Having recently been to Austria (again) and inevitably but  nevertheless unpremeditatedly  stumbled upon an earthly remnant of the famed Sissi, Franz Joseph’s bohemian Empress, in the form of a palace called Kaiservilla, my fascination with her legend instantly rekindled. Thus I ended up buying yet another biography depicting the bizarre destiny of the much idolized monarch whose blazing icon still lingers over the lore-inspired part of our collective memory quite as if time would not attempt diminishing such rarefied a charm – although perhaps time in itself shares not half the merits for its transcendence in the detriment of intensive propaganda which doubtlessly enhances the Austrian economy with its touristic value. So, out of a melange of eagerness and spontaneous, exceptional magnanimity, I made my pecuniary contribution by purchasing Sophie Zavadill’s “Elisabeth, Empress of Austria” and Jean des Cars’ “Sissi, Empress of Austria” (do note I’m aware of the phenomenal difference between these two exceedingly dissimilar titles), managing to devour them in a bit under 2 days.

Here’s one delicious fragment to justify my enthusiasm and concomitantly provide an insight in Sissi’s complex personality:

Sissi, portrait by Hungarian artist Gyula Benczúr

During a carnival she and Ida Ferenczy attended a masked ball in secret. It was the Redoute, which is still held annually in the grand ballroom of the Hofburg. The emperor knew nothing of his wife’s escapade. She also deceived her servants by having herself undressed as usual, going to bed, and pretending to sleep – just as in a novel.  When her servants had withdrawn, Ida Ferenczy slipped into her room with the fancy-dress costume, a magnificent yellow domino made of heavy brocade. Ida also brought the empress a red blonde wig and mask with long black tassels to completely cover her face. Ida wore a red domino and was also masked- as is still the custom at the Redoute.

‘The two slipped into the hall and at first only watched the goings-on from the the balcony. Elisabeth was fascinated. She had been to every sort of functioning by then but never to a masked ball. When she became tired of looking, the empress selected from the crownd a young man who was obviously without an escort. Ida brought him, a government employee in his late twenties, to the masked empress, who spent the rest of the evening in the company of this Fritz Pacher. She questioned him about politics, asked whether he was satisfied with the government, inquired what he thought of the empress and finally spoke about her favorite poet, Heinrich Heine. She flirted with the young man but could not be moved to lift her mask by a centimeter. The ball of the yellow domino was followed by a series of letters between the blonde “Gabrielle” and Pacher. These letters have survived and confirm the fairy-tale story.

More than ten years later, Elisabeth wrote a poem called “Long, long ago: the song of the yellow domino”.’

(“Elisabeth, Empress of Austria” by Sophie Zavadill)

Advertisements

A Gallery of Beauties

June 17, 2013

Everybody at a certain point harbors the desire or curiosity or simple, sheer interest to gather a collection of various things in diverse quantities, some parameters more eccentric than others. Empress Elisabeth of Austria, commonly nicknamed “Sissi“, a character to whom Madame has dedicated a plethora of posts, had her own phenomenal assortment which put together a considerable number of photos immortalizing the most beauteous women of the age. But I already wrote about it here. Yet what I didn’t know at the time when that account of her oddities was given and subsequently learned to be a crucial factor in explaining her peculiar idea of a collection refers to the strikingly similar propensity for putting together images of beautiful ladies which dominated the life of  Sissi’s uncle, King Ludwig I o Bavaria. No longer content with getting most of the pulchritudinous grand dames of the time in his bed for fleeting moments of passion, the monarch who is (in)famous for abdicating the throne following a tempestuous scandal involving his mistress, Lola Montez, determined to forever own the marvelous physical charm of these resplendent females. And thus took shape the Gallery of Beauties, the original inspiration for Empress Elisabeth’s identically themed albums.

