Chocolate - Part 1

Chocolate's been around for a heck lot of time - and people have been addicted to it for a heck lot of time too. In the 18th century, at least not until the end of it, chocolate was a liquid drink, and of course, chocolate tablets did not exist. As a fan of chocolate I'll try to leave occasionally some paintings and historical facts about the "food of gods".

Fact 1: Murders! Chocolate was just the perfect beverage to use as a weapon! It was dark and the taste was strong, so you could not detect easily any poison in it. The number of victims is not small. I for myself think it's a good way to go. One example: once, a nobleman that dedicated himself to the tasting and improvement of chocolate ditched a lady, that planned a sweet revenge. She invited him over to her place and served him a delicious looking hot chocolate - with delicious poison. He drank it all, and the poison acted quickly. Before he died, he called his murderer and his epic last words were: "The chocolate would have tasted better if you had put some sugar in it - poison makes it sour!". Perhaps he knew from the beginning that it was poisoned - but what chocolate lover in his or her healthy mental state would waste a cup of chocolate?

A Lady pouring Chocolate ('La Chocolatière')
about 1744, Jean-Étienne Liotard


And now for something completely different - pimples! If there was a pimple / acne apocalypse teenagers would be happier on this earth. Nowadays we have products to help us fight those nasty little pustules, and a minimal degree of personal hygiene - but how did they do it? As you already know, their hygiene was terrible, and they wore all that powder and rouge - their face must have been spotty like the moon! Why, then, do we never hear anything about that? Sure, the powder must have covered those imperfections, but it was certainly a vicious cycle - you had a pimple; you put powder on your face and it covered it; but as you didn't wash, the powder only made the pimples worse; so you put more to disguise the problem; and so on and so forth. Of course artists did not have a tendency to depict those imperfections in their paintings, just like movie actors in historical movies - and all the other movies anyway - have make-up so they don't have spots.

Anyone with any information about this, please share! :-)

À propos of blood...

I know Halloween 's already far away, but I haven't posted anything in an outrageously long time, so...

I remember reading somewhere about a lovely way to get rid of lice problems. The XVII and XVIII century persons did not pay much attention to personal hygiene - oh, you know, four or five baths a year, if you're a hygiene freak. That and the rumor that Louis XIV only took three baths on his whole life, and that three of his feet toes fell when he removed a sock - everything was so dirty it had almost fossilized. Of course all that make up only made things worse, bur why not cover that smelly body odor with litres of perfume? Or even wear a handkerchief dipped in wine. Yummy.

But now, back to the lice problem. Of course those wigs were just the perfect nests to the next lice metropolis. So how did people occasionally get rid of lice? They took an ivory cylinder that was held around their neck with a ribbon - inside that cylinder was a little piece of cloth impregnated with blood. Gradually, the little beasts were attracted by the blood - and in the end of the day, you calmly disposed of the cloth, disposing therefore of your lice! Effective? Perhaps. Messy? Bloody, at least.


A bloody taboo

Hello again, and before anything I apologize for not writing for so long here. You know the effect holidays have in people. Oh well, they'll be over soon.

This post will be short, and I will be talking of something that is a banned subject of conversation: menstruation. Did you ever wonder how women in those times did? How did they manage to deal with it? I mean, it's not like they could hop off to the closest convenience store.

Well, to the higher classess, they could indeed buy some and they made their own towels and straps. In the lower classess, guess. They just let it flow, leaving sometimes a blood train behind. Eeeew! Should be troublesome for vampires.

On the other hand, women died earlier than these days, and they were pregnant a lot of time, since there was no contraceptives methods and it was their "duty".

I am currently working on a blog project, I'll tell you more when I can!

See ya! :-D :-)


Wit, Women, and Wine...

One of the things a woman had to have to be educated was to be highly born or have money - well, both, in fact. And rich married women were, for the most part, hostesses, which means they entertained people in their houses, providing them with all sorts of amusements. And one of those amusements was witty conversations.

