cherry brandy packs a punch

Recently I read an article about Elizabeth Felix, better known as actress Mademoiselle  Rachel.

A director, gave her the stage name Rachel, which she also chose to keep in her private life. Auditioning in March 1838, she started at the Théâtre-Français at the age of 17. At this time she began a long liaison with Louis Véron, a wealthy manufacturer and a notorious libertine, and subsequently her personal life was a subject of great scandal.

Theatre Francais found here

She became the mistress of Napoleon I’s son, Alexandre Joseph Count Colonna-Walewski, and together they had a son in 1844. In England, Rachel briefly had an affair with Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, later Napoleon III, as well as with Napoléon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte.

image found here

Rachel never married, although she had many lovers. When Walewski upbraided her for not remaining faithful to him, she retorted, “I am as I am; I prefer renters to owners.”

In 1839, poet Alfred de Musset, was invited back to the family home for dinner after watching Mademoiselle Rachel perform as Amenaide in a play by Volataire.

lithograph for de Musset’s erotic novel found here

After some trifling conversation, Rachel discovered that she had left her rings and bracelets at the theater, and she sent her servant back for them. But she had only one servant so there was no one to get the supper ready. Rachel took off some of her finery, put on a dressing sacque and night cap, and went into the kitchen. Fifteen minutes passed.

She reappeared, ” as pretty as an angel,” carrying a dish in which were three beefsteaks cooked by herself. She placed the dish in the middle of the table, and gaily said: ” Regale!”

She then went hack to the kitchen and returned with a tureen of smoking soup in one hand, and in the other a saucepan full of spinach. That was the supper. No plates, no spoons; for the servant had carried away the keys of the cupboard. Rachel opened the sideboard, found a salad dish full of salad, discovered one plate, took some salad with the wooden salad spoon, sat down and began to eat.

Later when the servant returned Rachel decided to make punch.

absinthe fountain found here

So saying, she poured some absinthe into a glass of water and drank it. The maid brought her a silver bowl, into which she put sugar and cherry brandy, after which she set fire to her punch, and made it blaze. Rachel filled the glasses and handed them about to the company. She poured the rest of the punch into a soup plate, and began to drink it with a spoon. Then she took the poet’s cane, drew the sword from it, and picked her teeth with the point.

Mademoiselle Rachel had some peculiar idiosyncrasies when it came to presents.

She did, indeed, make many presents with a lavish hand; yet, having made a present, she could not rest until she got it back. The fact was so well known that her associates took it for granted. The younger Dumas once received a ring from her. Immediately he bowed low and returned it to her finger, saying: “Permit me, mademoiselle, to present it to you in my turn so as to save you the embarrassment of asking for it.”

One evening she dined at the house of Comte Duchatel. Rachel began to admire a silver centrepiece; and the count, fascinated by her manners, said that he would be glad to present it to her. She accepted it at once, but was rather fearful lest he should change his mind. She had come to dinner in a cab, and mentioned the fact. The count offered to send her home in his carriage.

“Yes, that will do admirably,” said she. “There will be no danger of my being robbed of your present, which I had better take with me.”

“With pleasure, mademoiselle,” replied the count. “But you will send me back my carriage, won’t you?”

French carriage bonnet found here

Once in a studio she noticed a guitar hanging on the wall. She begged for it very earnestly. As it was an old and almost worthless instrument, it was given to her. A little later it was reported that the dilapidated guitar had been purchased by a well- known gentleman for a thousand francs. The explanation soon followed. Rachel had declared that it was the very guitar with which she used to earn her living as a child in the streets of Paris. As a memento its value sprang from twenty francs to a thousand.

antique guitar harps found here

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 7:32 am  Comments (42)  
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care for a chocolate, dearest?

From the 15th century onwards, syphilis spread throughout Europe and beyond. Most of the supposed cures were almost as bad as the disease itself

image found here

It wasn’t until 1943 that penicillin became the standard, successful treatment. Until then, suggested remedies were creative if not bizarre. Unsuspecting wives were fed mercury-laced chocolates by their infected husbands, says Hayden.

Transylvania truffles found here

“Men were told to be sure after engaging in risky sex to wrap the endangered organ in a piece of cloth soaked in wine, shavings of guaiac (the wood of the guaiac tree was thought to penetrate areas of body mercury couldn’t reach), flakes of copper, precipitated mercury, gentian root, red coral, ash of ivory and burnt horn of deer.

