Showing posts with label Emmanuelle Skyvington. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Emmanuelle Skyvington. Show all posts

Friday, April 11, 2014

Extraordinary performance


The Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel [1929-1978] composed the celebrated song Ne me quitte pas [Don’t leave me] in 1959. Click here to access a video of an extraordinary performance of this masterpiece by Brel himself. This performance was recorded in Paris on 10 November 1966. A week earlier, in Brussels (where I was working as a computer programmer), Christine had given birth to our daughter Emmanuelle.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Two tickets for Gambais, one return

In my blog post of 22 March 2010 entitled First rural residence [display], I described a simple roadside house in the country to the west of Paris that Christine and I rented in 1968-9 for six months or so.


Our neighborhood had a funny name, Mocsouris, which seems to mean, nonsensically, “making fun of a mouse”. This place name, sometimes spelt Moque-Souris, surely has more obscure etymological and historic origins of which I’m unaware. In a cadastral document of 1825 from Brittany, for example, this name reappears with an even more curious spelling.


Our house was located on the edge of a neighborhood called Maulette, which lies between Mocsouris and the town of Houdan. Our baby daughter Emmanuelle decided immediately that, at a rhyming level, “Maulette” sounded a lot like “toilette” (body-washing in French). So, she started to refer to her towelling for washing, in the form of a glove, as a “gant de Maulette” (Maulette glove-washer).

Meanwhile, Christine and I imagined naively—as the renting agency had informed us—that our postal address was Houdan. Today, thanks to Google Maps, I realize that we were in fact residing in the commune of Gambais, which was associated with one of the most notorious serial killers in French criminal history: Henri Désiré Landru [1869-1922], who was guillotined for the murder of 11 women.

Our house in Mocsouris had a vast backyard, which was an ideal summer setting for our 2-year-old daughter. Today, thanks to Google and the curious demolition of a section of our former neighbor’s garden wall, Emmanuelle is offered a glimpse of her first backyard.

Click to enlarge

This neighbor was a prosperous farmer. Today, my primary recollection of this fellow is that he taught me a French noun: tâcheron. The word tâche means a task. So, a tâcheron is somebody who's employed to perform tasks. In reality, it’s a disparaging term, evoking the use of unskilled workers for a brief period, at a minimal cost, before their being cast aside.

Getting back to Landru, you can find out all about him through an excellent Wikipedia article [display]. The title of this blog post is a celebrated line attributed to the mass murderer. From his Paris apartment, he used newspaper ads to find lonely females, often widows, offering them marriage. Their first (and last) outing was a visit to his country house in Gambais. Landru had the habit, at the train station in Paris, of requesting two tickets for Gambais, but only one return. (I traveled daily on that line when we were living in Gambais.) As soon as a victim settled down in Landru's charming house in Gambais, she was strangled, chopped into pieces and burnt in a kitchen oven. Then Landru made arrangements for recuperating all the dead lady’s possessions.

I was reminded of this sinister individual through a series of astonishing old photos of Landru’s trial that Gallica (website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France) has just published on the Internet.




Some of the witty interventions of the “Bluebeard of Gambais” during his trial in Versailles have gone down in history.

— Denying that he had ever killed anybody at Gambais, Landru called upon the court to “show us the corpses”.

— Landru declared: “If the women I knew have anything to complain about, then let them step forward.

— When a woman in the crowded courtroom couldn't find an empty seat, Landru proposed gallantly to give her his place.

Police investigations into Landru’s crimes had been concentrated, understandably, upon his house in Gambais.


A dramatic exhibit during the trial was the actual cast-iron kitchen oven in which Landru had transformed his victims into ashes.


After Landru’s trial and beheading, this oven was auctioned. Its most recent owner is the popular French TV personality Laurent Ruquier, author of a play about Landru. The house in Gambais, too, was soon sold by auction. Its first owner transformed it into an elegant restaurant, with a delicately-chosen name: Au Grillon du Foyer (Homely Grill).


Later, it became, for all intents and purposes, an ordinary house. During the time that we spent at Gambais, Christine and I never went out of our way to locate the house in question. Consequently, it’s only today that I realize—thanks to Google—that we were in fact close neighbors. A few kilometers after our house in Mocsouris, you reach the village of Gambais.


On the right-hand side of the road, there’s a lugubrious church and cemetery.


A few hundred meters further down the road, Landru’s house is nested alongside a row of prim and proper modern dwellings.





Throughout his trial, Landru persisted in claiming—against tons of evidence—that he had never harmed anybody. At the foot of the scaffold, at dawn on 25 February 1922, in the grand avenue of Versailles, Landru's lawyer made a last-minute request. Would the condemned man finally admit, in the face of God, that he had indeed killed all those women? The artist replied politely, before stepping aboard his steel-blade jet for Eternity: "The answer to that question, dear lawyer, is part of my hand luggage." And the severed head of the Bluebeard of Gambais soon found its way (God only knows how) into a Hollywood museum.


