Long before anybody thought to produce a Buns of Steel video, or invent a craze like Fitbie, or storm the gym with kettlebells, before Crossfits opened up in vacant garages and hemp-sucking gurus had SoCal hausfraus half-moon posing up and down the coast, I turned the Hofburg Imperial Apartments into my private fitness torture chamber.
My mother-in-law nearly had me sent to the nuthouse for my dogged determination to immediately squeeze back into my pre-pregnancy frocks-all tailored to fit a 16-inch waist. But the difference between me and the so-called “what’s your excuse mom” – chastised for bearing a taut midriff whilst braggily displaying the ages of her three small boys – is that I worked out fanatically as an antidote to the limelight, rather than as some sort of aspiration toward it. I suppose, had there been social media in Vienna in the 1800s, I might have had a little Facebook page cobbled together under an assumed name so I could know what all the fuss was about. But I sincerely doubt I would have festooned it with selfie after selfie. No, it was more my style to hide behind enormous fans and, after I reached a (ahem) certain age, I forbade my picture to be painted or photographed by anyone. (The paparazzi of the day thought themselves mighty clever bullshopping wrinkles and sags on existing prints.)
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m all for fat-shaming. The excesses of Court are enough to send me into fits of purge just thinking about the various courses and wine pairings, grizzly meat and lavishly iced sweets. And I’m just talking breakfast!
We were too fat then, and you’re all too fat now. Yes, I’m talking to YOU! Do you really need that extra helping of mashed potatoes? The Big Gulp you consume after your ten-minute treadmill walk? And don’t get me started on Mexican fast food.
Let me ask you. Are you often tired and grumpy? Is there a crater-sized depression in your living room sofa made by your lumpy keister? Are you longing to fit back into those skinny jeans, or, say, your Winterhalter gala gown? Well, I just might have an answer.
Try my “Clean Eating the Sisi Way” diet! It’s as easy as a trip to the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker (okay, not the candlestick maker – the dairy farmer – but that didn’t rhyme).
Choose from the following items, eat them in any order, and alternate 15 mile alpine hikes with a day of riding the biggest stallion you can find, and you’ll be in Sisi Shape in no time!
- fresh goat’s milk and honey – 1 cup
- veal blood – a shot glass or 2
- rose petal water – as much as you like
- sheep’s urine – diluted, of course. Full strength is nasty!
- rabbit toes - may sub young pig’s feet upon occasion
- rose petal water – I admit, it helps to have servants to squeeze the petals
- sorbet – any kind, really, as long as it’s infused with lemon zest
- rose petal water – just can’t have too much!
O, that Stieler. Could he not make a purse from a sow’s ear? And why did he not paint me?
It’s my party and I’ll whine if I want to. Today’s subject is the famous Hungarian Coronation dress, a frock voted most likely to beguile and perplex.
The official museum description of this Charles Frederic Worth gown lists this dress as made from:
white silk brocade, decorated with flower motives of silver thread; a velvet bodice with pearl lacings, white puffed sleeves of lace and black, diamond set bodice; around the neck, Hungarian diamond jewelry.
The Paired coronation cloak is purported to be constructed of:
blue velvet, lined with white duchesse silk
Apparently, there is some disagreement amongst the historical fashion experts as to the exact type of silk, whether or not there was any brocade,and the true purpose or even existence of pearl lacings and/or diamond settings, and so forth.
Plainly, there are myriad versions of me stuffed into this iconic gown, just feast your eyes on the variety of likenesses herewith! (Personally, I’m most fond of the Wikipedia version that appears last, the one that has me looking like a busty teenager, but I am a vain icon, after all.)
P.S. In case you might like your own replica, say, for your next imperial costume party, here’s some information on purchasing such a gown.
All right all you spring breakers, let’s get civilized, shall we? Before all you ladies (and I use the term broadly) bared your midriffs, shaved your privates, and boarded a plane bound for depravity, there was a much more elegant way to spend a holiday. It was known as the rest cure.
