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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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.