beauties

This chamber, wholly dedicated to the celebration of corporal attractiveness, exhibits a selection of 36 portraits ordered by Ludwig between 1827 and 1850. They were all commissioned to have the same size so as to perfectly fit in the allocated space and all feature the enchanting profiles of mid 19th century women coming from sundry social backgrounds like the German aristocracy or the European middle-class. This way, characters who otherwise never spoke in real life were forced by circumstance to keep each other company while hanging on the walls of the King’s gallery of visual splendor inside Nymphenburg Palace. So Ludwig’s sister, Sophie (between brackets: the mother of Emperor Franz of Austria, Sissi’s husband), rested alongside such notorious figures as English aristocrat Jane Digby, actress Charlotte von Hagn (a former concubine to Franz Liszt) and, inevitably, Lola Montez, quite an outrageous arrangement, given the epoch. Sort of like compelling Whistler’s Mother to face Courbet’s “Origin of the World” non-stop.

Don’t you just fancy having a place resembling this?

Of course I’m referring to Sissi the Empress, whose 175th birthday (she would’ve been terrified by the prospect of ugliness this age implies)  we celebrate today, on Christmas Eve (Happy Holidays to you all!). Not for nothing she was called Eugénie, after the obscure patron Sainte Eugénie, commemorated on 24 December.

Between cleaning the last corner of my already ultra-sterilized flat and venturing to decorate the Christmas tree alongside a totally amateurish brother, I decided to take a moment of respite and celebrate my favorite 19th century Empress. Also, since the ‘Quote Monday” has been off for a while, why not revive it with a thematic excerpt from Sissi’s diary to compensate the shortness of the post?

BLOG

She was aware they believed her insane and actually pronounced it out loud, publicly, though I’m momentarily unable to recall the exact circumstances which lead to her uttering such audacious a line. Certainly no previous Austrian monarch ever attempted a similar bravery in facing the court. A true eccentric, this woman, and a brave one at that.

She was so interestingly dynamic I believe it’s nearly impossible not to least feel the most malnourished affinity for her and to support my conviction, here are some things I bet you didn’t know about our Sissi (and neither suspected):

  • She admired gorgeous women perhaps as much as men did, with the exception that she only, exclusively, solely accepted the company of this particular category, and even had a picture album to count her preferences (over 100 samples, which numbered beauties from Lola Montes and Maria Sophia of Bavaria to unconventional Amelie Gautreau).  To complete it, the Empress wrote the Austrian ambassadors across Europe to send her photographs of charming ladies in their vicinity, causing amusing scandals regarding the purpose of the collection.
  • She had an anchor tattoo on her shoulder to express a love for sailing never to diminish for as long as she lived. Husband Franz was reportedly displeased by the daring.
  • When catching a sea storm, she often had her attendants tie her to a fixed chair on the main deck, claiming she imitates Ulysses due to the magnetic attraction waves exerted on her… Imagine what terrible coercion subdued the ones who abode her whim but responded before the Emperor if any unfortunate incident took place.
  • To avoid fulfilling her marital duties in the detriment of much desirable traveling, Sissi encouraged Franz’s sexual affairs, especially the long-term relationship with actress Katharina Schratt, whose reputation she always protected. Rumors of their friendship enabled Kat to continue the liaison for over 30 years, as a faithful mistress and friend to the miserable Emperor.

Wasn’t hers a titillating life?

Once upon a time, approximately a century plus relatively 20 years ago, when Lady D and Grace Kelly had yet to become international royal icons, fascinating generation after generation with their undeniable and utterly awing charisma, Europe celebrated as divine exponents of , well, a sex-appeal cumulated with fantastic physical charm, two renowned sovereigns contemporaries of elder and less prettier Queen Victoria. Empress Eugenie de Montijo (shortly named Doña María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Palafox-Portocarrero de Guzmán y Kirkpatrick, 16th Countess of Teba and 15th Marquise of Ardales) and Bavarian wacko, Empress Elisabeth of Austria (or Sissi), were, judging by the public opinion which papers never ceased to express, the crowned dignified beauties of late 19th century (otherwise somehow inferior to the peculiar pulchritude of a Lola Montez or a notorious Countess di Castiglione). Noble dames followed their fashion, copied their hairstyles, queued to steal their secret tricks and ultimately spread conspicuous rumors regarding the eccentricities so much talked about in journals across the old continent. A week couldn’t pass without both nasty and flattering news being published all over the Austrian, French, English or German Empire, constancy which eventually lead to their defining as legends, to the shared dismay of their husbands. To gossip on topics concerning the beauteous Empresses was an irresistible occupation of aristocrat high-put ladies while at quite tedious court balls, and, through this jealous rivals, the two made the elevated scandal of the day.

