Finding Josephine Baker in the Perigord

After calling in at our little Puy-L’Eveque market and buying some good sharp knives, local saucissons fresh fruit and vegies, including our first lot of local chantrelles one day, we set of for the Château de Milandes. The closer we got, the more the weather closed in til it was drizzling and quite cold for a summer’s day.

At one time this was the home of Josephine Baker, the famous American dancer who came to Paris, took it by storm, fell in love with France, (which was reciprocated enthusiastically) and she made it her home for the rest of her life. We were surprised to find that this château was not far from where we were staying.

The château itself was built way back in the 15th century by the Lord of Castelnaud to please his wife. (She liked romantic castles rather than fortress castles.) Over the centuries the castle went through various ups and downs, until one day, while visiting the Perigord (no doubt sampling the delicious delicacies as well as admiring the fabulous countryside), Josephine discovered the Chateau des Milandes, fell in love with it, rented it, and eventually bought it, calling it her ‘Sleeping Beauty Castle’. With its magnificent sweeping views over the surrounding countryside it also became home to the two daughters and ten sons she adopted – her ‘Rainbow Tribe’. Her loyalty to her adopted country was proven during WWII when she worked with the Resistance. For her contribution she was awarded the prestigious Croix de guerre. She was indeed a remarkable woman.

The château at Milandes now celebrates Baker’s life – her life on the stage, her children and private life, and her Resistance work. There are many original costumes which she wore for her shows including the famous ‘banana skirt’ which is, as it sounds, just a very skimpy skirt made out of a continuous row of artificial bananas. And that’s all that particular costume consisted of – no top – so she danced and sang and girated all over the stage with bare breasts and bananas swinging. Risque then and probably risque now – can’t see Madonna wearing this kind of thing on stage. But its not all showbiz. Her army uniform is also there. And the room and furniture – both hers and some used by her children. You’ll have to go there yourself, as photographs aren’t allowed inside.

Reluctantly we left the beautiful grounds and went to JB’s memorial park in the little town of Milandes – a lovely picnic area – where we had another one of our sumptuous repasts – (and weeded the beds of Josephine Baker roses).

Heather, Tina and Sharon

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