Showing posts from 2013

The bizarre death of the Abbé Prévost

On the night of 25 November 1763, the surgeon at the Benedictine monastery of Saint-Nicolas-d’Acy, was sleeping peacefully in his bed when there was loud knocking on his door.
‘Monsieur le chirugien!’ a voice urgently shouted. ‘You must come quickly!  It iz a matter of zee former monk zee Abbé Prévost! His body has been found lying at zee foot of zee Cross of Courteuil. We think zat he iz dead, Monsieur!’

The surgeon quickly got dressed, collected his doctor’s bag, and followed the man, a shepherd, to the presbytery of the church of Courteuil where the body of Abbé Prévost had been taken.
‘He iz dead all right’, said the surgeon when he saw the body lying prostrate on the bed. ‘I will need to perform an autopsy on zee corpse to establish zee exact cause of zee death.’
Then, taking his scalpel from his bag, the surgeon sliced open the belly of the Abbé Prévost, and the old monk’s blood and intestines spurted out onto the bed.

But then, suddenly, mirabile dictu, the quondam corpse of the Abb…

Tycho Brahe - the foolish death of a wise man

On a night in October 1601, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II of Habsburg hosted a lavish banquet at which was present the renowned astronomer Tycho Brahe. But after drinking too much wine, Tycho is filled with the urgent and embarrassing need to urinate.

'What can I do?' he nervously asked himself. 'I can't leave the table, that would be a breach of etiquette. I'll just have to cross my legs and wait.'

And it was an agonising wait, like sitting through a compilation of acceptance speeches from the Oscars: 'I'd like to thank my mom for giving birth to me, my dog for all the love and affection he gives me, God for creating our beautiful planet.....'

Finally, the feasting ended, Tycho rushed to the nearest urinal and hurriedly pointed Percy at the porcelain. But catastrophe! Nothing came out! Panic stricken with severe piss paralysis, Tycho closed his eyes and addressed a silent prayer of supplication to his prostate. A few meagre drops finally dribbled …

Christopher Columbus, Rodrigo de Triana, and the discovery of the New World

On 6 September 1492, the flotilla of vessels comprising the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria, under the command of Admiral Christopher Columbus, set sail from the Canary Islands, and one month later there was still no sight of land. 

With the sailors close to mutiny, on 10 October, Columbus, aboard the Santa Maria, summoned the Pinta and the Ninato draw close so that he could address their crews.

'My brave lads!' he tells them. 'Have courage! It is true that we have yet to sight land, but I am fully trained and highly skilled navigator. I know my arse from my elbow, and my infallible and precise calculations tell me that Japan - yes, Japan! - is just over the horizon. And remember: the Queen of Spain has promised a prize of 10,000 maravedis to whomsoever is first to spy our destination. So forward, my tall fellows!'

The sailors cried 'Hurrah!' and threw their caps into the air, and indeed on 12 October, at two in the morning, a sailor's cry of 'Japan ah…

Sir Francis Drake and Spanish King's Gold

On 26 September 1580, after a world tour that lasted 2 years and 10 months, Francis Drake arrived back in England.

Bonfires were lit, church bells were rung, Ringo Starr performed a medley of his Greatest Hit, and Queen Elizabeth knighted the returning hero aboard his vessel, the Golden Hind.

He brought with him chests filled with Spanish gold, much to the displeasure of Philip II of Spain.
'Give me back my gold!' tweeted Philip.
'Your gold? You stole it from the Incas, you ratbag!' replied Drake.
'I did it with the full authority of His Holiness the Pope!' retorted Philip. And then in a separate tweet: 'And don't call me a ratbag!'

But all this meant nothing to Sir Francis. He was now a celebrity! And with one woman on his right arm, one on his left, another with her tongue in his mouth, he soon became the talk of the town.

But Philip was not one to give up easily! He demanded that the Queen hand over'that English pirate Drake', forgetting that th…

Olé ! Islero the Bull gets his Revenge....

On a day in August 1947, in the town of Linares in southern Spain, a great bullfighting spectacle is about to take place. In the red corner: the bulls from the famous ganaderia of Don Eduardo Miura. Facing up t0 them in the blue corner, their bloodthirsty matador adversaries: Manuel Laureano Rodriguez Sandez, known as MANOLETE; Luis Miguel DOMINGUIN; and GITANILLO de Triana (Rafael Vega).

Manolete and Dominguin are two of the most celebrated matadors of their age. Manolete is 30 years old, but with a sad countenance that makes him looks ten years older. Dominguin is 21, and is at the height of his glittering career. Gitanillo is less celebrated, though he has a growing list of bulls' deaths on his conscience.

The first paso is scheduled for 5 p.m. Dressed for the kill, our three heroic matadors salute the 10,500 spectators baying for blood. The bulls, meanwhile, the true stars of the 'spectacle', knowing they are about to die, send farewell tweets to their followers on Twitt…

22 August 1911 - theft of the Mona Lisa. Chief suspects: Guillaume Apollinaire and his accomplice Pablo Picasso...

On 22 August 1911, the painter Louis Béroud made his habitual visit to the Louvre art museum in Paris and headed straight to the gallery housing the Mona Lisa, as he wished to make a copy of the world's most famous painting. But when he arrived, his artist's eyes, trained to see things in fine detail, noticed that the painting was missing.