No wonder that, despite the tensed political circumstances and the wrong presumption of natural rivalry between elegant style icons, they developed a friendly relationship originated in an official meeting with the occasion of the Salzburg  reception offered to Napoleon III by Franz Joseph after his younger brother’s, Emperor Max of Mexico’s death on foreign lands. Agreeably not the most proper setting yet nonetheless an opportunity for the enchanting women to get in contact.

The city of Salzburg competed in comparing the two so to realize who was most loved by Aphrodite and the state affairs passed to the second position on the common scale of interest as Elisabeth and Eugenie were placed in the center of everybody’s attention. One witty, emanating confidence, the other sensitive, even timid; one blessed with symmetric features, one decidedly the owner of magnetizing allure: to chose a winner troubled the referees of this indirect contest. Implicitly, they were believed to be unquestionable enemies, still weren’t.

A funny anecdote recorded by the rich Count Wilczek unveils the intimacy shared by them in that short  period. He reports how Sissi, habitually traveling incognito, visited the French royalty in the evening to “speak of certain things” while he was supposed to guard the room entrance to prevent the prospect of someone interrupting them which proved justifiable when Napoleon III himself insisted on seeing his spouse. The Count was then obliged to “cross two empty chambers of the apartment, even the bedroom, to reach the boudoir whose entry had been carelessly left ajar. Before it was placed a cheval glass and the couple of Empresses were treating the door beneath which I remained with their backs, busy to measure, with some ribbons, the probably most beautiful legs in Europe.” He was never able to forget that unimaginable scene until the end of his days… Lucky man!

I’m going to make this post a tad shorter than the others as I’m really very caught up with writing for my seemingly almost finished second novel (hurray!) and badly need to end it once and for all so I can relax before the school starts the week after the other…

The photo above presents the Habsburgs at the Royal Wedding of  Zita Bourbon-Parma with Charles Habsburg-Lorraine  (later Charles I of Austria) at the  Schwarzau castle (near the villa of Zita’s maternal aunt) on 21 October 1911. All around you can see the well dressed aristocrats flaunting family jewels and wearing the iconic coiffure of early 20th century I personally hate as it looks akin a veritable bird nest.

Nothing special at first sight: the average gathering of expensive gowns and military decorations habitually exhibited at such events, stiff faces, a picturesque location and a young, circumspect bride.

Then take a look at this particular image:

A melancholic Zita reminding us of Wallis Simpson at her own wedding, a fake smiling Charles making a goof out of himself, tons of nicely arranged flowers, a naughty girl presumably biting her tong despite a cautious Mama ordering her not to… quite the usual.

Wait, what?

On the right side we have a little mimic-surprise!

Most respectable 81-year-old great-uncle of Charles, none other than the haughty Emperor Franz Joseph (known better for his disastrous marriage with the beauteous and highly-popular Sissi), the august figure of all Austria, is making faces at the most peculiar lady (proving to be none other than Infanta Maria Therese of Portugal- thank you Russ for the info) who’s mugging in a tremendously funny way to the delight of future viewers. In between, another noblewoman ( her sister, Infanta Maria Antonia of Portugal) seeming wildly disappointed and completely oblivious to the photographer that immortalizes her distorted features. Crikey! I didn’t ever expect to catch this sort of posture from lofty German royals! It kind of bring them to life, seeing how they weren’t always disdainful and majestic as portrayed in the official paintings available in the museums.

Now I try to guess what thoughts passed their minds at that time…. what do you believe?