Penis Gourd found here

“If a chancre (ulcer) did appear, the ulcerated part was to be covered with a spider’s web and a band of violet fabric.”

Beethoven’s hearing loss is believed to be due to syphilis. One doctor suggested to him that he grate fresh horseradish on a cotton cloth and insert it in his ears. Another recommended tincture of green nut-rinds in lukewarm water be dropped into the ear canal while yet another advised Beethoven to try direct applications of electric current.

Galvanic Life Renewer found here

Franz Schubert is also thought to have died from syphilis. In 1826, his friend Bauernfeld wrote “He is out of sorts and in need of young peacocks like those that cured Cellini”. In 1832 he consulted Professor Karl Kuhl who prescribed an “animal bath”

“Thierbäder” meant contact with animal warmth and substance. A Berlin dictionary of medical practice describes one simple method in use in 1830 as putting the affected part into the thoracic or abdominal cavity of a freshly-slaughtered animal and keeping it there as long as the natural warmth lasted. Schumann speculated (no doubt half humorously) that something of the nature of cattle might pass into his own. He added that he found the treatment invigorating.

The list of famous people who died from this insidious disease is a lengthy and depressing one. It includes Al Capone (perhaps we’re not so sad about his loss), whose photoshopped image appears below. Click the link to see some funny Charlie Chaplin photoshopping over at

Published in: on March 30, 2010 at 7:36 am  Comments (42)  
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the red rose apology

Jo Attia was France’s most colourful criminal until his death in 1972.

image of Jo (second from right) found here

***He was raised in a convent until age twelve, when he was sent to earn his keep on a farm. Out of the hard grind came the magnificent physique that would become his underworld trademark. But by age sixteen he’d had it with farm life. He headed to Marseilles and joined a gang of youths. Within a year police caught him red-handed in a break-in. He was sent to North Africa with a penal batallion. There he learned to box and to kill, and became a close friend of Marseilles gangster Pierre Loutrel.

image found here

During the war Attia worked with the French resistance force, the Maquis. His main contribution was to confine his thievery to Germans and their French collaborators. But he allegedly also helped hundreds of Jews to cross the border to Spain.

Following the war Charles de Gaulle appointed Jo Attia to the Legion of Honor. Still, a hero’s glory buys no bread. Jo thought of entering the boxing ring, but the first manager he approached broke up at the sight of Attia’s tattoed body. “We’re looking for a boxer,” he said, “not a roadmap.”

magazine cover found here

By chance Attia ran into his old friend from the penal battalion, Pierre  Loutrel who had become one of Paris’s leading crooks, “Pierrot le Fou” (the crazy). He joined Pierre’s gang only to be nearly caught by the police in September 1946. There followed an exchange of fire in the classic Chicago tradition.

Pierre’s gun found here

When the sound of gunfire reached him, Loutrel sprang into his brand new armored Delahay, not to flee, but to rescue his pals. At top speed he swung through the bullet shower at the hotel entrance and jammed on the breaks long enough for Attia to jump in. He then floored the gas pedal and disappeared. The gendarmes were left gaping. Another gang member, by hiding in a water barrel and breathing through a hose, also managed to escape. When the police left the scene, he emerged.

unarmoured Delahaye found here

Their luck ran out a few months later when they assaulted and shot a jeweler. Carrying the take to the car, Pierrot le Fou stuffed his pistol under his belt. It fired, stopping him in his tracks. His partners buried him on an island in the Seine. Attia took over, but some of the wildness had left him and he opened a chain of bordellos and nightclubs.

image from Vee Speers Bordello series found here

In 1949 Attia was sent to prison for four years for concealing a body (that of Pierrot le Fou) and illegal possession of weapons. The prosecutor, charging Attia with murder, had asked for a life sentence. But Attia got off lightly thanks to the intervention of one Colonel Beaumont, whose life Attia had saved during the war. Behind bars in Fresnes in 1952, Jo married the mother of his daughter, Nicole.

***This is an extract from a fascinating book, The Great Heroin Coup by Henrik Kruger translated by Jerry Meldon and found here. If you were intrigued by this, I recommend you click the link and read more. Or buy the book!

I found it when researching French actress Martine Carol who was briefly kidnapped by Pierre Loutrel. He apologised the next day by sending her a bouquet of red roses.

Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 7:12 am  Comments (44)  
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our musical melbournites

Dame Nellie Melba was Australia’s first superstar. Her father did not want her to become a singer but his friend John Grainger, father of the composer Percy, actively encouraged her to pursue her dream.

image of Nellie found here

There’s a story about Melba being onboard ship with John Grainger. They’re having dinner. And they have the first course and the second course and the pudding arrives. And the pudding’s a wonderful green jelly, but because the fridges on the ship are down a little bit it’s spread around the plate. And Melba looked at it and said, “There are two things I like stiff and one of them’s jelly.”

Comb Jelly found here

Nellie died under somewhat mysterious circumstances in Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital in 1931. ABC’s Rewind program revealed why when it was aired in 2004

Historians have long puzzled over her death certificate. It says she died from septicaemia, but how did she contract this fatal infection? For 70 years, the nuns at St Vincent’s kept the cause of Melba’s death a secret. NURSING SISTER’S MEDICAL REPORT: “While in Europe, Dame Nellie Melba had a facelift, possibly in Switzerland. But an infection developed, so that by the time her homeward voyage had progressed as far as the Red Sea, she had erysipelas and was seriously ill. Not only was Dame Nellie in great pain from the incision on each side of her face, but she had a heart condition. She was specialised by a Sister of Charity and so strict were the rules of confidentiality that scarcely any other member of the nursing staff knew the nature of the complaint, even to this day.”

Percy Grainger, like Dame Nellie was also from Melbourne. As well as being an extremely talented composer and pianist he was fluent in 11 languages.

image of Percy found here

Grainger’s energy was legendary. In London, he was known as “the jogging pianist” for his habit of racing through the streets to a concert, where he would bound on stage at the last minute because he preferred to be in a state of utter exhaustion when playing. After finishing a concert while touring in South Africa, he then walked 105 km to the next, arriving just in time to perform.

image found here

In 1910, Grainger began designing and making his own clothing, ranging from jackets to shorts, togas, muumuus and leggings, all made from towels and also intricate grass and beaded skirts. The clothing was not just for private use but he often wore it in public.

jacket inspired by Grainger found here

A sado-masochist, with a particular enthusiasm for flagellation, Grainger extensively documented and photographed everything he and his wife did. His walls and ceilings were covered in mirrors so that after sessions of self-flagellation he could take pictures of himself from all angles, documenting each image with details such as date, time, location, whip used, and camera settings.

He gave most of his earnings from 1934–1935 to the University of Melbourne for the creation and maintenance of a museum dedicated to himself. Along with his manuscript scores and musical instruments, he donated photos, 83 whips, and a pair of his blood-soaked shorts.

macaroni or ortolan?

The Ortolan Bunting is a small European songbird, now a protected species that is illegal to sell in France. They used to be netted in great numbers, kept alive in a dark box to disrupt their feeding schedule, and fed with grapes, figs, oats and millet. In a very short time they would become enormously fat and were then killed by drowning them in Armagnac.

image found here

Cooking l’ortolan is simplicity itself. Simply pop them in a high oven for six to eight minutes and serve. The secret is entirely in the eating. First you cover your head with a traditional embroidered cloth. Then place the entire four-ounce bird into your mouth. Only its head should dangle out from between your lips. Bite off the head and discard. L’ortolan should be served immediately; it is meant to be so hot that you must rest it on your tongue while inhaling rapidly through your mouth. This cools the bird, but its real purpose is to force you to allow its ambrosial fat to cascade freely down your throat.

image found here

When cool, begin to chew. It should take about 15 minutes to work your way through the breast and wings, the delicately crackling bones, and on to the inner organs. Devotees claim they can taste the bird’s entire life as they chew in the darkness: the wheat of Morocco, the salt air of the Mediterranean, the lavender of Provence. The pea-sized lungs and heart, saturated with Armagnac from its drowning, are said to burst in a liqueur-scented flower on the diner’s tongue.

Francois Mitterand ate foie gras, oysters and two ortolans as his last meal

image of Mitterand found here

After grabbing the last of 12 birds, the dying president disappeared for a second time behind the large, white napkin, which is ritually placed over the head of anyone about to indulge in the act of eating an entire ortolan. The table listened in embarrassment as the former president masticated the little bird to a paste behind the napkin, in the approved manner, before swallowing it. Then Mitterrand lay back in his chair, his face beaming in ecstasy. He refused to eat again after that; suspending all treatment for his cancer he died just eight days later.

image found here

Prisoners on death row don’t seem to be the least bit interested in gourmet meals. A quick search of reveals a preference for pork chops, fried chicken, french fries, tacos and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Followed by strawberry ice cream and 16 or so Pepsis.

image found here

My last meal would consist of dishes that have great memories attached to them. I’d start with my mother’s Bluff oysters fried in beer batter followed by giant succulent Vietnamese prawns dipped in chili salt, the pumpkin stuffed ravioli in burnt sage butter that Stephen used to make, then brandy snaps filled with New Zealand cream, just like the ones we used to buy in South Dunedin’s cake shop near my old high school.

image found here

If you could choose anything at all, what would your last meal consist of?

