A lot has been said about my vanity. The Paparazzi were always trying to paint me at my most unflattering. For instance, after having a baby when even the tightest of tight-lacing experts could not mold me into the miniature hourglass Spanx shape I required. Or worse yet, when my teeth began to rot and turn brown (I did so love to binge on the pastries in between stag-blood cleanses).
The only recourse I had against aging in the days before Botox and tummy tucks, was my disciplined regimen of nightly beauty cures, and the copious attention to my famous coiffure.
There were several recipes I employed over the years, but my Egg White Masque is one of the simplest and more effective:
2 oz rose water
1 oz milk
½ oz press-pressed grape juice
2 quintchens crushed frankincense
2 whipped egg whites
Combine all ingredients, saving egg whites, which you must fold in at the end. Apply liberally to face and hands before bed. Splash off in the morning with freshly blessed water.
If you employ this masque religiously, thrice weekly for a fortnight, you, too, can have a peaches-and-cream complexion. But, as you know, the face is nothing without a lovely mane in which to frame it, yes? So here is a little tidbit about taking care of one’s hair in 19th-century Vienna.
On a fortnightly basis, my hair was washed with a specially made mixture of egg yolk and cognac–which, btw, took up an entire day–and for a little sheen, my dear hairdresser, Fanny, crushed and sprinkled in some fresh nutshells.
Lest you think I sat idle whilst my hair was twirled and pulled and brushed, let me erase that idea from your head. I used this time to learn Hungarian and Greek (both ancient and modern), my tutors reading, and issuing exercises–boldly correcting my pronunciation. Idid not allow my mind to escape through the hair and onto the fingers of Fanny.
Hence my headache afterwards.
Ah, to have the freedom that comes with anonymity. But alas, my hair and face became my crown, but unlike a crown, it was not so easily laid aside. And yet, as in all types of irony, I feared the day I no longer would have a choice in the matter, because with the conclusion of each and every hairdressing, dear Fanny laid the broken and dis-embodied hair at my feet. The coiled strands curled wickedly in that silver bowl whilst I inspected them. On bad days, there were enough to make a nest, and I looked askance at Fanny while she curtsies her apology. (It had to be the servant’s fault, you see, because anything other than that was unthinkable.)
And then, there was the matter of the occasional sinus infection from raw egg whites. Painful. Nasty. Disfiguring, even, as my head and face would swell to hideous proportion. The servants would gossip, you know, and then along would come the Court Portrait Artist, his brushes at the ready to capture yet another bad face day for all to see.
A curse and a blessing, this beauty business.