A woman, was she a wife or mistress, entertained for several reasons, one of them being to entertain, in the case of a wife, people that could in a way help her husband in his career, and, in the case of a mistress, the lover or possible lovers. It was a kind of common knowledge that a good wife had to, 1: bear a heir; 2: keep house; and 3: entertain guests.

But not many women entertained for the pleasure of witty conversation. In the eighteenth century, it seems there was less prejudice against a woman with brains than in a later period, such as the Regency. Let's not forget that the eighteenth century was indeed the century of enlightment, and that the clever, highly educated and witty women were not few; women that held salons with writers, philosophers, artists of all sorts, such as Madame Geoffrin. Wit was also visible in letters, that were at first a manly ocupation, but as time went by, gradually transformed into a feminine one, in which ladies could demonstrate all their wit!

If the 18th century was known to be a period of enlightment and witty and inteligent conversation, the Regency was known as the Age of Scandal. Certain behaviours that were considered normal in the society of this period would be absolutely scandalous and unnaceptable in the 18th century. A little more prejudice against women with education and inteligence apperead, and people were more devoted to flirting and dancing all the night long than anything else. More improper and scandalous settings provided guests with games of all sorts, including one game of "guessing the kiss". Wow...

Still, there was a quality that was required if you wanted to be perfect, or at least interesting: you had to be able to make witty conversation and entertain people with it. You could be considered vulgar and uninteresting if you didn't know how to converse in an inteligent manner. And one of the most popular games was charades. Some of them were particularly difficult, and required clever people to solve them.

And to all those men who thought they were the only ones capable of witty conversation, an intelligent brain, and whatever else, I dedicate this. Lord Westmorland, a dandy, said this as an answer to a remark made to him by Louis XVIII: "Je wouldrai si je couldrai, mais je ne cannais pas".


The Glass Harmoinca

Remember I told you, dear reads, in the last post, that I'd talk about the Glass Harmonica? Well here I am!

In 1772, Metastase describes the instrument in one of his letters. He said that curious instrument was made of cristal or glass cilinders or rings, that are put together in order of size (from the biggest to the smallest) and are put in a sort of support that spins fast. The player of the instrument touched the cilinders with bare hands, as if it was the keyboard of an organ or harpsichord, and produced an extremely suave sound...

Gluck himself played this instrument, accompanied with an orquestra, and Mozart even composed for it. But wait, the surprises are not over! Benjamin Franklin invented one glass harmonica himself!

"In Franklin's treadle operated version 37 bowls were mounted horizontally on an iron spindle. The whole spindle turned by means of a foot pedal. The sound was produced by touching the rims of the bowls with moistened fingers. Rims were painted different colors according to the pitch of the note. A's were dark blue, B's purple, C's red, D's orange, E's yellow, F's green, G's blue,and accidentals white.With the Franklin design it is possible to play ten glasses simultaneously if desired, a technique that is very difficult if not impossible to execute using upright goblets. Franklin also advocated the use of a small amount of powdered chalk on the fingers which helped produce a clear tone in the same way rosin is applied to the bows of string instruments."

What would you say of that?

There are several different names given tot he glass harmonica according to the language, such as glassharmonica, glass armonica, Armonica de verre in French, Glasharmonika in German, and then a name that I defy you to pronounce: hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica. Isn't that one creepy? It's composed of Greek words and basically means: "harmonica to produce music for the soul by fingers dipped in water". Music for the soul... wonderful!

However, the glass harmonica stated to lose its popularity. Rumors (a tipical 18th century thing!) said that players would go mad, and also the animals in the house of the player. The instrument would make people go into a deep transe and depression, and even shorten their lives! It was forbidden in the 19th century. People also feared that the players suffered from lead poisoning, since it was made with lead glass. However, this was never proven, and in those times, not only harmonica players suffered from lead poisoning - many people did!

Before you leave, take this link with you:


The music is by Mozart. Isn't that sound from the other world?

I hope you enjoyed this short introduction of the glass harmonica!


Music - "Le salon de musique de Marie-Antoinette"

Are you desperately scanning cd shops looking for interesting records, wondering what to buy? Well wonder no more! I bought this wonderul cd last month.

