Marily and I were sitting on her balcony listening to the cicadas because, she said, it was a form of Zen. I was trying to translate the cicadas’ sound into onomatopoeia when I saw this striking woman walk by. She was tall, very thin and elegantly dressed. Who is that? I asked Marily. Sissi of Baveria, she replied. Sissi has a home here on Corfu known as the Achilleion designed with the Greek hero Achilles in mind. The Empress not only had much admiration for the Greek culture, she adored Achilles because he despised all mortals and had no fear of the gods. Just like her.
For a while I continued to think about those Zen cicadas. Their sound comes from the males who rub themselves trying to get the females’ attention. If a female likes the sound, she’ll snap her wings giving the male permission to put the move on her. But there was nothing about these stridulating cicadas that could grab my attention as Sissi had.
The next day I went for a walk near the Achilleion and saw Sissi ride past me on horseback. I tried to get as close as possible for a good look at her but she quickly whipped out a fan and hid her face only to provoke my curiosity even more.
So when I got back into town, I immediately began to torment Marily for information. There is no one on the island who knows about local happenings as much as she does. So, obviously, Marily had much info to share.
Sissi, aka Empress Elisabeth of Austria, was a Capricorn like me. At the age of 16, she was given in marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. He hadn’t fallen in love with her because they had anything in common but because of her beauty. Life at court was totally alien to Sissi’s Bavarian upbringing. Unable to control much of anything on the home front, she became maniacal about the only thing she could control—her body.
To keep in shape, there was a gymnasium in every one of Sissi’s homes that included weights, exercise bars, and gymnastic rings. She also walked obsessively for hours with her dog and spent hours horseback riding. Sissi’s diet consisted mainly of raw veal juice, fruit, milk, and, for a thrill, violet bon-bons.
The Empress’ hair was so long (down to her knees) that it often gave her headaches. Daily care took time and effort. First gloved attendants placed a white sheet on the floor to catch any fallen hairs which were then presented to Sissi in a silver dish and catalogued. The brushing and massaging took three hours (Sissi would read and study languages during the process) and every two weeks, her hair was washed in egg yolk and cognac.
Sissi’s beauty routine included body wraps made from seaweed and hay, olive oil baths, and facial masks of strawberries, honey, and raw veal. She also used creams made from slugs and never went anywhere without a face mist. Her favorite was made from violets, vinegar, and distilled water. The violets were infused with the vinegar for a couple of days then strained, mixed with the water, and placed in a spray bottle.
Afraid of being immortalized as an aging beauty, in her early 30s Sissi no longer allowed photographs to be taken of her.
On the morning of September 10, 1898, Sissi and her lady-in- walked the short distance from the hotel in Geneva and to the docks to catch a steamship. On the way Luigi Lucheni, an Italian anarchist, stabbed her with a sharp file. The two ladies thought it was a robbery attempted and hurried to board the ship. Here Sissi lost consciousness. Once lying down, her tightly laced corset was cut open and she immediately bleed to death. For it had been the corset that had kept her from bleeding to death immediately. She was not yet 60 years old.
(from Cool Breeze, aka The Age of Reconfiguration ©)