Sunday, 16 October 2011

Never Cross A Scot

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~ Never Cross A Scot ~

Never Cross A Scot, originally uploaded by Paris Set Me Free.
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Do you know about the curse of old Macdonald, Duke of Tarente, Marshal of France? Great military leader under emperors and kings, Étienne Jacques Joseph Alexandre Macdonald, with whom I share Scottish roots as you might imagine, now casts his stony gaze down upon us from the Louvre's north facade on the Rue de Rivoli.

The story goes that Macdonald and Napoleon were meeting one day to discuss the forthcoming Wagram campaign and Macdonald suggested they try a wee Scottish restaurant which had just opened in the colourful Palais Royal district. The Marshal recommended the speciality of the house, the legendary Scottish delicacy called haggis.

When the Emperor enquired as to the origins of the dish, Macdonald's wry Scots wit and the whisky got the better of him. He spun a tall tale of stunted sheep-like beasties whose favourite passtime was rugged highland ruminating. Their legs are longer on one side than the other, he explained, in other to facilitate the task of negotiating the craggy Scottish hilltops. And don't approach them too suddenly, he warned, his eyes twinkling. The fierce competition for the bracken and thistles has turned them into aggressive little critters to be treated with circumspection.

Which is utter nonsense of course, for we all know that the haggis is an amiable lowland grazer.

Anyway, to cut a long tale short, Napoleon didn't much appreciate Macdonald's uproarous laughter at his not so gentle leg-pulling. The Emperor then uttered the now famous words:

"En tout cas c'est dégueulasse. Je préférerai manger les escargots que ce truc là !"
(In any case it's disgusting. I'd rather eat snails than that thing!)

For a Scot, the eating of a haggis is a sacred, almost mystical experience, and this was one insult too far for the battle-grizzled warmaster. Not only did he start to distance himself from the Emperor (eventually switching allegeances completely to Louis XVIII) but he also placed an ancient highlands curse upon the city of Paris:

Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights hast thirty one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

And so the once gastronomically distinguished city of Paris was doomed to play unwitting host to an evil chain of eateries claiming to offer 'fast food', but Old Macdonald, looking directly down onto Rue de Rivoli's mirky 'McDo' smirks under his Scottish whiskers.

"You dared insult our poor wee haggis, so-called Monsieur Emperor man. Now put that in your sacred stomach and digest it, Napo!"

(And to top it all, eavesdropping Empiric admirers took the Napoleonic one at his word regarding snail consumption and sales of butter and garlic rocketed to hide the taste of the gastronomised gastropods ;~S )

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Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Contact me directly for photo tours, interviews, exhibitions, etc.

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