sexting with the count

one hunk of hungarian handsome

Ah, the blogs.  The tweets.  The texts.  So many forms of expression!  No need for a go-between, these days, to deliver a sliver of wit, of inspiration.  All right, I’ll just say it. A dollop of lust.

In the Hof, during my daily hairdressing sessions where I was attended to by coiffe -masters, Greek tutors, and my bevy of ladies-in-waiting, my mind turned to matters of the, er,  heart.  I cannot tell you how impossibly lonely it was for me at Court there in torpid Vienna!  Always getting ready for some formal appointment with a snooty Viennese social climber or one of my mother-in-law’s sycophants.  So whilst the brandy and egg yolk masques penetrated my tresses and the ground leeches and vinegar assaulted my freckles, I closed my eyes and returned to my homeland. And, naturally, thoughts of my homeland led to horses.  And horses to counts, and, well, that’s when the trouble began!

Had I an instant communication device–a Blackberry a Droid–I might at least have been able to entertain myself–send a little quip to one of my sisters, perhaps.  Or a randy little missive to my friend, the Hungarian Count Gyula Andrássy.  I might have texted: Hair needs your expert attention. Please come.

Or I might have slipped off: Bodice heaving. Send help.

But, alas, I had to deliver my impulses the old fashioned way: through long, arduous, complicated and dangerous maneuvers which involved my dear Hungarian girl, Ida Ferenczy.

It was a brilliant stroke, I must say.  Who could argue with an Empress’s need to expand her knowledge of language?  Ida and I blathered on in our pig Latin way, under the auspices of tutelage.  Sharp as a boning knife, and nearly as fast as an iPhone, Ida scribbled  down my code in her native tongue–unable to be deciphered by the piggish herd of the Archduchess’s ladies-in-waiting–those nasty spies!  Then, twice a fortnight, off she tarried, by coach, with my ream of poems in hand.  Her perfect translation of my passion. Of my longing.

I awaited with much agitation for her arrival back to Court the following week when she would deliver a crisp square of parchment from the Count.  Yes, the wait was torture.  But how delicious when at last my red-cheeked Ida strode up with the letter!  How I nearly ripped the thing open, gorged on the ripe sentences that returned my desire.  You see, my le beau pendu was a political sensualist.  Yes, yes, he was vain (as am I!), but no man could fill a uniform the way he could. He was, like me, less a monarch and more a romantic.

He did like his brandy, his cards and anything in a dirndl–but his image, what with the tiger fur he favored, the gems sewed into his jacket, kept me from dissolving under many a leech-masque, and kept my imagination simmering long after the burner in my marriage turned off.

Scheisse my Papa says

my papa, the original "peter pan"

Was it from Vienna where the notion of girls marrying their fathers came? Freud, was it? Well, I can assure you, I did not marry my papa.  Duke Maximilian Joseph was nothing like the Emperor.  My papa was an eccentric hedonist–a champion of the underclass.  He liked nothing more than to dress up as King Arthur and preside over his very own Round Table.  When he wasn’t engaged in circus riding that is.  Or strumming his zither.  Or schtupping peasant ladies.

As for my husband, he had a mistress or two (I even encouraged it!), but he disdained stag parties and the like.  You would never find Emperor Franz Joseph in a brothel, or a tavern. He liked his whiskey neat.  Upon a little silver tray on his desk.  One shot only.

Whereas dear Papa was a bit of a spulfer.

And, my father had an eye for ladies of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds.  “Pretty girls have no need for lessons,” he told my governess as he untied the ropes she’d bound me to the chair with.  “Lise needs to know a poem or two, and keep her teeth clean.  That’s all.”  The governess was not pleased and stomped off, but not before barking, “She is wild and unschooled. I imagine she will end up marrying poorly.  As did her mother.”

Papa smirked, and, like a child, stuck his thumb to his nose and waved his fingers at the governess as she bustled away.

