O, that Stieler. Could he not make a purse from a sow’s ear? And why did he not paint me?
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.
Ah, Trieste. The little Italian refuge from the pomp of Vienna. Rest cures. The sea. Warm breezes and dry air and lack of prying eyes.
Empresses need their rest cures, you know.
This hauntingly lovely place built by my brother-in-law, Ferdinand Maximilian, and the family often vacationed here before and after his death. It was here, at Miramare, that I recovered from tuberculosis. It was here that I returned, time and time again, to settle my nerves and the bouts of depression that plagued me in stuffy, cold Vienna.
All was not perfect in this Adriatic paradise, however. There was this one time I had it out with my sister-in-law, the whiny, pretentious Charlotte (my mother-in-law’s favorite daughter-in-law, it must be said). It involved Shadow, my airedale, and a yippy little spaniel belonging to Charlotte. There was a scuffle, and some growling and that was the end of my sister-in-law’s dog–which had been a gift from Queen Victoria I found out later. Oops.
Charlotte, of course, held it against me for the rest of her days and I made sure that I never visited while she was in residence again.
I never did like little dogs.
Greetings, from the Wittelsbachs’ winter palace in Munich, commonly known as The Residenz. It was here that my family ruled for 700 years– longer than any in European history. If you’re a fan of rococo and baroque and all manner of gilded grandeur, you’ve found the right place!
Here, you’ll find relics spanning the 14th to 19th centuries. Everything from pre-Christian mermaid’s breasts to the Neoclassic canopies favored by the latter-day Wittelsbachs (who preferred comfort over ornate gloom).
The photo above is of one of the most precious rooms at the Residenz. The Private Chapel of Maximilian I. The chapel is smothered in gold leaf and culiques, and includes a working pipe organ dating from the 16th-century, as well as stucco marble paintings on the walls, (below).
if you go here, as you enter the room, note the case on the right. In it are three skeletons of babies ruthlessly slaughtered by Herod when he was looking for Jesus. (It’s not a pleasant feature, I admit, but it gives the room a certain gravitas, don’t you think?)
Yes, I had an eating disorder. Yes, I was vain and eccentric. Yes, there is the concrete proof that a cult arose to celebrate my beauty in the Barbie version of me. But does that relegate me, as many seem to think, to the current DSM description of Borderline Personality Disorder?
I submit the following Wikipedia boilerplate:
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is marked by a prolonged disturbance of personality function, characterized by unusual variability and depth of moods. The disorder typically involves an unusual degree of instability in mood and black-and-white thinking, or splitting. BPD often manifests itself in idealization and devaluation episodes and chaotic and unstable interpersonal relationships, issues with self-image, identity, and behavior; as well as a disturbance in the individual’s sense of self. In extreme cases, this disturbance in the sense of self can lead to periods of dissociation. The primary features of BPD are unstable interpersonal relationships, affective distress, marked impulsivity, and unstable self-image.Suicidal or self-harming behavior is one of the core diagnostic criteria.
Let’s take these points one by one, shall we?
Moodiness. I beg you to find a woman, empress or not, who is devoid of peaks and valleys. Some days simply set one off. For instance, when my husband bought me a monkey for my birthday, but once the little creature began pleasuring itself in the halls, my mother-in-law banished it to the Court zoo. Anyone might have a wee snit fit under those circumstances.
Black and white thinking. Hm. I beg to differ! On the contrary, my challenges at Court had more to do with rebelling against the stodgy Habsburgs and their absolutism and monarchical demands. Was it not I who eased tensions between the Emperor and Hungary? Did I not submit a compromise in allowing my mother-in-law rule over my children? And what of my negotiating an on-going tryst between that actress and my husband? Shades of grey were paramount (and I’m not talking about that popular smut series).
Impulsivity. I reject this. I was calculated and obsessive, but not impulsive. One does not learn five languages, invest in the cultures of other lands, and painstakingly maintain a regime of exercise and beauty cures if one is given to willynilly adventures at the drop of the hat.
Splitting. Okay, you have me here. I did tend to idealize and demonize regularly. And those in my circle would continually thrill and disappoint me in turn, but I see my waffling more as a cycle of naivety and betrayal than psychotic rupture.
As to my relationships and self-image. C’mon. I was first lady to the most powerful man in the world! I bore up, even at the tender age of 16, to all sorts of pressures. Maybe maintaining a 19 inch waist and a weight of 50 kilos was compensatory? Maybe, instead of a pharmaceuticals to release the pain of my obligations, I chose to be tight-laced to the edge of my threshold in order to distract myself from the perpetual Habsburg white noise of disdain. If you consider that my marginal anorexia led to anemia, which, in turn led to various rest cures in Madeira far from the frigid halls of Viennese court-life, well, maybe I was crazy like a fox!
