Voltaire on Freedom

January 25, 2014

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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?

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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?

There’s a tangible truth in Proust’s quote, the sort whose veracity  each of us can test in relation with our most intimate perception of paradise and the first experience of loss, which somehow comes right down from John Milton’s famed poem but also, somehow, doesn’t. To explain it would mean the beginning of a baffling, perplexing row of philosophical reasoning I’ll refrain unleashing here although, at the same time, it needs mentioning.

Subliminally, congenially, we’re all subjected to nostalgia over a period of life (that often seems to be our enchanting and enchanted childhood), whether consciously or less, to which we associate divine proportions and images distorted positively. In this regard, our judgement is no greater than a child’s, affected by the tendency to aggrandize. Interesting to remember the above statement belongs to one who lived amongst the patented masters of megalomania, the haughty, highly dramatic Parisians, in a century itself grandiose. I don’t think it changes anything substantially, though.

Don’t you find we’re as prone to do it now, modern as we are,  this exaggeration of the past/paradise time’s elapsing made us lose?

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