Napoleon’s Elba – More Dancing, More Food, More Fun – Part 2


To catch up – do read Part 1 of our Elba Weekend first – but to quickly recap – we were invited to be part of a grand ball held in Napoleon’s Honor on Elba – the 200th anniversary of his first ball there. An opportunity we just couldn’t miss! So we didn’t. We went with full period dress – expecting to have a ball – and a ball we had.

The weekend started well – First up – period theatre attended by Paulina Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister who visited him on the island. She is ‘played’ to perfection by Irina Mishanina a lovely Russian lady with more changes of clothes than I have birds in my yard. Glorious, stately, and very nice. I’m pleased we had a chance to get to know her.

The theatre building was built under the orders of Napoleon, and finished just one month before his daring flight back to France. I can’t say that the performances were worth writing about – but Ben, our very British host who is currently living in Italy, did his best to explain audience behavior during the period. As we are seated in a box seat – we are allowed to visit other boxes – Victor even went to greet Paulina, but got too embarrassed to say anything to her! There is much flirting, waving of fans, and catcalls from the ‘floor’, particularly if one of the men in a box takes off his waistcoat. Simply not done!

After the theatre we had a light dinner (lack of seats was hard on old legs – but I scored one of the 5 tables for 4 that were provided – and we quickly became a group of 8) – and then 2 hours of period dancing under the stars. While onlookers could have joined us – they didn’t. Everyone dancing – and there were almost 155 of us – all period appropriately dressed. Victor was definitely the most dashing in his Marin de la Garde outfit. There were a smattering of other soldiers, many well-dressed ladies, and lots of music, laughter, and fun.

Saturday started early with us getting on a bus to tour the very tiny island. We visited Napoleon’s ‘summer’ house – built-in just 3 months. Perched high on a hill overlooking the main town of Elba, it was small, compact – and hot. Very, very, hot. I was relieved when we were summoned back to the bus for the ride to lunch.

Lunch was a period picnic – sailcloth spread on the ground in a lovely home on a far corner of the island. This was the location, and the house where Napoleon, ever the showman, spent his first night on Elba. He wanted to make a grand entrance into the main city – and needed to ‘freshen’ up after the fairly long voyage. Rumor has it that he spent his last night on Elba there as well.

We sipped champagne, chatted about this and that, waved our fans, and generally relaxed in the shade. My favorite part – meeting other guests! People came from everywhere to attend the event – including Austria, Australia, England, France, Germany. Malta, Russia, and Canada. Ok – we were the only 4 from Canada – out of the 155 – but hey – we looked good.

Back to the hotel for naps (I went swimming), a lovely but too quick dinner, and then to the Grand Ball. Held in the Ballroom of Napoleon’s ‘Palazzo’ turned museum – it was a tiny space for such a large number of guests. This was compounded by the fact that at the last-minute – the organizers were informed that the huge late night dinner spread could not be placed in the Museum proper, but had to go in 1/3 of the already small ballroom. But never mind – we were there to dance, and dance we would.

Many of the women sported trains – some longer than others – so watch your feet was pretty much the rule. The musicians were talented, the dance master tried his best to remind us of the steps required, and the company was simply too much fun. Even though I wore my ball gown, I frequently danced as a man – which just means to the left of the ladies – the steps being exactly the same. Given the heat – I’m glad I wore my silk dress. Victor as usually looked dashing – but found the heat pretty oppressive (two layers of heavy wool over his cotton shirt) and took frequent breaks.

During one of which he danced with ‘Paulina’ at the bequest of the photographer. You can check out the pictures all over Facebook – I think everyone but me got a photo!

Try following this link for pictures: https://mbasic.facebook.com/profile.php?v=timeline&timecutoff=1378867100&page=6&sectionLoadingID=m_timeline_loading_div_1420099199_1388563200_8_6&timeend=1420099199&timestart=1388563200&tm=AQAWkKRvhRVUpz66&id=126463247927&_rdr

I danced every dance – Victor and I admired the work required to create all the food, and I slugged down water. At some point during the evening there was a thunderstorm to end all thunderstorms – which occasioned much oohing and ahhing. Lucky for us -we grabbed a taxi home just as the dance ended – otherwise we’d have been soaked and wool takes a really long time to dry! Others were less lucky – either they walked ‘home’ in the rain – or had to wait over 2 hours for a taxi. Timing is everything.

Sunday morning dawned bright and clear – as if the thunderstorm had never happened.  Our hotel provided breakfast – and while it wasn’t the most amazing feast – the coffee was delicious, and I was able to get 2, 3 ever 4 cappuccinos! And most fun – other people we’d met were also eating breakfast there – so we had pleasant company.

The plan on Sunday was to sail on ‘La Grace’ – a completely wonderful new boat designed to look exactly like a 200-year-old sailboat. 2 masts, tons of sails, and hemp lines running everywhere and a crew of at least 2 dozen seamen – we’re talking serious sailboat.

There are 3 sailings to choose from – I convince Victor to sign up for the last – late afternoon sailing. You are more likely to have a breeze, the sky is likely to be glorious, and most importantly – there are likely to be fewer takers – so more chance to take a turn at the helm.

Arduina and Michel take the multiple sailings seriously – including acting the part of parents saying good-bye from the dock as a younger couple wave madly from on-board!

We arrive on the dock about 30 minutes before time to sail – to an adoring crowd keen to get pictures with the gloriously dressed men and women. Who knew I’d married a peacock? Well Victor was definitely the hit of the parade. Literally everyone was keen to be photographed with the brave solider – and of course the solider was pretty keen to pose. I helped by holding on to purses, umbrellas, and light jackets while their owners snapped away to their heart’s content.

Eventually we wave good-bye to our adoring fans and are ‘piped’ on board to be greeted by the captain. We cast off – ‘motor’ around to the center of the harbor – and then – raise the sails and sail off into the sunset. A nice breeze gives us a solid headway – and we pose for picture after picture. I do get my chance at the helm, Victor gets to pose holding the lines – and we even get to watch some of the braver re-enactors climb to crows nest. Not sure I’d try that – definitely not in my dress.

A fight breaks out between 2 of the crew members – to the delight of the guests. Words, Knives, and Swords fly – and the winner is declared. I’m a bit surprised that the captain didn’t call both fighters to task – but then again – this isn’t really 1814!

All good things – including great weekends – must end. And we sail back into the harbor to a welcoming crowd of onlookers. Our group of 6 makes our way – in period dress – to a near-by fish restaurant to relax, de-compress – and enjoy more delicious food. And of course – after dinner – there’s a must stop at an ice-cream parlor. I did mention that the ice cream on Elba is outstanding.

Tomorrow it’s a reverse of our trip in – but with more luggage since 2 of our friends decide to join us in our car for the 2.5-hour trip to Florence. A wonderful weekend with great friends, fine food, super dancing – and tons of fun.

I loved Elba. Probably will never go back – there’s just much else to see in the world – but I’m glad I got to visit this tiny island. And I totally understand why Napoleon was really glad to leave!

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Napoleon’s Elba – Flash of the Past – Part 1


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!