The rest of my family called me Sisi, or Duchess, or Elisabeth, but only to Papa I was Lise.  There was the time we dressed up like Gypsies and rode about the countryside from beer garden to beer garden, performing for florins that were tossed at our feet.  “If you and I had not been princely born, Lise,” he told me, “we’d have joined the circus.”

And to this day, those few coins were the only honest money I ever earned.

Then there was the time he called my mother-in-law, the Archduchess, “The only man in the Hofburg.”  that didn’t go over too well at home, as the Archduchess also happened to be my mother’s sister.

“Mind your mouth, Duke,” spat my mother.  And then Papa took Ludovica, my addled mother, up in his arms and danced her around.  Thus, nine months later, my youngest brother and my father’s namesake, Max Emanuel, was born.  Mapperl, we called him, and he was my favorite.

me and marie

say what you like about the eating of cake, the woman knew how to party

Marie Antoinette was my husband’s grandfather’s aunt, and, secretly, I idolized her.  Various portraits of “Madame Deficit” –as  the French continue to refer to her–hung about both the Hof and the summer castle, Schönbrunn. Sure, her life ended badly, but it was great fun while it lasted.

She had a sanguine temperament (unlike me and my constant battle with melancholy), and had such a salon of interesting friends, most notable among them, her suspected lover, Count Fersen.  Whether they did, or did not, consummate their affections remains gossip-worthy even now, a hundred years later, as I listen to the casual chit-chat of my ladies, while they tend me.

What we have in common more than anything, Marie and me, is perhaps our mutual appreciation for a good party–and I don’t mean one of those stuffy state Court affairs–no, I like to kick up my slippers at a festive ball.  And by festive, I mean, one that excludes parents!  (Including a certain Archduchess who shall not by named.)

every girl should have a faerie wand or two

Back in the early days of marriage, I would arrange these parties in my apartment, and they came to be known as Sisi’s “orphan balls.”

Most famous was one where I’d invited 25 couples and expressly forbid any consorts or mothers.  The speculation, of course, was that I was “acting out” after a fight with my mother-in-law, and that due to political and domestic pressures my husband had taken up with some tart or another, and perhaps all of that played a role in my need to host a ball where I called the shots, but I like to think that I held parties so I could move, unrestricted, at long last.

Dancing until dawn, watching the sunrise out the ballroom windows.  The poetry readings! The singing!  It was all so very Marie.  Ah, for those salad days once more.

mad men (and women) of bavaria

my cousin, wearing one of her all-white ensembles

Princess Alexandra Amalie, the brilliant daughter of Ludwig I, had what in today’s world would be characterized as OCD.  She was obsessed with cleanliness, wore only white (um, who does that sound like?), and, by the time she reached her twenties she became plagued with the notion that she had once swallowed a glass piano.

Her afflictions deemed her unmarriable, and from the halls of the nunnery-slash-asylum, where she spent much of her short life, she developed quite an illustrious literary career.  Poor cousin Amalie (as we called her–for most of us seemed to be referred to by middle names) had a tendency toward reclusive behavior, and her eccentricities made her a natural associate of her mad nephew, Ludwig II.

All of Mad King Ludwig’s life was an enigma, right from the moment of his birth to his mysterious death by either gunshot or drowning–read on for more about that.

As an homage to his grandfather, Ludwig I, his parents and their retinue falsified the hour of birth so as to make it correspond with that of Ludwig I, and thereby earn him the noble namesake.

Crown Prince Ludwig, they called him growing up, and he was a constant consternation to his father Maximilian II, as he shared none of his interests. Not hunting, shooting or riding.  Instead, Ludwig II enjoyed the arts, and the design of fanciful castles.  The Fairytale King, the locals dubbed him, but I called him Eagle.  (And he called me Dove).  Eagle and Dove, together in the forest, listening to Wagner, choosing upholstery material for the Neuschwanstein Castle-it was a fine break from the stuffy confines at Court.

crazy, perhaps, but he sure knew how to wear a red sash

But, alas, my dear Ludwig never could stomach the idea of marrying a woman (you would not have to lay with her, necessarily, I urged), so into seclusion he crept. A recluse and a dreamer until that day, June 13, 1886, that he and his psychiatrist Dr. Bernhard von Gudden, were found dead in Lake Starnberg. Did they drown?  Was it murder-suicide?  Perhaps they were both shot dead?  Really, what we needed was a CSI Bavaria.