I’ve been trying to avoid the subject since I started to write on this blog regarding various interesting and undoubtedly eccentric historical characters but it clearly seems that my resolution wasn’t meant to be accomplished: I just have to tell you about my utter obsession with the fair Empress Elisabeth Amelie Eugenie of Austria you most likely know under her familiar nickname also used as the title of the Romy Schneider adapted biographic movie and for the popular cartoon, Sissi.

sisi

As a child I was tremendously mesmerized by the richness of the ancient Greek Pantheon whose artful reflection could be admired in the two major literary works of pre-christian times, Homer’s  “Iliad” and “Odyssey” which were, coincidentally, as I was to find later on,  Sissi’s favorite reads (we also shared the same infatuation with the legendary Achilles). No wonder I instantly fell in love with her character once I happened to catch some further information related to the Bavarian beauteous royalty depicted galore in the epoch novels I had barely begun to relish. We’ve so much in common despite being a century apart, from stylistic tastes to the hair color (chestnut with golden tints)  and the day we were born in (Sunday…) that I couldn’t refrain avidly searching for more juicy anecdotes, stories, journals, poems and news papers columns to complete the figure I grew to contemplate daily, wondering how she did certain things the rigid court etiquette imposed at the same time  managing to accumulate enough strenght for protecting her libertine and bohemian spirit from the obligations required as the consort of Austria’s Emperor, Franz Joseph. Her gowns were pure refinement and her habits awoke uncountable rumors amongst the high society smug chaps hence it was near to impossible my not being enchanted by Sissi. The more I found, the eager I became to stumble across new dimensions of her personality and learn fresh facts connected with her bizarre propensities the whole of Vienna and even Europe gossiped about. Enigmatic, a bit tragic, non-conformist: what is not to love?

Alas, a single post would never incorporate  half of her deliciously vivid life, lyric works and, overall, persona so I’ll confine to discussing miscellaneous customs the Empress of Loneliness was renowned for throughout Europe and even parts of the other continents which couldn’t have been spared of her vitriolic existence.


Today I thought of apportioning you urban myths (surprisingly often true) relating Sissi’s flabbergasting pulchritude which alas defined the great woman in the eyes of most of her contemporaries and share some of her beauty obsessions which made the main topic of countless fashion magazines that were actual gospels for the wannabe socialite ladies in the 19th century.

One could correctly state that Sissi’s characteristic trait, concealing a high intellect and amazing linguistic capacities (she was fluent in 8 modern languages plus ancient Greek and the traditional Latin), was  her unnatural appearance, the only thing with which she could fearlessly confront the world, concomitantly preserving her sensible ego and draw the benevolent attention of large masses of adorers. Her striking silhouette and the incredible long hair framing her vixen face were, in fact, the first factors to contribute to Franz Joseph’s shallow infatuation with a girl (she had barely turned 16 the summer they properly met) whom  his mother, controlling Archduchess Sophie, thoroughly disapproved as she had had elected Sissi’s elder sister, Duchess Helene, to become her obedient daughter-in-law, the future Empress of Austria, a position requiring virtues the shrewd Archduchess pretended not to find in the childish Sissi. And perhaps she was right in the end, Sissi proving to be most incompatible with her newly acquired title, but this opens a whole other topic I don’t aim to debate here.

So Sissi was an animated piece of jewel possessing a profuse appeal: no wonder the mob worshiped her from day one, especially the Hungarians identifying their need of emancipation with her rebel attitude.

Enhancing her native handsomeness, she dissimulated a most sensitive core, faster gaining the endorsement of those who condemned the girl for not being subdued by the protocol (except the Archduchess- she was the average eternally displeased mother-in-law).

Tall (she had 172 cm, more than her husband despite being pictured smaller in the official portraits not to emasculate him), slender to superlative, her tight leather corsets diminishing a wasp waist Sissi managed to keep until death, moment when she was sixty,  the Empress’s hallmark was categorically the Rapunzel-like brass hair inherited from the majority of the female ancestors in the Wittelsbach family. She could complain of it giving her headaches but it totally worth it, I think.

It took a whole day to wash it appropriately in the wanted essence of cognac and egg once every two weeks, being forced to cancel any formal obligation, and the routine care of her abundant mane lasted least 3 hours, quite a prone to bizarre ceremonial.

