GENEVA, Switzerland -- The late Charles de Gaulle's favorite food was rabbit with prunes and ice-cream, or whipped egg-whites in custard for dessert. He also sniffed around the kitchen a lot.
A glimpse into the private side of the publicly aloof general and French president was given by Honorine Dematraz-Manzoni, the cook at de Gaulle's home in Colombey-les-deux-Eglises.
Honorine, now living with her Swiss husband in Broc at the eastern end of Lake Geneva, was with Charles and Yvonne de Gaulle from Dec. 6, 1966, until the general's death Nov. 9, 1970.
The Italian-born cook gave details of life at home at La Boisserie, the house, in an interview Saturday with the Geneva newspaper La Suisse.
De Gaulle talked freely with the staff of two -- Honorine and chambermaid Charlotte.
'But he never discussed politics,' Honorine recounted. 'He asked us about our families, our worries, what we were were doing on our free days or vacations.'
Visitors were rare, except for a few close friends and such advisors as Andre Malraux, Maurice Couve de Murville, Michel Debre and Pierre Messmer.
'The general had the habit of popping into the kitchen to sniff what was cooking,' Honorine said. 'He preferred simple dishes to offset all the official dinners and his favorites were lapin aux pruneaux with ile flottante or vacherin glace for dessert.'
(Rabbit with prunes, whipped egg-whites floating in cold custard cream and a rich ice-cream cake).
Honorine said de Gaulle's main relaxation was walking in the park three times a day and play Patience with cards before dinner.
'Everything changed completely after his resignation in 1969 because the general was at home all the time and Madame as well,' Honorine said.
'We were not allowed to have visitors at the house and when our parents came we usually went for picnics,' she said.
De Gaulle once asked why she and Charlotte did not bring their families inside for coffee.
'But Madame would never have agreed. She was much stricter,' Honorine said.
Then came the evening of Nov. 9, 1970.
'It was just before dinner,' Honorine recalled. 'The general came to the kitchen to ask Madame for an address as he was finishing his mail. Madame went out with him. She had her office in the library and the general was at her side, at the small table where he played his patience.
'Then he suddenly collapsed. Madame called us and asked me to call the doctor. The general was having trouble breathing. I called the doctor and the priest as well as the driver to help us lie him down.
'Dr. Lacheny, from Bar-sur-Aube, arrived 10 minutes later and must have driven wildly to get there so quickly. When the doctor saw the condition of the general he made a sign to Madame that there was very little hope.
'Madame asked him (de Gaulle): 'Are you in pain?' But there was no reaction. He died at 7.30 p.m. after having his attack at 7 p.m.'