Naturally, this left Bavaria without a ruler.  Under normal circumstances, the king’s brother Prince Otto would ascend the throne, but, alas, dear Otto was also insane, so my cousin (Eagle and Otto’s uncle) Prince Luitpold became Prince Regent of Bavaria.

a token of affection

wings of desire. on a chain.

My Dearest Karl sent me a lovely piece of jewelry, which offered both the time as well as his likeness, all in one special package.   A wing of aged brass jutted out the side, like our pullets when they run to escape the occasional fox who slithers in the hen house.

That I might always be aware of time, as it ticks unceasing, until we reunite.  That is, indeed, how he phrased it.

Ah, but all round me, evidence that love dies, and along with it, time becomes the cruelest marker.  Just ask Mummi!  She stares all too often in her gilt mirror, asking too many questions of her weary eyes.  Muttering all the while, “Why did I follow my heart, instead of my head?”

The odd turns of the heart were a curiosity, but in my new-found state of smitten, I vowed that my own heart would never grow cold.  Once I loved, I promised, I would never un-love.  As if in agreement the locket watch ticked against my breast.

why my sister did not become empress of austria

after my engagement, my sister grew grumpier yet

Alas, poor Nené, my humorless sister.  As the eldest daughter in an inbred family full of loons, she was the only sane one and for all of her sanity, she very nearly became an old maid.

As you all know, I was “that little monkey” who was dragged to Bad Ischl as an afterthought that day in August, 1853.  The Emperor was not supposed to pay me any mind–I was a mere child, just fresh from the nursery.

My sister’s likeness preceded her introduction in the form of many a studio shot: sitting in a brocade parlor chair with lips pinched; gazing into space, sporting a fresh heart-shaped coif; on horseback with the strong, straight back our father demanded of us, but an expression that merely said, “this corset is digging into my ribs.”

In photographs, my sister’s face always looked sour and stern.  Her eyes squinted under heavy brow bones, her mouth, well, someone should have recommended more of a smile–(though, in her defense, none of us Wittelsbach woman ever smiled with teeth showing for our family curse included a mouthful of unsightly brown). And yet, had Helene been bubbly and animated in the flesh, she may still have been able to charm the young Emperor.  But, it was not the case.

helene, looking glum, glum, glum

Now, here’s where I came in.  Franz Joseph’s mother, the ever-meddling Archduchess, had decided that her son, the heir, would marry her sister Ludovica’s daughter, period. No one was more surprised than she (except, maybe, me) when he chose “the little monkey” instead of the more turned out, well-behaved elder girl.

Years later the Emperor shared his disappointment in how plain and stern my sister looked when first they met.  “No youth!  No joie de vivre!  You’d think, at eighteen, she was forty!”

It is true, Emperor Franz Joseph robbed the cradle by plucking a fifteen-year-old child from her nursery, but things were quite different back then.  For one, not only was I a child, I was also the Emperor’s cousin.  Ah!  But there was no child protective police in 19th Century Europe, so off to the Hofburg I went, leaving my elder, jilted sister to sulk for years to come–until she finally married a wealthy prince named Prince Max at the ripe old age of 24.

But here is the irony. My sad-faced sister was the only one among us to have a happy marriage in the end.  Go figure.

royal titles: a lexicon

i crown thee

It has come to my attention that I may need to educate my readers on the various titles bestowed to my countrymen, friends and relations.

Without further adieu:

Princess: A nonreigning female member of a royal family.  In other words, moi.

Duchess: Of or related to a Duke.

