Vinegar Valentines Day

Who said the modern lady has exclusive rights to the broken heart? Just because we didn’t have Adele in our day, doesn’t mean we did not express ourselves over the sorrow of love gone awry.

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,

A juicy little ebook. 7 tales of love.

A juicy little ebook. 7 tales of love.

misery loves company, so I submit to you, this charming collection of Vinegar Valentines collected by Birmingham Museum. Enjoy.

Love,

Sisi

P.S. for you aficionados of modern love and all its complication, consider this ebook, UNKISS ME. 99 cents at Amazon.

50 Shades of Rose

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.

5 Castle Series: Upper Belvedere

Klimt's Der Kuss

One simply can't NOT make out in front of Klimt's Kiss

Welcome to the over-the-toppest of all that is over the top. The Upper Belvedere puts the Coco in Rococo, yes? Even the Belvedere website does not deny the outrageousness of pomp that characterizes this hunk of marble. From the website:

The garden palace primarily served the purpose of pomp and display. This is reflected in the elegant sala terrena (today the entrance hall), the grand staircase, the magnificent Marble Hall, rooms sumptuously embellished with stucco and frescos (frescos by Carlo Carlone [1686-1775], ceiling paintings by Giacomo del Pò) and the chapel with the exquisite altarpiece by Francesco Solimena (1657-1747).

"Bad Friederich"

The Marianna Gartner masterpiece, "Bad Friederich" reminds of my own little Rudolph!

But the grandest thing about the Upper Belvedere? it is THE place to go for the latest in risky art. From Klimt to Schiele to Kokoschka, the art at Belvy will make you deliciously uncomfortable (even more than the hard marble pathways and lack of seating in the palace).

Long Haired Boy

Gartner's long-haried boy is replete with dark humor

If you are planning on a trip to Vienna this fall, you simply must check out the exhibit called Interventions featuring incredible work by Marianna Gartner.

If I were alive, I’d love to see how Marianna would have painted me. In particular, if her interpretation would have included that haunting Viennese stare, like with “long haired boy” to the left. Would she embellish my vanity by painting diamonds into my ankle-length tresses? Would my waist be cinched with ship-docking chain? Oh, but Marianna would have had a field day with my exercise apparatuses!

I truly appreciate the burgeoning irony in the Austrian character, and what better place to foist it on the public than in the ostentatious baroque halls of the Upper Belvedere?

Some truths

 Not that you asked…

1. Start each day with a four mile trek. Followed by a vial of calf’s blood.
2. Add a dram of cognac to three dove’s yokes and slather on your hair once a fortnight until stiff. Rinse with rain water.
3. If you must eat peas, eat an odd number of them. It’s for luck, dears.
4. You can minimize perspiration by pinching your earlobes. Really.
5. To strengthen and slim the ankles, make a circle with each foot one hundred times daily. Then reverse the circles.
6. Should you sneeze during chapel, unwelcome news will befall you. Should you sneeze before bed, you will dream of good fortune.
7. When it comes to pets, always have dogs in twos. But should you keep a monkey, he must be your only one, or he may be driven to the demon rum.

put a dolphin on it

Can't you just SEE me leaping about in this fabulous dress?

And while we’re on the subject of Corfu, I must take this opportunity to speak of my holiday wardrobe. It’s been said that my temperament did not bode well for the flounces, crinolines and bustles of the Viennese Court. Other than properly cinching my 18-inch waist, I was never a fan of constraint. For reference, I quote another female icon, in her cover of Me and Bobby McGee, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” No, no, I never did own a pair of faded jeans, but I was quite a fan of Victorian separates. My Corfu ensemble, exemplified in the summer dress you see here, was replete with light and breezy silk chiffon. A three-piecer, this frock, with pastel borders and Brussels lace. I loved the sound of it ruffling in the ocean breezes.

And, speaking of ocean, let us not forget the all-important accessory: the dolphin, which I had embroidered onto all my Corfu holiday apparel. Ah, how I idolized this creature, the most godlike of all animals. Intelligent, agile, quick, mercurial, whimsical and playful. Not to mention spiritual, known to shepherd souls of departed  kings and queens safely into the realm of the dead.

put a dolphin on it

Thanks to me, the dolphin became synonymous with Imperial holidays. I was never clad in an ensemble without this mythic creature. In fact, if IFC wants to do a spin-off of their campy Portlandia, I suggest they give it an historic spin, and explore the nineteenth-century Greek Isles. Just think of the possibilities, an eccentric, yet beautiful, empress skipping about in her summer dress whilst her minions delight in teaching her Greek and feeding her olives, all the while chanting: Put a dolphin on it.

fans. a reprise.

Yes, dears, I’m recycling a post from a few months back. Why? Mostly in the interest of celebrating fans. Actual fans of the ladies’ accessory variety. Also, I came across this quaint and clever post over in Devonshire blog, which celebrates royalty a century before my time at court and it reminded me that a little fanning goes a long way. Hail to the fan!

a good fan is hard to find.

I’ll bet you thought this would be another narcissistic post about my adoring sycophants!  No, nope.  I’m here to discuss actual fans.  The object, I mean.  And the art of fanning. And of fans generally, in proper Victorian society.

As you may be aware, in nearly every one of my portraits, I am clutching a closed fan.  Fans were not only an important aesthetic accessory in my day, but they served myriad purpose.  For instance, if one’s difficult mother-in-law entered the room whilst private business was being discussed with one’s consort, one might thrust the fan  a wee bit higher, covering the mouth just enough to prevent lip-reading.

And speaking of mouth, I suppose I should confess to my dear readers that my one unfortunate physical flaw was my teeth.  Big, yellow horse teeth had I.  (My mother-in-law used to offer the peroxide remedies and so forth, even lamenting this defect to Mummi once, “Ludovica,” she said, “can we not have anything done about your Sisi’s smile?”)

Ergo, my ever-present fan.

But, as always, I digress.

You see, the main function of a ladies’ fan was to, well, flirt!  Indeed, there was a whole lexicon, which I submit herewith:

The fan placed near the heart: You have won my love.

Half-opened fan pressed to the lips: You may kiss me.

Hiding the eyes behind an open fan: I love you.

Opening and closing the fan several times: You are cruel.

Fanning slowly: I am married.

Fanning quickly: I am engaged.

Twirling the fan in the left hand: You are being watched.

Now, isn’t that fun?  Do you not wish fans were still popular now? How unsubtle today’s flirtations are.  A wink.  A note.  A text. How boring. Of course, had I access to today’s dental reconstruction, I would have had little need for my fan.

of beauty and fascination. rule the fifth.

old bag? who you calling an old bag?

Keep your friends close. Your enemies closer. That, ladies, is Lola’s advice for the day. For instance, should you happen upon the company of your suitor’s mother (not that I would dream of mentioning any names), and she peers over spectacles at your charming little grin with disdain in her brow, well, you must smile all the bigger. You must, indeed, suck up so intensely that inside you’ll get the feeling that a grand whirlwind has all but harnessed you from your corset!

Why must you do this? Because your beau will vomit all over himself with apoplectic shudders at the notion of maternal disharmony. Not his fault, of course, for a wounded and insecure mother is a dangerous beast.

Repeat after me: “Why, that amber necklace is so fetching, and your neck so graceful, I would have taken you for a sister.”

Or, “You must give me the recipe for his haggis! It’s simply to die for.” (And when you spit the crusty intestines into your napkin on the sly, make sure not to leave the telltale crumb upon your bottom lip.)

And never, I do repeat, never, indicate any intimacies what-so-ever have gone on between you and the golden son. In fact, if he is to reach for your hand, pluck it away modestly, and fake a good blush.

Gentlemen:

A first rate fascinator will likewise suck up.  Let your compliments be of so marked a character that there can be no mistaking them. For instance, you may inquire if she is always careful to close her eyes upon retiring, to which she will ask, Why? And you will answer, quickly and with animation and sincerity, Because if you do not, I fear that the brightness of your eyes will burn holes in the coverlet, or set the house afire!

Remember, successful fawning takes some practice, but do invest, for if you insist on reserving your compliments you might find yourself alone, flattering yourself like a mad man whose dialogue with himself is pitied by those who happen to overhear it in passing. Or worse yet, you might forgo the fair sex altogether, and instead, spend your days at the side of your aging mother, patting her roughened, gnarled hand as she trots through the injustices that have been wrought unto her lo these many years.

of beauty and fascination. rule the second.

This Lely painting of Mary Moll Davis demonstrates the rather passive "come hither" associated with bedroom eyes.

Today’s entry will cover eyes in all manner. We will discuss gaze, expression, adornment, lashes, brows and veiling, and when we get to the gentlemen, the ever-popular “wandering of the eye.”

Ladies.

There is no more wretched deformity to a woman than a certain unnatural and studied languishing of the eyes, which vain and silly women sometimes affect. Ladies. Do. Not. Do. This. Bedroom eyes are for the meek, the tired and the stupid. I am much more a fan of enlisting methods to encourage bright, engaging eyes.

There is an interesting Spanish custom of squeezing oranges into the eyes to promote a  sparkling, brilliant look–but I do not recommend that method other than for a very special occasion now and again. (By far the best recipe for bright eyes is to keep good hours. Just enough regular and natural sleep is the great enkindler of woman’s most charming light.)

Now, when it comes to embellishments, I can not counsel enough on staying true to nature. A fair complected lady, for instance, is generally accompanied by blue eyes, light eyebrows and eyelashes. Likewise, a brunette shall keep with darker, heavier lashes and brows. Experimentation is allowed, once in a while, but should you ever take pencil to brow I implore you, do not resort to the frightful distortion of nature by scraping charcoal or kohl on alabaster skin!

Before we leave the ladies, I must provide caution against the use of white veils. Scarcely anything can strain and jade and injure the eye more than this practice. Peering through the netting of a veil continually will certainly lead to the eyes forming permanent squint lines.

Here's the classic leerers stare displayed by the gamey fellow playing King Henry VIII ala the Tudors. Being a schmuck worked out pretty well for the rogue, yes?

Gentlemen.

You will make an immense hit with the ladies by pretending to be no admirer of any particular woman, but a professed adorer and slave of the whole sex. You will be particularly sought after if you make a habit of staring insultingly at every pretty woman you meet. Extra credit if you allow you tongue to creep out between your lips. And I do mean creep.

of beauty and fascination. rule the first.

ladies: gather ye roses while ye may...

In answer to more and more frequent requests for my beauty secrets (as well as tips for gentlemen on the art of fascination), I here-to-for submit a collection of my top counsel, which will appear once a day over the course of the next ten days.

I must admit, however, that when it comes to this prescript, I have my mentor, Lola Montez to thank, as she taught me everything she knows, and much of my wisdom comes from this wondrous little book: The Arts of Beauty or Secrets of a Lady’s Toilet, penned approximately 150 years ago.

For the Ladies: Beauty of Deportment.

For a young girl to sit as grave and stiff as her grandmother cut in alabaster is bad enough. But not half as unseemly as that of a middle-aged woman who insists on romping about with the merriment of girlhood. Not only must a woman’s age be consulted, but her manners ought to harmonize with her shape and size.

Ladies, take a page from the book of vegetables. The poplar, the willow, the lily, they bend their gentle heads in the breeze as nature recommends. Whereas the steadfast oak and the boxwood hedge look best when displaying a majestic mien.

On to the gentlemen.

If you wish to make one of our sex tremendously in love with you, remember this: women prefer triflers to men of sense. In other words, practice making yourself as big an ass as possible, and you will find yourself rewarded for your efforts.

Your hope of complete success, then, lies in your ability to be a coxcomb, who has no earthly recommendation but his face, his coat, and his impudence.

what’s your steampunk style?

love the lines on this ensemble. pity you can't ride a horse in it tho.

Are you the Scientist, Gad-About, Aeronaut, FancyGirl,  or the Ragamuffin? Take this quick, fun quiz and find out! I may just select a random quiz-taker and send them a time-traveled prize!

P.S. I, myself, am a FancyGirl. But you knew that.