsmiths. She must be in excellent health, never have shed blood or been afflicted by any diseases, be without blemish and must not have yet lost any teeth. Girls who pass these basic eligibility requirements are examined for the ‘thirty-two perfections’ of a goddess:

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A neck like a conch shell

A body like a banyan tree

Eyelashes like a cow

Thighs like a deer

Chest like a lion

Voice soft and clear as a duck’s

In addition to this, her hair and eyes should be very black, she should have dainty hands and feet, small and well-recessed sexual organs and a set of twenty teeth.

Toothsome Natalie and Lana Wood found here

Once the priests have chosen a candidate, she must undergo yet more rigorous tests to ensure that she indeed possesses the necessary qualities. Her greatest test comes during the Hindu festival of Dashain. On the kalratri, or ‘black night’, 108 buffaloes and goats are sacrificed to the goddess Kali. The young candidate is taken into the Taleju temple and released into the courtyard, where the severed heads of the animals are illuminated by candlelight and masked men are dancing about. If the candidate truly possesses the qualities of Taleju, she shows no fear during this experience. If she does, another candidate is brought in to attempt the same thing.

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As a final test, the living goddess must spend a night alone in a room among the heads of ritually slaughtered goats and buffaloes without showing fear. The candidate has then proven that she has the serenity and the fearlessness that typifies the goddess who is to inhabit her.

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The Royal Kumari’s new life is vastly different from the one to which she has been accustomed. Whilst her life is now free of material troubles, she has ceremonial duties to carry out. Although she is not ordered about, she is expected to behave as befits a goddess. She has shown the correct qualities during the selection process and her continued serenity is of paramount importance; an ill-tempered goddess is believed to portend bad tidings for those petitioning her.

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From now on, when she ventures outside of her palace, she will be carried or transported in her golden palanquin. Her feet, like all of her, are now sacred. Petitioners will touch them, hoping to receive respite from troubles and illnesses. The King himself will kiss them each year when he comes to seek her blessing. 

Chinese foot binding found here

Petitioners customarily bring gifts and food offerings to the Kumari, who receives them in silence. Upon arrival, she offers them her feet to touch or kiss as an act of devotion. During these audiences, the Kumari is closely watched and her actions interpreted as a prediction of the petitioners lives’, for example as follows:

Crying or loud laughter: Serious illness or death

Weeping or rubbing eyes: Imminent death

Trembling: Imprisonment

Hand clapping: Reason to fear the King

Picking at food offerings: Financial losses

If the Kumari remains silent and impassive throughout the audience, her devotees leave elated. This is the sign that their wishes have been granted. Popular superstition says that a man who marries a Kumari is doomed to die within six months by coughing up blood. In reality, however, it seems that most Kumaris do not have trouble eventually finding husbands. All of the living former Kumaris with exception of the youngest ones have married.

Published in: on November 3, 2011 at 7:27 am  Comments (53)  
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the best cure for painter’s colic

Christopher Logue is a British poet and author. He has also appeared in a number of films as an actor, most notably as Cardinal Richelieu in Ken Russell’s 1971 film The Devils and as the spaghetti-eating fanatic in Terry Gilliam’s 1977 film Jabberwocky.

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One of his writing projects was True Stories, published in Private Eye Magazine. This is an extract:

“Miss Jennifer Walton was an art student. Usually she lived in London but sometimes she occupied premises in Hampshire. John Carter, a married man of 35, came to the door of these premises, knocked, and when Miss Walton went to see who was there he explained that he was not feeling very well.

Hampshire Regiment Training found here

Miss Walton invited him in and brought a glass of water. While drinking the water Carter told Miss Walton that he was suffering from painter’s colic. He finished the glass, lay down on the floor and asked Miss Walton to stand on his stomach.

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“The best cure is a weight on the stomach” he said. Miss Walton stood on his stomach for a minute. “He told me I wasn’t heavy enough” she said. “I fetched a box but that wasn’t heavy enough either”. Feeling that she had done everything in her power to help Carter, Miss Walton suggested that the large man who lived next door might bring express relief.

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“A large woman would be preferable” said Carter. “I fetched Mrs Stone from next door” Miss Walton continued “and we stood on his stomach together” After this Carter felt better.

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The Magistrate bound him over for twelve months.

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