Twice, Jean-Baptiste Charcot, the French doctor of medicine and polar explorer, picnicked in Antarctica. In each instance the situation called for a diversion from the boredom of cold and ice while engaged in scientific research and mapping.
Uncharacteristically for a Frenchman, Charcot uses the English word instead of pique-nique to describe the first outing as the men raised their sprits singing to a chorus of barking dogs. Charcot does not mention what they ate or drank for this day in 1904, but five years later, he and the Pourquoi Pas crew? ate traditional crêpes and drank wine to honor Mardi Gras.
It was a spontaneous celebration of Mardi Gras because the weather was good, and Charcot meticulously recorded the fun in his journal: “February 23, Shrove Tuesday. — Without troubling about the Carnival, the men have been at work since morning, and under the direction of Gourdon, are stacking on land the cases of provisions. At lunchtime Liouville appears with his beard shaved off, wearing Austrian whiskers, with his nose painted red and his head covered with a tropical helmet. Then Gourdon and Gain disguise themselves in their turn, showing a strong preference for white clothes and tropical head-gear. The mess steward turns out in a most extra-ordinary garb, and the cook is disguised as the chef in a big hotel. This is the signal for a general masquerade, very merry, though simple.The crew are content with turning up their trouser-legs and displaying superb red under-clothing, which, with their blue knitted vests and sealers’ boots and caps, makes a lovely uniform. Bongrain adds to his already respectable height by adorning his head-dress with the only feather on board, and carries in his hand an enormous pole. Then everyone gets hold of a gun and the troop goes through evolutions on the island, while Liouville uses a clarinet as a bugle and Lerebourg accompanies him on a tin box as a drum, and Gourdon, harnessed to a sledge, represents the ambulance service. The greatest merriment prevails, and the rest of the day is treated as a holiday. In spite of the north-east wind, we have been spared snow in the afternoon, but in the evening it begins to fall again, so that we do not lack confetti, fortunately clean. Dinner includes pancakes, well washed down, and Gourdon brings out of the hold a tin box, labeled “For Shrove Tuesday,” containing some excellent honey, which a member of his family kindly presented before we started from home.”
For the moment, the weather held. Then the weather shifted, and Charcot writes it “is worse than it has ever been.” The pique-nique was over.
Charcot was drowned when Le pourquoi pas? wrecked in a gale on a reef near Iceland in 1936. . Almost fifty years later, divers found a bottle of red Boudreaux in the wreckage. Nice touch, if true.
Featured Image: Le Pourquoi Pas? at anchor on Peterman Island (nd). The island is now a regular tourist stop.
See: Jean-Baptiste Charcot Journal de l’expédition Antarctique Française, 1903-1905. Le “Français” au Pôle Sud. Paris: Ernest Flammarion, 1906; Jean-Baptiste Charcot Le Pourquoi Pas ? dans L’Antarctic, 1908-1910; The Voyage of the Why Not? In the Antarctic. Translated by Philip Walsh (New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911)