Escoffier once prepared a special dish, “Nymphs’ Thighs”, for Nellie Melba, Lily Langtry, the Prince of Wales and Duc d’Orleans. The recipe called for frogs’ legs poached in a court-bouillon with white wine and placed on a layer of champagne jelly with chervil and tarragon leaves between the legs to resemble grass.
image by Milanko
The Prince travelled to Paris, where a far more daring dish was served. When the lid of an enormous tray was raised, there lay before him the celebrated courtesan Cora Pearl, naked save for sprigs of parsley and a rope of pearls.
Cora fancied herself as a singer and dancer and often supplemented the income from her wealthy clients with theatrical performances.
“Cora’s artistic rebirth on the Paris stage was a breath of spring for a country anxious about the possibility of war. Determined at last to be seen as an artist, and not merely as a hard working woman, Cora spared no expense, and emerged on the stage in a very provocative costume that left little to the imagination. She had learned from the Italian Masters that there was nothing shameful about the human form, as long as it was exposed for noble purposes. Accentuating the outfit was a pair of boots that caused a gasp of astonishment in the crowded theater. Knee high, they were buttoned with diamonds the size of easter eggs, and the soles were encrusted with more precious stones from toe to heel. One nobleman, a Count, was seized by the desire to own them, and offered 50,000 francs for the chance – twice that if Cora would wear them when she relinquished possession. Though nothing is known of the outcome of this transaction, the evidence will show that Cora was always malleable when it came to men, and quite probably acquiesced to his request, if only so as not to hurt his feelings.
Cora was the trendsetter of 1860s France. Whatever she did, the nation followed. One day, in a lighted-hearted moment of whimsy, she dyed her hair to match the upholstery of her carriage, and the women of France followed suit. She had learned of a cunning make-up house in London, and began to have silver and crushed pearl face powders sent from across the Channel. She even shocked Parisian sensibilities by browning herself in the summer months, something unheard of at the time.
When the Franco-Prussian War begun Cora proved her mettle, and a heroism unparalleled in the history of high society was revealed for the world to see. She turned her largest house into a hospital for officers, ripping apart her curtains and table linens to make bandages for wounded officers.
After the war ended, Cora attempted to pick up the pieces of her life. One man, Alexander Duval, harassed her constantly. He threw so much money at her that she didn’t know what to do. She tried to make him understand that she could never love him but he pulled out a gun and shot himself on her doorstep.
So overcome was she that she quite forgot to summon help, naturally thinking that others, too, had heard the shot and would do so. At her first social engagement after the shooting, she was stunned to realize that gossips were saying that she had left Mr. Duval to die on her steps, out of a cold-hearted indifference to his plight.
She was forced to sell her possessions and move to a shabby rooming house, where she died in 1886.
Instead of a sad, lonely farewell from a society that had used her and cast her aside, Cora’s funeral was a fairy-tale event organised by a mysterious benefactor, who paid anonymously for the largest, most lavish burial that France had ever seen
image (2010) here