Sunday, October 26, 2014

All Kinds of Empresses

Forget Sissi; forget Maria von Trapp - this is the face of Austria in 2014.

It's true - Conchita Wurst is everywhere in Vienna - in advertisements, on magazine covers, and in performance.  And what an evening (sadly, the week after I leave) that promises to be, as the fabulous Conchita will be joining (and certain Café regulars had better sit down for this news - I'm looking at you, Thombeau) that legendary songbird of the later Cold War, none other than Fraulein Luftballoons herself, Nena!

I'll wait a moment while you all compose yourselves.

The snap above is from the concert poster, taken as I wandered about today.  The weather is gray and unpromising, but the light is really rather wonderful, and since yesterday I've been walking enormous distances and continuing to tick off my lengthening list of must-see places in this amazing city.

Yesterday took me to the Imperial Furniture Collection (in German the far more evocative Hofmobiliendepot), which is a serious museum of the decorative arts hiding in the guise of the world's most mouth-watering flea market.  It was the custom of the Imperial Court, it seems, to save every stick of furniture and bibelot it ever acquired, and therefore the job of an extensive bureaucracy to manage all the stuff.  When the new Austrian republic acquired all the former Habsburg properties, it continued the tradition, opening to the public what amounts to a panopticon of Austrian history as seen through household goods.

Incredible treasures (an exquisite little console that was a favorite of Marie Antoinette's, for example) jostle less elevated - if more utilitarian - bits and pieces like an entire collection of regal commode chairs.  Great long warehouse rooms are literally stuffed - some on two levels, with the things stored  up in lofts tantalizingly out of sight) - while other galleries lay out the choicest goodies.  The bedroom set from the ill-fated Crown Prince Rudolph's hunting lodge at Mayerling is there, as is a set of dainty side chairs with seatbacks embroidered by the eleven daughters of Maria Theresa.  Ever wanted to see Franz Josef's billiard balls?  They're there, as are a pair of Empress Elisabeth's sturdy black stockings.  Needless to say I was enchanted.

Today I took the underground out to Schonbrunn and spent a blissful afternoon touring the Hapsburgs' cozy little summer palace there.  That's only half-an-understatement, for while the schloss itself is very large and very grand, some aspects of the Imperial quarters are really quite (comparatively) simple - as long the comparator in mind is the vast and charmless Hofburg downtown.  Next to that, one can quite easily see why they preferred their country place.

Maria Theresa and her enormous family lived in a series of cheerful rococco salons and bedchambers, while later generations of the family went in for rather heavier decor that seemingly combined the less successful aspects of French royal style and that of provincial railway hotels.  Franz Josef had a suite of rooms upholstered in unrelieved brown, while his mother, the redoubtable Archduchess Sophie, went in for too-bright crimson and wall-to-wall pictures of her children (unlike Sissi, whose quarters feature, tellingly I think, only pictures of herself).

The gardens are huge and of intimidating symmetry; one feels less in nature than in some great experiment in outdoor architecture.  Even so, they made for a pleasant walk on a brisk autumn aftrnoon, one made all the more so as I found an extremely endearing old café not far from the garden gates once I left the palace grounds.  Nothing to cut the October chill like a nice Aperol spritz and a plate of dumplings, no?

Tomorrow it's back to the grindstone, but I have to admit it's been a lovely weekend.  How about you?


  1. I am wearing the Conchita beard as we speak... Jx

    1. I would expect nothing less. Also the heels, I hope...

  2. Worked yesterday. Two new hires whom give all appearances of working out quite well. Evening dinner party up the street hosted by the Baby Gays who are all of 30. The usual suspects were in attendance with the happy addition of a Swiss coworker of one our hosts.

    Today I was up and out early to do the final seasonal closing of the parents' beach house. After shutting valves, draining pipes, taking in screens, hauling porch furniture into the basement, and lugging in the grill, I headed to the beach for a final swim of 2014. It was brisk, brief, and just what I needed.

    I'm home now and parked on the sofa with my husband. Tortilla chips, wine, and ice skating on TV. The painters are still scrambling about outside which has me feeling a bit lazy. Damnable catholic guilt. I'll never escape it.

    Dinner soon, a bit of paperwork I brought home, The Walking Dead, and then the slow, inevitable drift toward Monday.

    1. Sounds pretty lovely, actually. And just think - by having a happy, cozy marriage, you're better off than poor Franz Josef. They had pretty rooms, but that family really does seem to have been pretty consistently miserable. Except for Maria Theresa - she does seem to have enjoyed bossing around all those girls (even if one did turn out to be Marie Antoinette).

  3. Conchita und Nena! I'll assume Nina Hagen was unavailable.