Friday, June 15, 2012

Boney's unpaid icecream bill in Avignon: 50 francs.

Bonaparte had more than one  occasion to spend a few days in Avignon. According to local historians, he got fond of a 'glacier'; an icecream parlour on Place Saint Didier.
He is said to have left once the city without paying a bill amounting to 50 francs - a not inconsiderable sum for the times.
. I checked with my neighbours running the gthe icecream vendor on the square (Le Comptoir Saint Didier, great sherbets and home made cakes served on a terrace under a pine tree.) The lady was well aware of that unpaid bill, through her mother-in-law. I guessed at first that Nabulione ( as he was called when a kid in Corsica) was but a teenager at the time : Sent to study from an early age  in various military academies on the Continent, Bonaparte was only 16 when he left Paris for Valence and Avignon for his first six month  home holiday on 30 octobre 1785.  His allowance, paid for by an uncle, was notoriously small - but then weren't the  prices quoted in livres and in Louis ? The franc was instated in lieu of the Louis during the French Revolution.

Maybe it was during his 1793 residence at Marseilles, when Napoleon was employed as a Captain by the general commanding the artillery of " the Army of Italy", and sent to negotiate with the insurgents of Marseilles and Avignon, (a city where he published in the same year a little pamphlet called 'Le souper de Beaucaire', in which he tried to persuade the moderates of the merchant classes not to provoke the excited revolutionists, who were then fighting a cruel civil war in several parts of France.) In those days again, his income was not nearly enough for his needs, and those of his greedy family. The 50 francs of that bill might have exceeded his means.

Anyway, he never paid them back : in the following years he was sort of busy, what with with Coup d'états, campaigns, treaties, coronations and so on : the lanky captain went on to be  a general, then the Premier consul, then an Emperor, whose military proclivities are responsible for over a million deaths on the battlefields. He did solve his money problem - some say he had become the wealthiest person in Europe.

After his first abdication, in April, 1814,on his way to Elba, Napoleon stopped for the last time in Avignon, where he narrowly escaped being slaugthered by the populace. Actually the whole of Provence hated him. He escaped in the uniform of an Austrian officer. During his famous 1815 comeback from Elba, Bonaparte landed in Nice and followed a more arduous, but safer road to Paris through the Alps. You know how it all ended : Waterloo, exile to St Helens... If I were you, I would think twice before leaving an unpaid bill in Avignon.

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Image : excerpt from the famous " Souper de Beaucaire" painting by Lecomte du Nouÿ.