Elba – tiny Island – big place in History!
In 1814 Napoleon abdicated as Emperor of France, and accepted being the Emperor of Elba – a tiny island just off the coast of Italy. When he arrived – he described Elba as a village of fisherman – and set out to ‘modernize’ it. He had a home turned into a ‘Palazzo’, he had a theatre built, he built a summer home in just 3 months, he even smuggled Marie Walewska onto the island for a quick romantic visit.
And it is known that he gave grand balls.
Fast-forward 200 years – and a group of English Country Dancers from Florence (believe it or not – the kind of dancing done in French Society during the 1er Empire) decide to hold the first ball in Napoleon’s ballroom in 200 years. And we’re invited.
How could Victor and I miss such an opportunity?
And to make it a weekend worth the travel time – not only would there be the grand ball – there would also be a public dance featuring all the people willing to dance on a outdoor plaza at the foot of Napoleon’s home. There would be a dance workshop – a period picnic in the place that Napoleon spent his first (and last) nights on Elba – a visit to Napoleon’s country home, a mid-night period-correct swim, and a chance to take a 2 hour sail on the “La Grace” – a wooden sailing ship the same size as the one Napoleon used to escape from Elba in 1815.
So – we figured – hey – we’re going to Montmirail two weeks before (check out my blog – re-enacting 101) – let’s extend the trip to include the weekend in Elba. We made the best decision ever – we invited our dance master friends, Arduina and Michel to maybe join us. They agreed. And because they are dance masters – they also decide it would be a good idea to practice the dances in advance.
So – while still in Montreal 2 other couples joined us for the practice sessions, followed by a period appropriate dinner party. Great start to a fab holiday, no? The dance practices were fun – dinner was amazing. Turns out that Stephan’s family makes their own smoked salmon – and he arrives, fish in hand – with a slicer. Best Salmon ever. Meal ends with a period correct Croque-en-Bouche. But enough about a dinner party – this blog is about Elba.
Ok – so – first Montmirail, then Venice, then Nice, then Elba. To get to Elba, you must take a ferry – and I love boats. Getting on was a piece of cake, even with a car. Nice being off-season. Anyway – on, lovely ride, off. Find the hotel. Done, Done, and All Done.
Since the first dance practice was that night, we ate quickly and then walked up and up and up. Elba is a hilly little island – and Napoleon picked the top of the highest hill in the biggest town to make his ‘home’. And we were having dance practice near-by.
Coolest thing – Victor immediately meets someone he knows! The official Waterloo (and this event) photographer – who recognized Victor as the person whose photo he used for the ad for Waterloo 2010. Way cool, eh?
Dance practice is fun – a bit hot, but fun. Good thing we’d practiced. It made us look like some of the better dancers – always nice to feel superior. On the walk back we find a ‘closing’ ice cream parlor that agrees to stay open just long enough to sell the 4 of us some Gellato and Sorbetto. Italian ice cream is awesomely good. I’m just saying.
Friday we spent the day relaxing – checking out the stone beach, reading, and generally just moving slow. Then at 4:00pm we got dressed (Period Correct of course) – and started the weekend event.
Quick comment on dress – Men of this period wore waistcoats, vests, stockings, and ornate watches, neck scarves. Or they wore their uniforms if they were soldiers. Women wore Empire wasted (regency period) gowns – different gowns during different parts of the day. I only have 3 dresses with me – my silk ball gown, plus 2 lighter cotton dresses for Friday, during the day on Saturday, and Sunday. I have a parasol, gloves, and appropriate jewelry. I do not have a wig – which is a shame since most women are wearing either hairpieces or full wigs to get the right effect.
And a comment on numbers – there are 155 dancers – about 2/3 women, 1/3 men. So often the women must dance the ‘male’ role. This results in some pretty funny multi-lingual adventures – We form circles for example, alternating man – woman. But if there are two women, is the ‘male’ on the right side? The dance master goes from person to person identifying their role. Man, Woman, Man, Woman, Man, ????..
—- My adventure continues tomorrow —
Signing off for now – The Soup Lady!