Published in: on March 27, 2010 at 9:26 am  Comments (48)  
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t shirt friday 26.3.2010

It may not look like one but this top is made of stretchy T shirt fabric and it pulls over my head like a T shirt so I’m proclaiming it a Tee

anyone joining in for t shirt friday?

syncopated eyeball has one up

and so has sledpress and silverstar and 70s

and Malach as well!

Published in: on March 26, 2010 at 8:26 am  Comments (46)  

candidates for the chain gang

According to fragments of the Satyricon, Trimalchio threw a hell of a dinner party

Hors d’oeuvres are served . The first course comes on the back of a Corinthian bronze donkey – white olives and black olives are served in equal amounts in panniers on the side of the bronze donkey. He also has served dormice sprinkled with honey and poppy seed and steaming sausages on a silver gridiron with damsons and pomegranate seeds underneath.

“Dormouse Hunt” found here

Ethiopian slaves (the most expensive slave you could buy) pour wine over the guests hands between one course and another. The slaves remove hang nails from his guests’ feet so that they won’t be left behind and thus bring bad luck into the house. Trimalchio has a course made that represents the 12 signs of the Zodiac, again showing his superstitious nature.

Aries the Ram – chickpeas (the ram is a sign of virility and chickpeas represent the penis in satire)

Taurus the Bull – a beefsteak . The bull represents strength.

Belgian Blue Bull found here

Gemini (The heavenly twins) – Testicles and kidneys

Cancer the Crab- a garland (which looks like pincers)

Leo the Lion – an African fig since lions were from Africa.

click to read “Figs and Olives” from marriedtothesea

Virgo the Virgin – a young sow’s udder, symbol of innocence.

Libra the Scales – A pair of balanced pans with a different dessert in each

Scorpio – a Sea Scorpion

Sagittarius the Archer – a sea bream with eyespots, you need a good eye to practise archery.

Capricorn- a Lobster

Aquarius the Water Carrier – a goose i.e. water fowl.

Pisces the Fish – two mullets

As befits his superstitious nature he now goes on to describe the type of people born under various star signs –

Aries the ram – People born under this sign are hard headed but good business men. Scholars and muttonheads  are born under this sign

Taurus the bull- Bull-headed people are born under this sign and those who are self sufficient.

Bull Penis Cane found here

Gemini- Twins are born under this sign, as well as bisexuals

Cancer the Crab-  People born under this sign have many legs to stand on (i.e. are multi talented) and own property on land and sea.

Leo the Lion – People born under this sign are greedy and bossy like a lion.

Virgo the Virgin – people born under this sign are runaways and candidates for the chain gang.

Chain Gang image found here

Libra the Scales – Butchers and perfume sellers (who used scales to weigh the spices in perfume) and anyone who weighs things up are born under this sign.

Sagittarius – Cross eyed people (since Sagittarius looks backwards)

Capricorn – People in trouble who sprout horns in their worry

Aquarius – Bartenders and Jug heads

Pisces- people who spout rubbish in public

more astrological bodywork here

Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 7:31 am  Comments (36)  
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sexually deviant food

An early version of the New Testament banned eating rabbit because it was believed that they grew a new rectum every year and that eating their flesh would fill the diner with an urge to sodomize.

Jessica Rabbit found here

The same text claimed eating a weasel instilled an insatiable urge to perform oral sex because it was thought the animal procreated through its oral cavities.

weasel coffee found here

Hyena sandwiches were a complete no-no because the beast’s well-known habit of changing its sex at the full moon inevitably induced bisexual impulses in the unsuspecting gourmand.

from the hyena men exhibition by Pieter Hugo

The misconception that spotted hyenas are bisexual was perpetuated well into the twentieth century by people from Hemingway, who as a writer of fiction can be excused, to biologists, who should have known better. The truth about spotted hyenas is arguably as bizarre as the myth.

image of Hemingway found here

Female spotted hyenas bear, suckle, and care for their young like any female mammal. But although their genitals are clearly female in function, they are male in form. The labia are fused into what looks like a scrotum, complete with two pads of fatty tissue that resemble testes. In addition, the clitoris is elongated to the point that it is nearly the size of a male’s penis and is likewise fully erectile. Astonishingly, females mate and give birth through the long, narrow canal running down the center of this “pseudopenis.” During mating it retracts much like a shirt sleeve being pushed up, and during birth it stretches so much that it looks like a water balloon. From a human perspective, the process can be thought of as giving birth through an unusually large penis.