Empress: A female ruler of an empire OR the consort of an emperor.  Consort, now there’s a curious term.  Sounds rather naughty, does it not?  Alas, the term is strictly on the up-and-up, and refers to a spouse.

Archduke: a title of the sovereign princes of the former ruling house of Austria.  That would be Franz Josef and his little brothers before Ferdinand the Kindly abdicated.

Archduchess: A princess of the Austrian imperial family. Yes, you guessed it, my future mother-in-law.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Baroness: The wife of a feudal vassal holding his lands under a direct grant from the king.  That would be my insufferable governess, The Baroness Louise Wulfen.

Countess: Same as Baroness, but more so.

Dowager: An elderly woman of stately dignity, esp. one of elevated social position.  Usually battle-ax types, but occasionally, sweet old ladies.

Lady-in-waiting: A woman who is in attendance upon a queen or princess.  I will have scads of these bothersome women be-next to me once I am Empress. Though they are supposed to be discreet, my ladies-in-waiting will actually be spies employed by my very strict mother-in-law (a title which, I beg, needs no defining).

karl. karl. karl!

once I loved, I promised, I would never un-love

There was plenty of opportunity to write, rewrite, and write some more with regard to my new obsession, the young Archduke. Sitting on my throne of cloth while the three days of stillness leaked away, I composed my journal entries, sketched my daydreams, and, more to the point, wrote Karl Ludwig a return note.

His gift of alpine chocolates arrived, though the under-governess and the scullery maid had pinched them “to ensure their safety,” they’d said, but I knew they couldn’t resist the sweets. Shortly thereafter Gackl came bounding through the nursery with a wrapped box for me. Certainly my little brother was hoping for a ball or a rope or maybe even a set of building blocks. After unknotting the silk ribbon and ripping the rice paper to reveal the copper and rose-painted timepiece that hung from a modest silver chain, Gackl’s face deflated like a pin-stuck balloon. “Your admirer sent you a watch?”

It was lovely, and locket-sized. Dainty, even. I now wore it round my neck day and night, winding it every morning, happily hearing the tick, tick, tick, and imagining that far off in Vienna, Karl’s heart made that same sound.

Dear Karl, I began. And then crumpled the paper. Again: Dearest Karl. No. Another try: My Darling Karl. That one I ripped to shreds.

the battle in das herzog max palais

Life in Munich was quite busy, and even from my sequester, I watched out the window as carriages came and went.  Papa had agreed that while the turmoil surrounded Uncle Ludwig’s palace, we would house some paintings in our halls, and four large men hauled in an enormous picture, one replete with angels and battles and swords and blood.  There was the Messiah in the very middle of this painting, about to stab Himself with a dagger, and in the very corner, a suspicious character fleeing the scene.  I had heard from the maids that the villain in the painting was a Jew, and it was best that while the revolutionaries marched on Uncle’s castle, we be the keepers of that one.

our home was a battleground, like this big painting we'd borrowed from our uncle, the king

In all the mayhem, most pronounced was a renewed battle between my parents.  Echoing off the vast halls of our castle I could hear Papa screaming at Mummi, “You were born an old lady, Ludovica!”

And Mummi: “You have made me that way, you reckless Duke!”

Mummi did not approve of the parties day and night in Papa’s beer hall.  The peasant girls he danced with.  The trick riding in the newly converted circus.  “And if you get trampled in a drunken heap under your horse, what then?” Mummi wanted to know.

Back to Munich

nene, after she became helene

What do you think it would be like, living in Vienna, Duchess Helene?”

Nené took in a deep breath, and then, a miracle.  She actually smiled.  I could tell that inside her carefully tended head she had visions of grandness.

“When I am Empress,” she began, “I imagine that I’ll attend many affairs, dressed in gowns of velvet.  Brocade.  Silk.  I’ll have rosebuds woven into my hair.”

I looked at her simple brown morning dress.  It did, at least, have pearl buttons.

“But what about the Emperor,” I wanted to know.  “Will you be in love?”

Mummi burst in before my sister could answer, “Love, my daughters, is not the point.”