Ironic, also, that in the end I did not kill myself. Someone else had that dubious honor. Borderline, schmorderline. I was merely living my life.
Being a card-carrying member of the mid-to-late-19th Century, my fantastical persona doesn’t lend all that well to the Steampunk hoopla. Pity, for I would look so fetching in feathers, leather, gears, and a sweet little flight helmet. Alas, my reign on earth was a tad before the true Victorians. In my heart, however, I have always been a punk.
The term “punk” in a literary sense connotes alternative history. Most commonly associated with Science Fiction, (as opposed to “punk rock” let’s say, or “cyberpunk” both of which conjure anarchy and rebellion without the time warping factor), steampunk aesthetic embraces the melding of Victorian culture with modded technology.
In my Bavarian-Austrian faerie world, there are no computers or steam engines or technofantastic imagery, however. But there is a dark faerie, romance, limited time travel, and, most importantly, beauty. Oh yes, and horses. So many horses.
The “punk” object in my fantastical story is a very special keepsake that predicts true love. The wearer of this special jewelry need only answer the call of the heart, and the likeness of one’s true love magically appears inside its clasped chamber. Designed and built by a very special artisan, the keepsake you see pictured here embodies the very essence of “faerie punk” – which, I would like to define here and now as: a whimsical imagining that combines fantastical time travel with mischief and adventure.
Sound fun? I thought you’d think so. Now, off I go to find a leather flight helmet.
“It is not enough to conquer; one must know how to seduce.” (Voltaire)
They say that the Victorian era was backlash against the unabashed romps of us 19th-century sensual types. What do you think? Never was whiskey as plentiful as during prohibition, yes?
All this hoopla over mommy porn. You’d think this E.L. James invented the bodice ripper. The throbbing member. The very idea of “secret tryst.”
Well, let me set you straight. When it comes to clandestine titillation and BDSM, the Victorians were, shall we say, seasoned in the art of fantasy.
I submit this coy little excerpt:
“Laura Middleton: Her Brother and Her Lover” published by Anonymous, in 1890.
Taking hold of her hand I placed it upon the stiff object and made her grasp it as it throbbed and beat with the excitement under which I was labouring. Her eyes were fixed upon the lovely object thus exposed to her gaze, and I could easily see from the flushing of her face and the sparkling of her eyes what a powerful impression I had made upon her.
All she said was, “Oh, but if John should know of it.”
I immediately replied, “But why should John know anything about it? You don’t suppose I am such a mean wretch as to tell anybody of what we may do, and if you only keep your own secrets no one need ever know anything about it.
“But perhaps,” I continued, “you think this little gentleman,” and I shoved the furious member backwards and forwards two or three times in her hand as she still continued to grasp it, “is not so big as John’s and won’t give you so much pleasure, but only let me try and I shall do all I can to pleasure you.”
Though we lacked the furtive graces of an e-reader, many a lady hid these little books behind a fan, or in the undergarments, shielded from sight by the complicated garments of the day. Oh, no, this Shades of Grey phenomenon is not new, not hardly. Mommy porn of the 19th century thrived and was passed, hand-to-hand, from Court to Countess to Commoner. We certainly had our own book clubs and garden parties and Ladies-in-Waiting sessions while our strapping men went about their business, their stiff objects leading the way.
In honor of groundhog’s day, I’m going to talk about shoes. Disconnect, you say? Nonsense. We’re talking about spring being around the corner, and that means one thing: fashionable attire. For an empress–or any lady–fashionable attire leads to footwear, ergo, today we will examine the insane popularity of Christian Louboutin heels and their ilk.
Now, I’m all for looking smashing and turning heads, but ladies, do we really need to invite deformation, ankle twists and the unsightly bulge known as Pump Bump?
We Austrians may have our quirks, but if there is one area in which we excel, it’s in the manifestation of the sensible shoe. As you know, Vienna boasts several bespoke shops along its main retail thoroughfares–Am Graben, Kohlmarkt and Kärntner Strasse.
Modern-day dandies and the elegantly attired flock to Rudolf Scheer & Söhne where they can outfit themselves with the same late 19th century quality enjoyed by the Emperor and myself. Shoes that will hike a mountain and still retain their sole. Shoes that put foot health first (Herr Scheer was a foot doctor), but don’t compromise on beauty.
Thinking that Scheer shoes will make you look like your spinster aunt? Not-to-worry. You’ll dazzle any dance floor in red pumps made from a single piece of ostrich leather, or diamond-studded calf’s-leather pumps styled to look like zebra. And your feet won’t be aching the next day as you sip your café allongé at Cafe Drechsler.
So ladies, next time you feel the urge to cram your tootsies into a pair of come-fuck-me pumps, imagine the hideous bunion-studded, carbuncle-ridden feet that you’ll no doubt own the second half of your life.