If only I had known of this proximity, back at the time we were residing in Gambais, I might have delighted my dear mother Kath Skyvington with horror stories about Landru. Indeed, I was so ill-informed and absent-minded that I didn’t even think of taking my parents to Gambais when they visited us in Paris. In fact, I don’t believe that any of us have returned there as pilgrims over the last 46 years.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pumpkin scones

In the middle of a hot summer, life's not easy for pumpkins, which crave for water.


But they survive, and perk up—as sprightly as ever—as soon as the sun goes down. Then, in autumn, the harvest is so impressive that you end up wandering what you might do with all your glorious pumpkins. Well, here's my well-tested suggestion: Make pumpkin scones !


First, you need to produce pumpkin purée. Slice the pumpkin into big pieces. Remove the seeds, but don't touch the skin. Place the pieces on a non-stick tray (called Tefal in France) and bake at 200 degrees for an hour and a quarter. Let the baked pieces cool, then detach the soft pumpkin from the skin and place the fragments in a big bowl.


To transform the baked pumpkin into a purée, the ideal solution is a a gadget such as you see in the above photo. (My daughter Emmanuelle first informed me of the existence of this inexpensive soup-making device, many years ago, and told me that it would change my life... and she was spot on.) I soon had a pile of pumpkin purée.


Pumpkin purée is great stuff in that you can ladle it into plastic bags, each bag holding a cupful of purée, and deep-freeze it for your winter scones. Now, let's look at the recipe for pumpkin scones. At one stage, you'll need an essential ingredient that Americans (world champions in the domain of pumpkin scones) designate as pumpkin pie spice. In France, this product is obtained by mixing together four familiar spices, shown here:


Here's the precise recipe:

— a tablespoon of cinnamon (cannelle)

— a teaspoon of ginger (gingembre moulu)

— half a teaspoon of nutmeg (muscade moulue)

— half a teaspoon of ground cloves (girofle moulue)

Add a pinch of salt and mix. Keep the mixture in a sealed jar. For each batch of pumpkin scones based upon the preparation I'm about to describe, you'll only use a teaspoon of the mixed spices.

Here in France, people who would like to try out superb Anglo-Saxon recipes such as scones are often mystified unnecessarily by the names of three basic ingredients, whose French equivalents are shown here:


For French readers of my blog, here are the explanations:

— So-called buttermilk is simply fermented milk: a Breton product designated as lait Ribot.

— Anglo-Saxon baking powder is simply the French stuff known as levure chimique alsacienne, sold in its familiar little pink paper packets.

— Anglo-Saxon baking soda is simply the French product designated as bicarbonate alimentaire.

In France, these products can be found in your local supermarket. Once you've got everything in place, the preparation of pumpkin scones is quite simple.

Dry ingredients. In a big bowl, mix together 2 cups (260 grams) of flour, a third of a cup (75 grams) of sugar, a teaspoon of spices (as described above), a teaspoon of baking powder (levure chimique), a half-teaspoon of baking soda (bicarbonate alimentaire) and a dose of genuine vanilla.


As far as the vanilla is concerned, a convenient solution is the sachet of powdered vanilla sugar. If you resort to the liquid extract, then a few drops should be added to the moist ingredients (described below). The nec-plus-ultra solution that consists of grinding dried vanilla beans from Madagascar is applicable if you happen to have a son such as my François who visits all kinds of exotic places on his archaic moped.

In the usual pastry-making manner, use a pastry-blender device or a pair of knives to insert 125 grams of unsalted butter (beurre doux) into the flour. Here's a photo of a pastry-blender:


Stir in a generous quantity of raisins (I prefer the soft white variety) and walnuts (from Gamone, of course).

Moist ingredients. In a small bowl, mix half a cup (an 8th of a liter) of pumpkin purée with the same volume of buttermilk (lait Ribot). Stir well.

Insert the moist ingredients into the big bowl of dry ingredients, and stir lazily until everything is humid: just enough, but no more. On a floured board, pat the dough into a flat slab, and cut out eight fragments. Place them in small non-stick pie cups of the Tefal kind: a must for pie-makers.


Flatten each scone in its tray, then brush the top surface with a mixture of an egg beaten with cream. Sprinkle the top of each scone with chunks of pistachio nuts or sesame seeds. Place the Tefal cups on a large Tefal tray, so that the underside of the scones won't be scorched. Bake at 200 degrees C for some 20 minutes. Here's the result:


In all modesty, I have to admit that these are surely the finest scones I've ever tasted. To be eaten with a glass of cool Sauvignon.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

You can lead a dog to water...


... but you can't necessarily make him dive in and swim. The presence of Emmanuelle at Gamone made it feasible to coax Fitzroy into the car and take him down to the Bourne in the village of Choranche. During the excursion, my daughter's role consisted of making sure that our dog wouldn't jump up onto me when I was at the wheel.


If Fitzroy's head appears to be a little wet, that simply means that I had cupped up water in my hands and annointed him. For the moment, in spite of French successes at the Olympic Games, Fitzroy seems to be quite uninterested in swimming. We must not forget that he's a mountain dog, born in the Alpine village of Risoul 1850, at an altitude (as its name indicates) of 1850 meters. Fitzroy is capable of scaling an almost vertical embankment in a few bounds, but he's apparently uninterested in the idea of jumping into a stream in the valley.