Than again, organizing her beauty ritual was the sole thing she could control in her otherwise oppressed early life, under the Archduchess’s directives,  and continued as a rule during her later years. The rigorousness with which she practiced it only reflected a subliminal will to put some order in her chaotic existence and thus Sissi, often restless to the point of hyperactivity, very impatient, gathered the determination to sit passive at her “table which was moved to the middle of the room and covered with a white cloth”, “shrouded in a laced peignoir” to let the hairdresser Franziska (Fanny) Feifalik  create her famous ornate hairstyles. She recognized: “I’m the slave of my hair.”


And because exclusively magic could satisfy her aesthetic exigencies, Fanny had to resort to tricks: knowing the Empress scolded her for each and every hair that fell out throughout the combing, braiding and pinning Sissi’s rich tresses, she stuck it to an adhesive band hidden in her apron, bypassing the rage of her mistress when she was supposed to present it in a special bowl at the counting. Well, that’s an obsession and it isn’t as if Sissi could spare herself from fallen hair by numbering it!

Contrary to the popular myths, she even tasked Feifaluk with tweezing gray hairs away  but in her last months Sissi was reported to still have plentiful locks, “though streaked with silver threads”, a not so insignificant achievement.

Franz Joseph had the following paintings of his wife hanging in his private chambers at Hofburg Palace and it’s obvious he never ceased to be fascinated with the enigmatic Sissi despite being conventionally separated. They show her dramatic curls at their finest.

Yet this wasn’t the single thing she tended.

Devotee of natural looks, the refined Sissi disapproved cosmetics Parisians were mad to use galore, preferring instead tonics and nightly facial masks made of silk (presumably against wrinkles), raw veal to moisturize the skin or crushed strawberries. The favorite creme, ” Céleste”, was compounded from white wax, spermaceti, sweet almond oil and rosewater but she didn’t prized it as much as the previous treatments. Pretty wacko, right?

Wait till I tell you how she refused to part her lips while speaking because she found her teeth too yellow and deteriorated to be exposed!

Furthermore, for maintaining the hourglass figure she slept with cloths soaked in either violet- or cider-vinegar above her hips,  taking both a shower every morning and an olive oil bath in the evening , luxuries only the affluent people could permit. Unfortunately, these harsh cures caused several major health issues decades later, aggravating her arthritis and nervous anorexia which forced Sissi to search milder climates, a perfect pretext to stay well away from Vienna and implicitly her husband. In the benefit of her beauty, she traveled with 40 tons of baggage and 90 servants, not at all a negligible quantity. As a matter of fact, haunted by the prospect of getting old and ugly, she would have done a lot more.

After age 32, Sissi vehemently rejected to pose for portraits, believing  her fetching image had begun to fade and the world should remember her young, vivid. Ironically, she remained gorgeous yet another 20 to 30 years, information attained from eyewitnesses and the few photographs taken without her approval while she was strolling down crowded boulevards, her face screened by parasols or leather fans.

That’s what she said with her own sensuous mouth: “When I’ll grow old I shall retire definitively from public life for nothing is more horrible than watching how you gradually  transform into an utter mummy, ending up crawling like a worm- absolutely dreadful! One day I’ll cover my face with a veil and nobody, not even my closest friends, will be able to gaze upon me.”

She kept her promise.

The photo above depicts her exactly as she wished: her hair is dressed elaborately to reassemble a coronet to “get rid of the other one” (the Imperial crown), her attire is simple but majestic and the look in her piercing, melancholic eyes just seizes the audience.

Her efforts to preserve this ephemeral pulchritude paid off eventually and I can’t help to stare at Sissi in silent marvel.

Don’t you?

Due to my intermittent research of Belle Epoque material to make me apprehend further the mentality Parisians had in those glamorous prewar days and charmingly apply it to confer my novel some welcomed authenticity, I recently made a pragmatic habit from reading the happily online-available old French newspapers like Le Figaro and Le Gaulois, courtesy to Gallica . Not because I’m tired of consulting the Times and the Sun, with which I’m proud to announce that I’m completely up to date, but the calculated browsing through such original and reliable materials genuinely provides good information on gossipy subjects both useful in my work and juicy enough to relish even a century after they were printed, not to say it improves my lame knowledge of French grammar in the most pleasant of ways.

