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France

PATMOS – THE CORPSE IN A BASKET

I did not stay long at that Patmonian cocktail party. I was bored, but mostly I didn’t like the house. It was beautiful; old and tastefully decorated, adorned with charming objects, and surrounded by an enchanting garden. And yet, I felt uneasy there. I returned home to find Maria still in the kitchen. I told…

THE DISFIGURED THIEF

It was 19th century Greece during King Otto of Bavaria’s reign. An elusive thief named Christos Davelis was ravaging the area of Mount Pentecliicus around north Athens. Word also had it that he was very handsome: so much so that he may well have seduced the Duchess of Plaisance. Sophie de Marbois was Lebrun’s widow,…

THE TALISMAN OF POPE BORGIA

  I have always had a weak spot for Pope Alexandre VI Borgia. History has smeared his name with horrid deeds; but I suspect that such a campaign was led in part by protestant propaganda. I had shared this theory with my youngest daughter Olga who was given zero for writing it in her homework….

ANNE AND SARAH

In the winter of 1711, France and Louis XIV felt absolutely crestfallen. Frost had annihilated the harvest; it was so cold that people were dying in the streets; the Spanish War of Succession had been dragging on for more than ten years; there was no more money, troops, resources, and no more hope. France’s enemies…

THE MUSIC-LOVING GHOST

On a Paris-Krakow flight, I ran into one of my favourite cousins, Crista. I asked her where she is going. Her husband, she told me, is a graduate of ESCI, the Business school in Fontainebleau. The students in his class had decided to go on a trip to Poland with their wives, the highlight of…

THE SHAH’S TREASURE

Back in the days of the Shah, every time went to Iran, I rushed over to the Melli Bank because I loved looking at the crown jewels on display there in a basement room. I would begin with the Throne of the Peacocks, which was not in fact the dismantled original, but instead a facsimile:…

THE MURDEROUS PAINTER

Fifteen years ago, I visited the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. I happened upon the section devoted to 19th century painting where there was a rather small painting, remarkably well painted, of a man who looked young and yet whose diabolical energy – horridness, cruelty, meanness – struck me so, that it overwhelmed me….

THE MURDEROUS GARDENER

My aunt Bébelle, the Countess of Paris Isabelle d’Orléans Bragance, told me that when she was young she often visited one of her maternal aunts who owned a very beautiful villa on the banks of Lake Geneva. The aunt was especially proud of her garden, and of her roses in particular. One day, the aunt…

THE JOKESTER GHOST OF TAOS

  About twenty years ago, we visited the very beautiful city of Taos in New Mexico. We stayed at Luan House, which had been turned into a hotel. It was a magnificent villa built in the regional style popular during the 1920s and 1930s by an American art patron millionaire, Mabel Dodge. Everyone of any…

“THERE IS ROOM FOR ONE MORE”

I saw this story in a very old black and white film. I read it in a collection of stories published by Benson, and had read before that it in a collection of true tales, of which I cannot recall the author. It took place in England in between 1905 and 1910. A man is…