Happy Birthday to Me. Again.

Happy Birthday to Me

This is a Bavarian public service announcement, brought to you by your favorite narcissistic royal.

Jingle bells, jingle bells, Christmas Eve is here! I do so love the sacred day upon which both I and Jesus Christ are celebrated. Back in 1837, a mere 176 years ago, in the Munich Palace – on a Sunday, no less – out I popped. Complete with a tooth. Nobody could have guessed then that I would end up the last Habsburg empress. Which leads me to wonder, what future monarchs are being born (or even, conceived!) right this very minute?

Ponder that whilst you watch It’s a Wonderful Life for the 1400th time.

And just because I’m in a generous mood, I give you Johann’s Vienna Waltz.



the original fat-shamer


I did it first

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.

who needs an elliptical when you have an abs ladder in your toilette!

who needs an elliptical when you have an abs ladder in your toilette!

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.)

Aging is for sissies. Other sissies.

Aging is for sissies. Other sissies.

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!

Meal #1:

  • fresh goat’s milk and honey – 1 cup
  • veal blood – a shot glass or 2
  • rose petal water – as much as you like

Meal #2

  • 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

Meal #3

  • sorbet – any kind, really, as long as it’s infused with lemon zest
  • rose petal water – just can’t have too much!

the hills kept me alive. no music required.

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.

my adriatic haven


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.

Duke Maximilian’s private chapel


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?)

borderline? really?


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.