It's called Le salon de musique de Marie-Antoinette. It's a compilation of classical musics played at the time of Maire-Antoinette, in her salons, from her favourite composers. For example, Gluck was her teacher!

Marie-Antoinette did enjoy music. She even composed one, did you know? It's called C'est mon ami. And it comes in the cd! Unfortunately, not recorded by Marie herself... Just kidding. The singer is very good though. Here is the list of the musics:

1 - Petrini, Les folies d'Espagne et douze variations

2 - Gluck, J'ai perdu mon Eurydice

3 / 4 - Krumpholtz, Lamante Abandonée La nuit profonde

5 / 7 - Cardon, Sonate pour harpe opus VII nº 1

8 - Krumpholtz, Sonate en fa majeur opus XV nº 2

9 / 11 - Dauvergne, Trois Chansons

12 / 14 - Saint-Georges, Sonate por harpe et flûte obligée

15 - Marie-Antoinette, C'est mon ami

16 - Mozart, Oiseauz, si tous les ans, KV 307 / 284d

17 / 18 - Dusik, Sonatine pour harpe nº 5

19 - Paisiello, Entracte pour harpe d'Il re Teodoro in Vénézia

20 - Grétry, Malgré la fortune cruelle

21 - Martini, Plaisir d'amour

22 - Mozart, Adagio pour harmonica de verre, KV 356 / 617a

Isn't that a lovely playlist? By the way, the cd was organized by Sandrine Chatron, and had the participation of Isabelle Poulenard (Soprano), Jean-François Lombard (Tenor), Stéphanie Paulet (violin), Amélie Michel (traverso).

If you're wondering, I bought the cd at the Cité de la Musique, at Paris. It's a wonderful museum of music, with lots of historical instruments from the eighteenth century, like harps, harpsichords, and also some other curious instruments, like the glass harmonica...

In the next post I'll talk about the glass harmonica (at least I'll explain what it is!). You can see it is featured in the cd (it's the last track, from Mozart).

Well, I guess that's all! So, good imaginary trip to Marie-Antoinette's salon! (I'm sure you'll picture it perfectly once you hear the musics!)


Marie-Christine, aka The Lucky One - a tale from the Habsbourgs!

What could be one of the most unusual privileges of the 18th century?

A free marriage. Being able to choose your husband / wife.

But Marie-Christine did. And who is this lucky one, you ask? She was the sister of Marie-Antoinette, daughter of the Austrian Empress Marie-Thérèse. She was, then, from the Habsbourg-Lorrène. She was the favourite daughter of her mother, and all that favoritism made her brothers and sisters jealous, including Marie-Antoinette.

She was said to be the prettiest, to be the one with the most talents... She did in fact draw and paint most beautifully. Some of her paintings had scenes of a familiar life in holidays such as St. Nicholas (which corresponds to our Christmas).

The fact that she was her mother's favourite enabled her to plead for several things that her brothers and sisters could not obtain, such as the freedom to marry whom she liked. She wanted to marry Albert de Saxe, but her mother thought that union was not good, thought of Albert as not very important, and at first rejected it.

However, Francis I, Marie-Thérèse husband, the Emperor, died, and Marie-Thérèse entered a great depression. Taking advantage of that state of sadness, Marie-Christine convinced her mother to give her permission for her marriage with Albert.

What happened next? Happily ever after! Well, almost. Marie-Christine and Albert loved each other very much. When she died, he made a monument to her with the inscription: "To the best of wives". One unhappiness of the marriage? They only had a daughter, that died the next day. They had then to adopt Marie-Christine's nephew, Charles-Louis.

Also, Marie-Antoinette never liked her very much; when Marie-Christine visited Marie-Antoinette, she was received in a very cold way.

I think she lead, in the whole, a pretty happy life - for the time!


Let them eat cake is back

I’m sorry I have not written anything this week, but I was, well, pretty busy. And I know it’s not over. Still, even if the next weeks are indeed hell, I will try to write here at list weekly…

Meanwhile, here is something I found in a music from Queen, called precisely… Killer Queen (I’m sure you know it!). Here are the third and fourth verse:

Let them eat cake she says

Just like Marie-Antoinette

Snif. And I liked Queen! :-D

No comment…


Fragonard - "Le Verrou"

This is one of the most fantastic paintings ever.