I’ve been much maligned for my tendency to slip away from Court during frigid or rainy weather to partake in the tepid waters off the coast of Corfu, or feel the sweet warm breeze from a Triestian turret. But I ask you. Is it fair to criticize a monarch for her forays into radical self-care? Would you rather see me pale and anemic, coughing up a lung whilst stuffed into one insufferable gown after another?
If it were up to the men, they’d rather we stay chained to the throne, as it were. Or if we do dash off on holiday, freshly Lipo-lifted and salon-bronzed, we must be available for their continual ogling. On display in a drenched t-shirt, or, heavens, with a strip of cloth bisecting our buttocks. This is not vacation, ladies.
I propose that we rethink this girls gone wild thing, and take back our holidays. Instead of parading about like a cow at auction, consider this age-old alternative. Yes, yes, sometimes there’s a bit of electroshock involved. And stiff Nurse Ratchet types administering to your bodily functions, but my particular version has a few more goodies. The “Sisi Rest Cure” has several components:
- warm to hot mineral water in which to bathe free from lecherous eyes
- freshly squeezed juices served chilled thrice daily
- beauty cure ointments available for a variety of ailments
- musicians with soothing instruments
- freshly caught seafood for the evening meals
- rubdowns and oilings. preferably executed by handsome young male attendants
Really, ladies, would you rather shake your booty or awaken your inner goddess?
Case in point. As many of you know, I was betrothed to the Emperor when I was a wee 15 years of age. But what you may not know is that the auspicious engagement at Bad Ischl came on the heels of the death of my one true love. A count from Bavaria. He was a young man who went off to war and fell ill with some horrific disease (back in the 19th century, there were plenty of virulent bugs about. You caught a cold, and three days later, dead).
And even after my wedding, there were plenty of men who filled my heart with romance and intrigue, but, naturally, a Empress does not go around spreading her skirts willy nilly! No, I was a faithful, expectant wife–ever hopeful that my days would be appointed with favors and kindnesses, but woe and alas, marriage often leaves one hungry for love. On no other day of the year do the lovelorn feel more disheartened than on St. Valentine’s Day.
St. Valentine’s Day has a storied tradition of disappointment. Misunderstandings over how a hare should be properly boiled, or whether one’s summer holiday should be taken in the mountains or at sea. The Emperor, like many a husband, would forget all about the roses and chocolates–and scoot off for a hunting trip in middle of February. Heartbreak, ladies, is older than the hills.
Per chance you, too, are sitting alone on this day of love? As the adage goes,
misery loves company, so I submit to you, this charming collection of Vinegar Valentines collected by Birmingham Museum. Enjoy.
P.S. for you aficionados of modern love and all its complication, consider this ebook, UNKISS ME. 99 cents at Amazon.
Back in the day, when I was the poor relation offered in marriage to the most powerful man in the world, like Lady Mary, I was often at the mercy of dowagers. In Lady Mary’s case, the quippy ladies (made delightfully acid-tongued by that genius, Mr. Fellowes), have the eldest Crowley daughter’s best interests at heart because she is, after all, their granddaughter.
Alas, would that that were true for yours truly.
The dowager in my life, my mother-in-law, was also my aunt–having been the Wittelsbach daughter who married most spectacularly. Archduchess Sophie was often referred to as, “the only man in the Hofburg.” Like the irrepressible Countess of Grantham, the Archduchess was ever-busy in the background at Court, pulling strings and making up for the passivity and laziness of the men who sat in power.
As a true model of strength, however, Sophie was a tad undercooked. Though she brokered deals and snapped the reins during the revolution of 1848, once she managed to finagle her darling and favorite son, Franzl, up on the throne, she threw all of her energies into the hand-wringing meddling of any overzealous mum, and set out to make a reasonable marital match for him.
Ah, she had such hopes that my woefully placid elder sister, Helene, would be the niece slash daughter-in-law of her dreams. Alas, her Franzl found Helene petulant and mild, and instead, set his sights on the fifteen-year-old brat kid-sister. Me.
