Monday, 23 May 2016

A Journey to Florence in 1817 - from Montgeron to Sens

The road leading out of the Forest of Senart towards Melun [Cassini]
Renaud Arpin has written to me from Montgeron with details of a tragic event that is linked to the Hôtel de la Chasse in Montgeron. 

On the evening of 27th  April 1796, the mail coach was attacked in the forest of Senart, near Lieusaint. 

The bandits murdered the postilion and the courier and seized seven million livres (the currency used until the turn of the century, when the livre was replaced by the franc) worth of assignats (bank notes used during the Revolution) meant for the Italian army. 

The investigation quickly established that four criminals had dined that evening in Montgeron, at the Hôtel de la Chasse

Assignat worth 125 livres issued in 1793 
Two maids, called as witnesses, thought they recognized a man brought that day before the judge for another matter: he was Joseph Lesurques, who was the victim of a resemblance to one of the robbers. 

On the strength of this testimony and some other unfortunate coincidences, he was condemned and executed a few months later. 

Thus this hotel in Montgeron was the source of one of the most famous miscarriages of justice in the history of France.

Melun is a town on the road to Sens, where the Campbells were heading that night. But Beaujolois doesn't tell us anything about Melun, for she was too absorbed in the novel she was reading to look out of the carriage window.

In the last post you were promised tales of murder, miscarriage of justice, and eggs.  Eggs? Well, it's not the old joke which runs, 'Why does a Frenchman never eat more than one egg for breakfast?' - The answer being, of course, 'Because un oeuf is en-ough.' 

The route from the Forest of Senart (top left) through Melun to Sens
[CARTOGUIDE SHELL-BERRE FRANCE: Isle-de-France, 1970 edition]

No, this is a story gleaned by M. Michel Chancelier, President of the Société d'Histoire Locale de Montgeron, from the 19th January 1908 edition of the magazine La Cuisine des Familles.

It is told by the raconteur  and gourmet Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin:

One day I was travelling with two women whom I was accompanying to Melun. We had left early that morning, and arrived in Montgeron with an appetite that threatened to devour everything.

Idle threats: the inn where we were stopping, though of fairly good appearance, was devoid of provisions; three coaches and chaises had happened by and, like the locusts of Egypt, had devoured everything.  So said the chef.

However I could see a spit turning, loaded with a gigot [leg of lamb]  just as it should be, and towards which the ladies, out of habit, threw very hopeful looks.

Alas! It did not go well; the lamb belonged to three Englishmen [two of whom may seen through the open doorway in the scene depicted above] who had brought it with them and were waiting patiently while drinking champagne.

But, at least, I said half in sorrow and half begging, could you not whisk up some eggs for us in the juice of this gigot? We should content ourselves then with the eggs and a cup of coffee with cream. 

'Oh! Most gladly,' answered the chef, 'in law the juice belongs to the public, and I am going to attend at once to your request.' 

With that he began the dutiful breaking of eggs.

Once I saw him 
busy, I approached the fire and, pulling from my pocket a travelling knife, I made in the forbidden leg of lamb a dozen large wounds, from which the juice of passed out to the last drop.

During this operation, I feigned paying attention to the concoction of the eggs, not wishing him to be distracted. When all was ready, I took the dish of eggs and carried it to a room which had been prepared for us.

There we feasted, and laughed as if crazy about the fact that in reality we were swallowing the substance of the leg of lamb, leaving our English friends just the dried residue on which to chew.

I hitch-hiked out of Montgeron that  afternoon after taking photos of the buildings that had once been the Hôtel du Lion d'Or, the Hôtel de la Chasse (marked on the map above) and the Hôtellerie Lombard.

Since leaving Montgeron I have learned much more about the town thanks to the kindness of Michel Chancelier and more recently Renaud Arpin. Renaud went to so  much trouble to send me copies of the old town maps of Montgeron. 

These are most detailed, divided up as they are into several sections. On each section Renaud has marked the location of the hotel, in this case the Hôtel de la Chasse.

This map (above) is just a small element from section D of the collection. The mapping was undertaken in 1810, and all the documents are now held in the Archives Communales de Montgeron.

I would like to thank both Michel and Renaud for taking the trouble to write to me. All the information received was greatly valued, and has been of immense use to me in my research of Beaujolois' diary.

The next entry Beaujolois makes in her journal was on the evening of July 31st:

We went on without stopping to Sens, where we slept. The Inn where we have already been at was full. Therefore we stopt [sic] at one called le grand cerf.

So, the next post in June will take us to Sens where the building that was Le Grand Cerf still stands. There will be no more eggs, but there will be elephants.

Note: This blog supports readers of The Door of Perarolo, a historical novel set in Cadore, Italy in the early nineteenth century.  You can examine feedback from readers in the UK here and in the US here.  The Door of Perarolo is a Kindle ebook comprising 140 chapters.  It can be downloaded from Amazon sites worldwide. The launch post of this blog gives further details.  The second post provides links to maps, etc.

If you'd like to track these blog posts, you can follow me, Peter Alexander Gray, on Facebook.

No comments:

Post a Comment