It's called "Le Verrou", which means, "The Lock". You can see the man locking the door... Oh dear. Wasn't that painter naughty, but still fabulous?


Let them eat cake!

"Let them eat cake"

That sentence is great to make someone look plain mean. Imagine if the people are dying with hunger and the evil queen says that. If we add a sadistic laugh in the end, it would be just perfect. Would it matter if it was true or not?

The story, if we want to make it short, is this. The people of Paris had no bread, no food, and were in complete misery, and was starting to rebel (and he had reasons, plenty of them). But, what is a revolution without violence? They needed to be motivated to go against the ennemy - and, in this case, Marie-Antoinette was the enemy: she was the evil Autrichienne, which means Austrian. The scandals the pamphlets, the slander and lies, they all started here. Half, or even more than half, of these things she is accused of, are lies infiltrated in History.

The odd thing in all of this is that those mean pamphlets didn't start in the people, but in the nobility. They were sick of something: the Queen was not paying the attention that was due to them. She spent her days at the Petit Trianon, an informal place calmer and relaxed than Versailles, that pleased her much more (well, informal, it depends of the point of view: no one, even the King, could enter it without the Queen's consent! Think of it like her sanctuary).

Well, the old nobility, the septagenary marquis and the old comtesse, they had all stayed in Versailles. The only thing present to talk to were the statues! Where was the Queen? In the Trianon, of course! They had to make their court! I'm sure it was no picnic for them (and, about picnics, if you're wandering where the King was, he spent his days hunting when he was not working or making locks). The plots against the Queen started in that climate. The nobility had wonderful palaces, where they retreated and printed those pamphlets, that later grew and grew and flew even in the halls of Versailles!

One of the most famous sentences was "Let Them eat cake". Supposedly, when the Queen was told that the people of Paris had no bread, she said that. Pretty mean humour, huh? And it's a sentence that caused a great hatred and agitation in everyone, go figure out why.

There are several theories about this saying:

Number 1: Marie-Antoinete said that and she was mean, mean, mean.

Number 2: Marie-Antoinette never said that, and it's just a lie like so many others.

Number 3: Marie-Antoinette said that but she meant it in a good way and not a bad way.

Number 4: Marie-Antoinette never said that, but another princess or queen of France did.

Which one to believe? Before you take any conclusions, let me tell you that I do not believe in the first one, and I'm definitely not the only one. There is absolutely no record of Marie-Antoinete saying such things, and it wouldn't be the first lie they make up about her. She was frivolous, yes, that was a truth universally acknowledgded, and so it was easy to make people of that time believe she had indeed said that. Still, it does not mean that we can not rethink those facts nowadays.

Besides, even though she was always light-hearted and never really cared about all the money she wasted, she wasn’t mean. She was absolutely not the sort of “Evil Queen” that would be cynical and ironic when faced with the conditions of the people. She basically was a person incapable of saying a sentence so brilliantly evil in such a situation. She was very concerned each time she saw poverty with her own eyes, did lots of charity works, she even took care of poor children and taught her own sons and daughters to help others. But, the truth is, she was never really aware of the real numbers: the number of money she spent, and the number of people that lived in misery.

I’m inclined to believe in the second and fourth theories. The third is… well, interesting, but I don’t think so. This is what the third theory is based on: a french law forced the bakers to sell Basic bread and more elaborated pastries at the same price, and this to avoid the likely situation of them selling only the most expensive products to have more income. Brioches is a kind of cake made of flour, butter and egs. Therefore, saying “let them eat cake” could be meant as a suggestion for a problem. Even though, I don’t think so. That is a much too elaborate interpretation, and don’t you think someone had to think a lot about that sentence to arrive to that conclusion?