I have often wondered, lo these three seasons of Downton, if our story were a series, who would play the Archduchess? Do we even have a Bavarian Maggie Smith? An über Frau with a big stick?
I relish the thought of such scenes as Sophie snapping my babies off my breast and installing them instead to a nursery in the center of her apartments at the Hof. Or standing at the end of the bed I shared with her son on our wedding night schimpfing about my duties as an heir-producer. Or presiding over the insufferable 13-course Sovereign Court Table when her dear Franzl was off on state business. Or banning my animals–the monkey, the hunting dogs–from the Imperial apartments.
Perhaps, once Downton runs its course, the world will be open to exploring the juicy lives of the Habsburgs. What do you think?
175 years ago today, not in a manger, but in something similar, Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie, the fourth child and second daughter of Duke Maximilian Joseph and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria was born.
Christmas Eve, naturally, is my favorite day of the year. Nothing says “over the top” quite like a Bavarian Princess birthday party, and combined with alpine snow and a little Schnapps, well, does it get any better?
Maybe next year you will plan a trip to Bavaria? Shop the market, ski the slopes, visit the castle? Try a pint of our finest? (fyi, according to the Bavarian Beer Purity Law of 1516–still enforced today–the only ingredients that can be used in the production of beer are water, barley and hops. None of that fancy spice or special yeast.)
I’ll be there, of course. Sitting on my virtual throne, dancing with the Emperor, and alighting my spirit upon all things Yule.
Prost, and good health.
The gold and crackle of fall is at hand, which, for most of my life meant one thing: the mountains. As a girl, when I was not on horseback, I climbed the hills surrounding my summer home, Possenhofen. But once I reached adulthood and found myself being forced into one after another poufy ensemble, I made it a point (much to the dismay of the Archduchess) to scurry about the alps whenever I could command a coach to take me away from Court.
I had my favorite climbs: The Schmittenhohebahnen, The Katrin alpine (shown in the picture above), and other Saltzkammergut vistas.
Of course, my retinue found this habit taxing. After all, my ladies-in-waiting were a phlegmatic lot. Ascending a palace staircase was often the extent of their daily exercise–they were not about to go traipsing along hill and dale. We found an amenable solution. I would have the ladies gathered up and placed in a carriage, so they might gossip and fiddle with their handwork as they bumped along the lanes beside me as I hiked.
In rain and snow, in the heat of summer, off I went. And when the road grew too narrow or rutty for the carriage, I bid it adieu and marched along with whichever escort drew the short straw until the poor companion begged that her gout or boils were getting the better of her and could we please, please turn back.
As for hiking “couture,” I adapted the boots, dark, practical skirts and close-fitting jackets from my extensive collection of hunting habits. In fact, I do believe I could take some credit for an entire fashion trend. Especially the large leather umbrella I hoisted above my head (not only did this protect me from curious onlookers and the horrid sun, but offered the extra benefit of keeping the flab off the arms).
When I required a bit of a break and some refreshment, I would pop into a country inn, choosing always the most remote corner, and there I would have my glass of milk.
Occasionally, the carriages were not available, in which case I went walking without them. But I was not able to convince the Court that I could manage solo. Ah, my poor, loyal Lady Festetics, the little butter ball. After a couple of hours chasing me around the black forest, she begged for a ham, or even a sweet roll. My forced marches were entirely too much for the Countess. Once, when out rather late on an excursion, we were racing against sunset, necessitating a bit of a jog back to the summer castle in Bad Ischl. A policeman became alarmed, seeing such a sight, convinced that an evildoer was in hot pursuit!
Though history finds it odd that an Empress would choose to get sweaty and march about in boots rather than sit like a pampered cat on a velvet cushion, but for me, it was my lifeline to earlier days–when I was free to explore at will, rather than be kept in the proverbial gilded cage to grow dusty and fat.