Friday, October 18, 2013

An unconventional woman

I don't know much German or much about the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, but I know enough of both to know the plate by her coffin shared that very sentiment.

Elisabeth, the last empress, was assassinated by a file to the chest. She hated being royal. She was criticized for not being present at the court for her husband, Franz Josef, who loved her deeply despite everything. She was known as Sisi. 

I didn't know much about Austrian history until the last week. Now I feel like I could pass a multiple choice test on the subject. 

However, I've learned so much that I'm kind of exhausted. I've been to three or four palaces, the same number of museums and half a dozen churches -- and that's just in the last week. So when I stumbled upon a virtual reality tour of the history of Vienna, I went for it. I actually felt the rat tails whipping my legs as they ran through the city spreading the plague. The wind whooshing us through time messed up my hair. It was a nice change from the informative yet static tours I'd been on -- until we got to Emperor Franz Josef lying in state in an open coffin. 

See, in other rooms, the portraits and busts had come to life, joking and sharing their stories. If the dead fake emperor suddenly started talking, there was a good chance I would find out what honest to goodness hyperventilation feels like. 

Fortunately, he stayed dead. While watching him out of the corner of my eye, I also had time to reflect on how that wasn't what his coffin looked like. How did I know? I'd been at the royal crypt two hours before, wandering around a basement of some very old, ornately decorated with skulls, huge, creeptastic sarcophagi filled with dead Hapsburgers. Why do I do stuff like this when I'm terrified of dead bodies? I do not know. Probably for the same reason I always click on pictures after I've been warned of their graphic nature. Just how disturbed does that make me?

Tomorrow I leave for Hungary. I'm very excited. It's a former Communist country and just seems different than everywhere I've been up to now. I'll use a different currency. The language looks totally different. (My six hours on a train may be spent studying please and thank you and numbers in Hungarian.) And yet, I just think it's going to be so much fun. 

A unicorn tail from the royal treasury. Actually the tusk of a narwhal. 

Synonyms for "to die" in Austria. The AP stylebook should recognize some if these. I think  "So and So gets in accident, puts on the wooden pajamas" would make a catchy headline. 

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