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

image found here

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.

image found here

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.

image found here

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.

falling from the presidential train

Paul Deschanel was the President of France for seven months in 1920. In the middle of his presidency a strange incident occurred.

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A trackwalker on the Paris, Lyons and Mediterranean Railroad was trudging along a hundred miles south of Paris last night. It was a few minutes before midnight. The air was chill. The moon had gone down. Along the track toward him came a slightly built man wearing silk pyjamas.

silk pyjamas

“I am Deschanel, President of the Republic and I have just fallen off my train.”

The trackwalker thought the man was crazy, but he escorted him to Lorcy where  a message was sent to the next station at which the train would stop. When the members of the presidential entourage were informed, they assured the station master that there must be some mistake. They searched all compartments except the President’s as he had left word he was not to be disturbed before 7:00 am.

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When at last his valet did enter the carriage to help the President dress it was noticed that he was indeed missing; the window was wide open with the curtain fluttering in the breeze…..

Previously his eccentric behaviour had also caused consternation when on one occasion after a delegation of schoolgirls had presented him with a bouquet, he tossed the flowers back at them one by one. Shortly after the incident with the train he walked out of a state meeting and straight into a lily pond, remaining there for several hours before being fished out by a gardener.

Read about this Bugatti fished out of Lake Maggiore here

Published in: on July 26, 2010 at 8:19 am  Comments (36)  
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corset friday France part 3

Location: Le Chateau de Bruzac, Dordogne, France

Lingerie: purchased by The King (a.k.a “That man from the market”)

Photographer: The King

Permission granted by: QueenWilly

This is the final part in the French series. Just a reminder that next week is T shirt Friday again, so you’ve got 7 days to take a photo of yourself wearing a T shirt, then post it on your blog on June 30th for a link back. Thanks to daisyfae for suggesting the sepia treatment this week and thanks to queenwilly for being so obliging.

Published in: on July 23, 2010 at 8:10 am  Comments (44)  
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corset friday France part 2

Location: Le Chateau de Bruzac, Dordogne, France

Lingerie: purchased by The King (a.k.a “That man from the market”)

Photographer: The King

Permission granted by: QueenWilly

Published in: on July 16, 2010 at 8:10 am  Comments (33)  
Tags: , , , , ,

corset friday France part 1

Location: Le Chateau de Bruzac, Dordogne, France

Lingerie: purchased by The King (a.k.a “That man from the market”)

Photographer: The King

Permission granted by: QueenWilly

Published in: on July 9, 2010 at 8:06 am  Comments (58)  
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normal transmission resumes shortly

I’ll be back to normal gimcrackery as soon as I catch up on all the blogs I missed while I was away. France was fantastic, Greece was gorgeous and Singapore was sensational. Travelling and meeting up with friends and blog buddies queenwilly and The King, daisyfae and dolce resulted in some unbloggable adventures. I think we all had the time of our lives 😉

Published in: on July 4, 2010 at 12:36 am  Comments (53)  
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