As it is stated in The Phrase Finder:

“The original French is Qu'ils mangent de la brioche. It has been suggested that the speaker's intention wasn't as cynical as is generally supposed. French law required bakers to sell loaves at fixed prices and fancy loaves had to be sold at the same price as basic breads. This was aimed at preventing bakers from selling just the more profitable expensive products. The let them eat brioche (a form of cake made of flour, butter and eggs) would have been a sensible suggestion in the face of a flour shortage as it would have allowed the poor to eat what would otherwise have been unaffordable. It's rather a mouthful, so to speak, but if the phrase had been reported as 'let them buy cake at the same price as bread' we might now think better of the French nobility.”

As to the fourth theory… there are two written sources that could prove it. The first one comes from Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI, Comte de Provence. In a memory he wrote in 1791, he wrote that the sentence “Que ne mangent-ils de la croûte de pâte?” (which basically means, “Why don’t they eat pastry?") was said by another Queen, Marie-Thérèse, the Spanish princess that married Louis XIV, when she was told that the people had no bread.

Rousseau also wrote once:

"Finally I recalled the worst-recourse of a great princess to whom one said that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: "Let them eat brioche..."

Same situation! However, we can not forget Rousseau was a philosopher and a fiction writer.

What could it be? Maybe some parisiens eager of stimulating the revolution had “recycled” that sentence so to make great publicity for Madame La Guillotine, but instead of puting Marie-Thérèse in the credits, they put Marie-Antoinette! Everything’s possible!
It’s still mysterious, even if not as much as before, but one thing is clear: the Queen of France who lost her head never said that!


Colours from the 18th century

In the 18th century, the masked balls were very fashionable – and we can’t forget that this century was also a masked century…
When we think of that era, there are several things that come to our mind. Fabulous and rich clothing and elaborate (and high!) hairstlyes too, noble persons having fun, the magnificent palaces like Versailles, the great luxury of the court, and also the informal little places like the Trianon.

We think about the divertissements of the court, the opera, the concerts, the balls and banquets, from the minuet to the walks in the garden.
But, when I think about that century, there is another word that comes to my mind: Revolution! And there’s the true content of the century.

The rest is a a mask, the face of good life, of the esprit bon vivant, and that was not the reality. Because, if the Revolution exploded with such violence, something not very nice was happening during the whole century… In fact, same as always for the poor: hunger, misery, extreme poverty, wars. That was the face behind the mask.

However, much more is to be said about this century. Facts to be explored and commented, truths to be put to question. The 18th century, and especially in France, was a mixture of crisis at court and in the middle of the people, of victories and miseries, so much so that sometimes I feel confused when I study about it.

For example, the court was part of a big community mask. People knew that this or that was happening, that Lord X did this and Lady Y did that, but did they admiti t? Oh no they didn’t. The favourite way of information were mean little papers that were distributed to whoever woud like to read them (I mean, everyone wanted to read them). Like mean cartoons with lots of lies saying ill of the Marquis or the Duke or the Queen.

The interesting thing is that even the “true face” hidden behind the mask, the Revolution and the misery that started it, is also a mask! What do you think of that? That’s because the Revolution was for them the same thing as freedom. Well, the years of the Terror are one of the times in France history that are more different of freedom… the guillotine would chop hundreds or even thousands of heads per week, and you could get your head chopped off that same way for anything, even for the tiniest insignificant misunderstanding! In the walls of Paris you could find messages that said things like: “Anyone clapping the Kind will be whipped; Anyone booing the King will be hanged”. Now that was a bit of a problem. Depending on the state of minds, no matter which side you were on, you would get to visit Madame Guillotine sooner or later if you were active even a little bit.

And after so many fights and bloodsheds to get rid of their monarchs, the people of Paris and of whole France ended up with… an Emperor! Big deal.

Of course the Revolution was indispensible, but it was not only a victory, and something that should be a time of freedom and happiness was during a looong time a reign of terror and misery – again.

Exploring a century beyond these masks can be a true challenge, but i tis also fascinating, and some dare to do it.


Prelude Or Overture

I've read somewhere that Roal Dahl said that if he could, he'd get rid of the History teacher and get a professor of Chocolate. That makes sense if you think of it, since he wrote Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and not Charlie And The History Factory. But anyway.

