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Food & History

The two empresses from Martinique, part 2

Jeff Cheek —

Last week's column introduced two cousins from the Caribbean — island of Martinique. This column will cover the rest of their unbelievable — life stories.

Josephine's husband, Napoleon Bonaparte, dominated Europe — for two decades. In 1804, he was crowned Emperor. His wife was now an — Empress as the fortune teller had predicted.

Napoleon desperately wanted a son to inherit the throne — but Josephine, six years his senior, did not produce the much desired — heir. He still loved her but divorced her on 10 January 1810. She was — 46, beyond child bearing age. He married Princess Marie Louise of Austria — who gave birth to Napoleon II on March 20, 1811.

Josephine retired to her Chateau de Malmaison outside — Paris. Perhaps, in her declining years, she longed for the pleasant, uncomplicated — life she had known as a girl, growing up on a plantation in Martinique. — She died May 29, 1814.

American history is entwined with Aimee's. Moslem corsairs, — sailing from Tripoli, raided commercial shipping along the Barbary Coast. — Many countries paid tribute to protect their ships. President Jefferson — did not. He sent the U.S. Navy to bombard Tripoli. We hear echoes of this — in the Marine Corps hymn: "From the halls of Montezuma, To the shores — of Tripoli."

By the time she was 14, Aimee had grown into a great beauty, — with flawless skin, blue eyes and a mass of spun gold hair. When the ship — she was on was captured by pirates off the coast of Algiers, the Bey of — Algiers recognized the value of his beautiful captive. Instead of adding — her to his harem, he sent Aimee as a gift to the Sultan of the Ottoman — Empire in Istanbul. She was one of 24 but her grace, charm and intelligence — won the heart of the old Sultan, especially when she produced a healthy — baby boy, Mahamut. Her son was third in line for the Sultanate.

Life in the harem was dull but easy. Their only duty was — to give pleasure to their master. Aimee spent her time educating her son, — teaching him about the western countries. The other mothers knew only — the Ottoman Empire.

When the Sultan died, Mahamut's half brothers, Solim and — Mustafa, destroyed each other. The half-French son took over as Sultan — Mahamut II. Aimee was now Sultana Vallde (Mother of the Sultan.) She was — truly the power behind the throne. When she died, her son buried the former — plantation girl with royal ceremony. He had this carved on her tomb:

"May the beauty of Sultan Mahamut's mother never be forgotten. — May her fame and glory never be unveiled.

Of her the Majestic Emperor, The Sultan of the world, — Mahumut, of soul shining as a cloud was begotten.

The Beautiful One, her name. The Queen Mother she was, — when this crown of earth was placed upon her head."

Coffee has given way to sugar, bananas and pineapples — on Martinique and the French government has to subsidize their former — gold mine. But memories of the two empresses still linger on the fabled — "island of flowers."

TSgt Joe Lopez had worked as a bus boy in the Waldorf-Asoria — Hotel before joining the Air Force. He taught me how to serve fresh pineapple — Waldorf-Astoria style.


Peel one pineapple, slice lengthwise into six pieces. — With sharp knife cut a thin rope down the center stalk to hold the ends — together. Cut meat from shell but leave enough for a boat shaped container. — Cut pineapple into bite-sized chunks and return to shell. Chill and serve.