But Louis was unconcerned, and even joked with the guard: 'Who knows where women ever get to? When they're not with their lovers they're with their photographers.'Ha ha ha! However, when, hours later, the lady with the enigmatic smile had not returned, Louis despatched the guard to consult the museum photographer in case he had taken it. The photographer's reply? 'Negative.'

Panic ensued! They've stolen the Mona Lisa! Nom de Dieu! The head of museum security and sixty officers searched the building with a fine tooth comb. Nothing doing! The only clue, a lonely fingerprint on the glass recently installed to safeg…

Herman Melville and those nice cannibal people of Typee

In 1840 Herman Melville is 21 years old and is looking for adventure. So he signs up with the whaler Acushnet and on 1st January 1841 sets sail from New Bedford bound for the sperm fishery of the Indian Ocean.

But the ship's captain is not a nice chap, so Herman and his only chum aboard the friendless vessel, Richard Tobias (Toby) Greene, decide to jump ship at the island of Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands.

The captain allows the crew to go ashore but gives them a friendly warning that the island is the home of the Typee tribe of gourmet cannibals that like to dine on human flesh.

'You may only be third-rate sailors to me', he tells them, 'but to a Typee you're a first-rate second course'.

Choosing their moment the pair of deserters make their move and head for the interior in search of the more friendly and non-human eating Happar tribe.

But the island is a jungle labyrinth, with the valley of the Happar adjacent to that of the Typee.

Suddenly the absconders come…

George Orwell - plain English and a nice cup of tea.

When George Orwell wasn't lampooning totalitarian regimes in 1984, or maligning pigs in Animal Farm, he was passionate about two other things:The use of plain English; and How to make a nice cup of tea.

In his essay published in 1946 entitled 'Politics and the English language', Orwell set out six rules to follow for writing plain English.

Orwell Rule 1. 
Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

Included in this rule is the irritating and persistent use of clichés, such as 'What's not to like?','Join the club', and 'Try thinking outside the box'.

Clichés are a lazy way of expressing oneself and so are particularly popular with politicians. One cliché that politicians are particularly fond of is: 'Doing nothing is not an option', which is ironic as they seem to spend most of their time doing nothing.

Another cliché favoured by politicians is 'not acceptable', which they can use in th…

Henri Matisse and all that jazz....

Was Henri Matisse, the celebrated artist of the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries, also a jazz fan?

Was he ever Groovin’ High and Scrapplin’ from the Apple to the bebop chops of Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie?

To stroll around the park in front of the Matisse Museum in Nice (France), where all the lanes are named after jazz musicians, it might indeed seem that he was.

Not forgetting the book of gouaches paper cutouts that he published in 1947 with the simple title JAZZ.

But alas, there ain't nothin' shakin'. For the principle theme of the book was not jazz but CIRCUS, the word 'jazz' used only to reflect the rhythm of the pictures.

For all that it was a wonderful book and is now being celebrated as part of the festival A Summer for Matisse (Un été pour Matisse) taking place in Nice from 21 June thru 23 September Twenty Hundred and Jumpin' Thirteen.

Palais Lascaris
15 rue Droite
06300 Nice (France)

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing !

Atahualpa - the unhappy Inca Emperor

The Incas of Peru worshipped their Sun God Inti.

They built lavish temples to Inti, which they garnished with gold, believing gold to be Inti's tears - 'the tears of the Sun'.

But it was also gold that the Spanish conquerors wanted. 

For them gold was not the Sun God's presence on Earth, but a commodity they could use to finance their wars and conquests.

So the invaders' leader Francisco Pizarro kidnapped the Inca Emperor Atahaulpa and would only free him in exchange for a ro0m full of GOLD.

The Inca people loved their king and they quickly amassed a mighty hoard of gold and silver. 

But Pizarro had never any intention of sparing Atahaulpa, and once he had his gold he sentenced him to death by burning him alive.

Atahaulpa pleaded with his captor, telling him that if he were burnt his soul would be unable to join his ancestors in the afterlife.

His Spanish gaoler listened to his plea and agreed to his request. But on condition that he convert to Christian Catholicism. 

For c…

Alexander the Great and the Greek waiter

'I foresee a great funeral contest over me'.Alexander the Great
On 13 June 323 BC, in a room surrounded by his doctors, Alexander the Great died of a fever.

Some said he had been poisoned by the Macedonian general Antipater. Others that the death of their commander was due to excessive drinking. 

But it is more likely that the conqueror of Egypt, Persia, and Asia Minor as far as the banks of the Hyphasis in India, where he wept that there were no more kingdoms for him to conquer, was carried away by the humble mosquito, a victim of West Nile fever or of malaria.

Alexander's body was barely cold when it was embalmed and placed in a human shaped sarcophagus filled with honey. 

But what to do with it then?

Alexander's wish was that they toss the body in the river! 

But his wife, Roxanne, and one of his generals, Perdiccas, decided to evoke the wishes of his mother, Olympias, and transport the remains for burial in the family crypt at Aegae in Macedonia.

A sumptuous funeral carria…