There are different ways to think of something, different points of view, as there are different people. There are people that find that History is peeking in other's life... (but, just for you to know, I hate the gossip magazines). There are people that are completely indifferent, and others abominate History completely because they must study hard and remember the date of a battle for Monday's test.

It's alright, I understand. I thought that too. But the opinion that the people have of the study of History, and its events, also have much to do with the way they discover it. It is obvious that if in the sixth year of school the only thing that students do is to study dates and to say that in the XIX century appeared the train and that this was very good for the development of the transports and communications, they won't feel excited. They only study for the sake of the next test or exam, and not for the sake of History. Clearly this does not have great interest; the worst of everything is that they don't understand why they should waste such precious time studying History!

It is very difficult to have teach History in an attractive way, that's true. But when we study something voluntarily and not because we just have to, things change completely. Deep inside, there's nothing to say. I like History just like others like soccer of video games, and that's it. It all started with a visit to Versailles, two or three years ago. We met a very comic and hiperactive guide, a guide very passionate for history. She wasn't definitively a guide who only made her work; she was a guide who followed her passion. We (I and my parents) and two more pairs of lucky tourists were invited by the guide to a small guided visit. We weren't counting with what came next.

She took us to places that, well, were not open to the public: apartments of the small Trianon that were closed for renovation, for example; or the opera of Marie Antoinette, close to the Trianon. We saw apartments that were not touched since the Revolution: with the paper ripped from the walls, the dusty ground and furniture, everything! It looked like Marie-Antoinette had left yesterday without packing. The guide spoke of everything with such passion that I was astonished. In the end, she advised me a book about Marie-Antoinette. The best was that she spoke with me as if I was an adult, and not a child (I was twelve, I think).

Anyway, that made one " clic" inside me, and I, who was not in the least bit interested in that, started to adore everything of it, to speak with people about History, to read, to research, to visit museums… I didn’t immediately read the book that the guide had advised, Marie-Antoinette, of Stefan Zweig, because well, that was not exactly easy literature to start. But now I’ve read it (and loved it, by the way).

One thing I’d love to do would be to go see that guide and tell her that her visit really changed something inside of me. That it worked. Because, deep inside, i tis always a kind of personal victory when we see that we managed to make someone interested in something.

And now, I have a bookcase full of historical books (fictional and non-fictional), of magazines from museums; I have a huge list of interesting historical blogs and sites; I spend whole afternoons researching on books and on the internet, comparing books, watching historical movies… When I go to museums, I can recognize the persons that are in the paintings, say which was the painting, what is the year of the painting (most of the time I can guess that because of the clothes the persons in the paintings are wearing). In museums, even if they’re biiig ones, if there are plenty of XVIII and XIX century paintings, I never get tired, even when everyone is already exhausted.

And I do feel very happy that way. It’s great to have an interest that makes us research and read and just be passionate about it.

I’ve only got a problem: no one I know has that interest (at least, not in the passionate way I do). Sometimes there are people that like it when I explain to them this and that, when I start to talk with in a very outraged way, because Marie-Antoinette never said “Let them eat cake”, and that is was a lie, etc. There are other people that like to jump in the museums hiding the labels of the paintings and tell me to guess the year of the painting.

Well, I like doing that to. But, in fact, I’d also like to have someone who would feel as fascinated as I do and that wouldn’t roll eyes and call me an addict if I’m reading an interesting book about, I don’t know, Marie-Thérèse, for example!

And I still haven’t found someone with that interest, but I’m not giving up! And that is why I’ve started this blog, to anyone that is interested in reading whatever historical things I post here (and whoever is ready to forgive me for any English spelling mistakes; I’m very sorry about that, but Portuguese is my native language, not english).
So stay alert, will’ya? Maybe something here will catch your eye. Remember, suggestions and comments are always most welcome!

And perhaps I’ll meet that guide from Versailles again, one of these days.

So, to conclude, here’s one painting from one of my favorite artist, Fragonard. Isn’t it beautiful?

P.S.: This post is called Prelude Or Overture because it’s a kind of introduction to the blog, and I’ve always thought that music and history went very well together… ; )