This being said limiting to one acceptable introductory paragraph whose utility my English teacher would seriously doubt though we’ll refrain it, imagine what I’ve found in a 5 May, 1897 Le Figaro edition I just stumbled across while really checking some hot Dreyfus Affair opinions right from the horse’s mouth and no, nothing regarding assassins, expensive jewelry or the kind of things I regularly post here, on the contrary, quite a Christian happening (to a certain extent…).

It all started one fine evening the benevolent Paris elite ladies dedicated to pious philanthropy work at the annual Bazar de la Charité which was decorated to reassemble a medieval nonetheless picturesque street with vivid theme ornaments and chic boutiques borrowed from Théâtre du Palais de l’Industie to aesthetically attract  the rich and generous all events implying charity need. A rudimentary cinema was installed and, for the sake of accuracy, most of the fake colorful buildings and even the ground, covered with dark pine planks, were made of a material so loved by fire: wood, which surprisingly nobody seemed to consider inappropriate or life-threatening despite numerous previous conflagrations, denoting a completely French spirit: let us not be practical but delectable because what’s the chance for a tragedy to occur? You’ll see, dear organizers, you’ll see…

Things went on nicely, half the high society eleemosynary couples gathering on the 60 meters of historical setting eager to considerately help humanity with disputably large sums of money before the eyes of all good reporters and tattlers taken as witnesses to their altruism. Aristocrats and wannabe grand dames of bourgeois background mingled with all sorts of common people, pretending more holly than the Pope in the splendor of their charity.  It was the busiest afternoon  since the bazaar had been opened last Saturday on the popular rue Jean-Goujon, a domain offered gratis by  gracious Mr. Michel Heine and modest satin Worth gowns lead by top hats, if you understand the allusion, blended beautifully…

When suddenly things gone wrong.

Whether it was an issue from the cinema installation or an oil lamp which set fire to a curtain nearby, at 4:20 p.m. sharp the whole ensemble was ablaze, flames covering the planks and obstructed the frenzied mob to safely escape the place though Duchess Sophie Charlotte d’Alençon, perhaps the most impressive woman present, struggled to establish an approximate order, refusing to exit until the frail children and alarmed ladies were securely out. Le Figaro declared that two hundred persons hastily passed the exit door, dezoriented,  startled, leaving as many behind in a horrific context, men burning alive, shouting, contending to reach the gate with overwhelming desperation in the 8 minutes  the destruction lasted.

Many Baronesses, Countesses and highly esteemed women terribly died then but the one I’m most fond of, Duchess Sophie, was by far the most important and regretted, her story being extremely misfortunate as she could’ve survived effortlessly if she hadn’t been so religiously zealous, sacrificing herself to let some ordinary girls escape, pretty damn magnanimous of her. It’s ironical Ferdinand d’Orléans, her husband,  who was also attending the  fair yet stood in the opposite part of the bazaar when the inevitable happened, tried to find Sophie, rushed to where he last saw her and, only a few steps apart, being informed by an idle citizen that she was out, got away. Barely there did he realize his utter stupidity, a mistake deplored for the rest of his days.

Sophie had been trapped between several wood boards, enveloping a scared kid with her steady arms and, serene as if having a tea, calm, dignified, she faced the cruelest of deaths, slowly, excruciating, definite… In the end, her earthly remnants were degraded to such extent that only her dentist could definitely identify Sophie by analyzing the skeleton’s teeth, important limbs of her body, one hand and a leg, missing. She had perished like a veritable martyr, faith relatively fitted for her spiritual aspirations and very similar to her ex-fiancee and sister’s, all whom were bounded by a gypsy’s prevision that Sophie would die by fire, King Ludwig II by water (the mad Swan King was supposed to marry her, yes)  and Sissi by steel (the Duchess was also Empress Elizabeth’s younger sibling). The eccentric trio had a story of its own, an absolutely tragic one, that is.