Gregg Valentino pushes his sleeves up here

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 10:34 am  Comments (36)  
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a prince, an assassin and a duke walk into a bar….

Prince Michael Romanoff was really an amiable American conman by the name of Harry Gerguson.

image found here

A short, debonair, mustachioed gentleman with an Oxford accent, walking stick and spats, he claimed to be the half brother of Czar Nicholas, or sometimes he was a cousin to the Czar, and more often than not, the Czar’s son. At other times he proclaimed himself to be a descendant of British Prime Minister William Gladstone, of a British Army officer, or of the man who killed Rasputin.

image of Rasputin’s assassin found here

The prince sported a carefully waxed moustache and usually dressed in a frock coat and gray striped trousers, carried a malacca cane and sometimes wore a monocle. In 1939 a group of his Hollywood buddies loaned him $7,500 to set up a restaurant. They didn’t expect it to become a success, but Prince Mike surprised them. He designed an eatery as flamboyant as himself.

Hat check room at Romanoff’s 1954

In 1945, Life Magazine wrote an article about him

“Under one alias or another Mike had cheated the tradesmen of two continents out of choice food, rare wines and luxurious lodgings. He once sold a priceless old master for $1500 while it still hung on the walls of a museum and made a fine art out of passing worthless checks. He was tossed out of England for ‘impersonating and marauding’ but the people he duped became very fond of the dauntless impostor and it was considered almost a privilege to be bilked by him.

image of Sinatra and Mikey found here

Although at his restaurant he moves skillfully from table to table, he treats many celebrities to nothing more than a good look at his retreating back.  Others, like the movie executive that displeased him or the lady columnist who irritated him and got kicked in the shins, are banned forever. Recently mentioned as a candidate for Mayor, he claims to be too restless for civic office and wants to sell his business to a proper party.  Already Mike has counted out the Duke of Windsor as ‘lacking the background’.

image found here

Published in: on March 23, 2010 at 8:44 am  Comments (32)  
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don’t you dare!

Trapeze artist Leona Dare’s real name was Susan Adeline Stewart, though she sometimes appeared as “Zoe” before meeting and marrying Thomas Hall, one half of an acrobatic duo known as The Dare Brothers. In 1879, Thomas took her to court to regain possession of the equipment she used.

image found here

“The apparatus with which the beautiful, celebrated and courageous Leona enthralls an admiring public was exhibited in court and witnesses marvelled at its construction, novelty and value. The jury agreed on a valuation of £100.00 for the apparatus, without which Mrs Dare will not be able to continue her triumphant professional career.

image found here

Mr Hall did not seem to be favoured with much of the society of his brilliant consort but that perhaps is the lot of those who unite with women of European reputation. An old fashioned song contains an impressive warning against the perils of an alliance with a musical lady and a somewhat similar caution appears to be needed in the case of athletic damsels.

image found here

Mrs Hall is at present in Austria but her deposition was read in court stating that she “will not return to my husband as I do not love him”. Mr Justice Denham suggested with judical humour, “this may be the result of teaching your wife to fly.”

In 1884 Leona had an accident during a performance in Spain, where she dropped her partner, who later died of his injuries.

During the act Miss Dare was seized with a nervous fit and dropped the trapeze. M. George and the apparatus dropped whirling to the floor. The audience were horror-stricken. Everyone rushed for the doors, and a panic ensued, in which many people were crushed and otherwise injured.

Miss Dare clung to the roof, screaming hysterically. She was rescued with difficulty after the excitement had somewhat subsided, and is now confined to her bed from exhaustion following the shock. M. George has since, by cable, been reported dead, and Miss Dare in a precarious condition.’

In 1888, Leona Dare recovered to team up with Swiss balloonist Eduard Spelterini. He would take her, suspended under the basket of his balloon, to great heights while she performed her acrobatics. Their ascents in June and July 1888 at the Crystal Palace in London went on to make them world-famous.

image found here

Published in: on March 21, 2010 at 7:20 am  Comments (38)  
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