Basically, Ludwig, fascinated with Sissi’s character (they had a long-term allegedly platonic relationship across the years and he called her “dove” while she nicknamed him “eagle”), knowing he’d never be satisfied having another woman as his companion, engaged the virginal Sophie (Sopherl for family) mostly because she reassembled her older sister, fair-haired, blue-eyed, gracious and an enthusiastic admirer of Wagner’s compositions, wasted considerable sums of money on wedding preparations but had to dissolve the betrothal when the unconscious Sophie risked a love affair with photographer Edgar Hanfstængel . The dangerous liaison all keen mothers fear would’ve went really smooth if the smug Edgar had helped bragging about his substantial score which he didn’t, obviously, resulting in her humiliation. Later in Saxony she met Ferdinand and the tale continued.

At the time of Sophie’s death, one of the three, Ludwig, was already buried for a decade, indeed drowned, like the gypsy figure foretold, in a controversial situation it’s better to elaborate in other post, so it’s easy to imagine how Sissi felt when she heard her sister, a continuous source of consolation subsequent to the distressing Mayerling incident,  followed in the predicted circumstances.  “We all die of violent deaths.” she muttered, scarcely opening her mouth as she didn’t want people to gaze upon her yellowish teeth , when receiving the news and, in truth, she was assassinated at Geneva the next year.

Returning to Duchess Sophie, a kind, ethereal being nonetheless lacking human vices (let us not forget she was sent to an asylum  after attempting to elope with her lover/ gynecologist Dr. Glaser to Switzerland), she was sumptuously inhumed at the Royal Chapel of Saint Dreux at the end of a stupendous requiem mass. Up to now, she’s very popular in France, a symbol of kindness and dedication.

Finally, the Fire at Bazar de la Charité  was both a personal and public “catastrophe” as Le Figaro titles it, claiming many brilliant lives and creating a funny paradox between its destination and the known outcome.

Ah, the decadence of Belle Epoque…

the Empress’s Hand

March 18, 2012

I didn’t actually plan to make a post today as I’m so caught up with writing for my endless second novel, school and the other conventional ordeals which don’t seem to diminish any time soon but when I finally took a tiny beak and began my researching adventure (because one doesn’t simply relax without concomitantly doing something useful) I just couldn’t refrain sharing the peculiar thing I found  regarding Empress Elisabeth of Austria (you guessed right, the beauteous European monarch engraved in our collective  memory as the long-haired Sisi played by Romy Schneider).

That fantastic woman, a conglomerate of charming eccentricities half the cultivated Belle Epoque society gossiped about, publicly or not and disputably flattering, offered her favorite offspring, Archduchess Marie Valerie , amongst other symbolic gifts less worthy of our attention, a bronze cast depicting her own personal left hand.

Why, you may rightly ask . But why not, after all?

Queen Victoria herself did a similar thing to immortalize the arm of her beloved little son, Edward VII, once,  thus it’s not quite surprising giving the era when these intriguing female characters commissioned such unusual objects.

I’m not yet certain of what these  body parts replicas meant in the  subtle code of those days , whether they were veritable mementos or merely fashionable alternatives of being sculpted,  still it was clearly recorded the fact that Marie Valerie, perhaps oblivious to the importance of her mother’s present, gave the hand in question to Princess Louise d’Orléans, her ugly-duckling cousin.

It is my subjective assumption the daughter , literally haunted by Sisi, whom she reassembled in numerous ways, from looks and linguistic talents to misfortune galore, attempted to distance herself from her mother’s memory and estrange all the works wearing the great Empress’s print  despite being the only child she was allowed to rise and spoil. It was a bit ungrateful of Marie Valerie, but let us be indulgent with a girl curst by destiny to repeat the amorous tragedies of her notorious parent whose bizarre personality eclipsed hers totally, exemplifying Brancusi’s quote: “at the shadow of great  oaks nothing superior can grow”.  You see, she was practically tyrannized.

Coming back to the bronze hand, yes, she gave it away only to appear at auction a few years ago, sold to a private owner, which seems to be the end of the story, momentarily. ..

%d bloggers like this: