Tuesday, 31 December 2013

I've Won an ABC Award!

Shehanne Moore  writes sensational smexy historical fiction, with female lead characters who carry more fire in their bellies than a number of volcanoes I could name (and have been known to be just as volatile). On January 17th, she has a new heroine to add to her stable of Lady Fury and Kara McGurkie. Her name is Cassidy Armstrong and the novel is Loving Lady Lazuli.
In a couple of weeks, Shehanne and her cast of characters will be gracing this blog with their presence, but ahead of that, she has just awarded me an ABC.

"What's that?" I hear you cry (well, actually I don't because you're probably a few thousand miles away and things are getting pretty noisy here in Vienna ahead of tonight's New Year's Eve (Silvester) celebrations. But, wherever you are, I'm sure you are curious - and I hope you are also having a great time. Of course, if you are in Australia or New Zealand, this so last year because you've already had it and are probably sleeping off the after effects already. I'll speak softly.

The Award is given for 'Awesome Blog Content'. Well, I don't know about that, but thank you Shehanne. Of course, it comes with rules. The first is that I display the logo and link back to the person who awarded it to me. Job done already. Next, I must work right through all 26 letters of the alphabet (whew!) and select a word or phrase about myself, things I like and/or associate with myself. Finally, I must nominate some other bloggers and pass on the award to them.

OK, here goes. It may not be pretty. I may bend some rules. It may not always be in English, but I'm going in...

A is for Austria. My adopted and spiritual home. I was always fated to be here .

B is for Beethoven Frieze. An amazing picture, painted directly onto the walls of the art space known as the Secession building, in Vienna. here, in the 19th century a group of artists rebelled against the artistic establishment and created the movement they named Sezession. The building of the same name was intended to display their work. A leading light of the movement was Gustav Klimt (more of him later) and he painted this incredible picture directly onto the wall.

C is for Coffee Houses. I love to linger over coffee in one of Vienna's traditional venues, such as the Cafe Mozart

D is for Dinner - my favourite meal of the day

E is for English Theatre in Vienna. This charming little theatre has premiered some major plays prior to their European tours and has a unique atmosphere all of its own.

 F is for Falco. My favourite, late lamented Austrian rapper-singer.

G is for Gemütlichkeit. There is really no adequate translation for this. It describes a joyous feeling of peace and wellbeing and 'all's right with the world' and stems from great food, great wine and great coimpany.

H is for Hapsburg.

I is for Imagination. I love to use it whenever I can!

J is for - well, see for yourself. Shehanne will appreciate this especially.

K is for Klimt. One of my favourite artists, although his best known painting (The Kiss) is not my favourite painting of his. I prefer Love

 L is for Lord Frederick Leighton - and this is another of my favourite paintings 

 M is for Mae West - amazing lady born way ahead of her time, always ready with a witty turn of phrase..

 N is for Norse gods. I'm very partial to a strong Norse god, aren't you? And they don't come much stronger than...

O is for Odin

P is for panthers - sleekest of the big cats 

Q is for Queen Marie Antoinette - born Maria Antonia, daughter of formidable Austrian Empress Maria Theresa. It's true to say she had a sheltered upbringing. It is not true to say she said, "Let them eat cake."

R is for Rock Me Amadeus. Falco, R.I.P.

S is for Seducing Amanda. I admit it, I have no shame! A palpable plug if ever there was one.

T is for Tirol. If you love skiing, mountains covered in snow and looking as if they've been plucked from a fairytale. Or even if the mere sight of a pair of skis gives you the shivers and you simply want to curl up in front of a log fire with a glass of steaming, fragrant Punsch, the Austrian Tirol has it all.

U is for UBahn. It's a quirk of mine, but I love travelling on the UBahn in Vienna. It's fast, efficient and I've discovered all sorts of interesting places just by heading out and getting off at a stop I like the sound of, or which intrigues me. That's how I discovered Gasometer, once upon a time, long ago...

V is for Vienna - my home.

W is for Wiener Schnitzel. It may not really be Austrian, but who cares? I love it!

X is for xylophone - well, I had to put something didn't I? 

Z is for zither. Remember the Harry Lime theme from The Third Man?

And now for my nominations:

Suz deMello 
Milly Taiden 
Tara Lain
Nikki Dee Houston 
Renea Mason 
Rhonda Laurel

Happy New Year!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

A Traditional Christmas in Austria

All the seasons are celebrated in Austria and none more so than Christmas. But before that comes Advent - the magical four week period where everyone prepares for the festival to come.

In Vienna, the Christmas markets are in full swing now. The largest and most famous in the Christkindlmarkt held in the Rathausplatz and while, so far, the weather hasn't turned the pavements white with snow, the mingling aromas of mulled wine, spiced punch, roasting chestnuts and fried potatoes waft through the air and bring memories of crackling fires and toasty warm toes.


You won't find a town or village that doesn't do something special at Christmas. There is always a massive tree and local folk will gather around it to sing traditional Christmas hymns and carols. My own personal favourite is Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht. In English this is, of course, Silent Night, Holy Night. I remember one evening I was outside the Schönbrunn Palace, where there is another large Christmas Market. A choir was singing and I heard the first few familiar bars. Then they - an Austrian choir - proceeded to sing it in English. I felt robbed! To console myself, I absolutely had to drink a mug of Glühwein. Strangely I felt much better after that. Wonder why...

It is the tradition in Austria to place, or hang, an advent wreath in your living room. This is woven from evergreen twigs, decorated with ribbons and four candles. I always place mine on the dining table, but everyone has their own preference.

On December 4th, so tradition has it, St Nicholas, accompanied by the devil (Krampus), asks children for a list of their good and bad deeds for the year. If the devil hears of any misdeed, he will try and hit the offending child with a stick, but St Nicholas intervenes, sends the child running and protects them from the devil. In fact, St Nicholas and Krampus are frequently young men of the neighbourhood, dressed suitably for the occasion, as in the picture.Then, on December 6th, good children are rewarded with sweets, nuts and toys.

In Austria, despite the attempted coup by the American commercial version of Santa Claus, children believe that it is the Christkind (Christ child) who brings their presents. The same emotional blackmail is used by parents though. If you're not a good boy or girl, the Christkind will pass you by and you won't have any presents! Traditionally, on Christmas Eve, the children wait until they hear a bell tinkling. They can then enter a room, where they will find the Christmas tree beautifully decorated and their presents underneath. Families then gather and sing carols together before wishing each other Frohe Weinachten and opening their presents.
There is also a tradition for a procession of carol singers carrying a manger, from house to house - a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph's search for shelter. 
Turkey may be the traditional dish for many in Britain and elsewhere but Austrian families who like to stick with tradition will be enjoying a feast of baked carp. Trust me, cooked properly, it's delicious. If that isn't to your taste though, you'll find another fine old Austrian tradition is roast goose. If you follow this LINK  you'll find great recipes for both.
 For now, all that is left is for me to wish you all:

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Whatever Happened To...The Original Blonde Bombshell?

 Mention the name Jean Harlow and what do you think of?

A waif thin, sassy young woman with gleaming platinum blonde hair, dressed in slinky, skimpy gowns that left little to the imagination. She's a Hollywood legend. A fully paid up member of the 'they don't make 'em like that anymore' brigade that also numbers Garbo, Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe to name but three.

She is so universally well known, you could be forgiven for thinking she had a long, illustrious career spanning many dozens of films and the odd Academy Award, but the actress born Harlean Harlow Carpenter on Match 3rd 1911, in Kansas City, had a career spanning just 8 years before her untimely death (from acute renal failure) at the tender age of 26.

Her screen persona was the wisecracking, unconventional broad with a line in suggestive remarks and a talent for displaying her body to its best advantage. She rarely, if ever, wore a brassiere - a fact not lost on her many adoring male fans. In fact, it has been stated that she never wore any underwear, slept in the nude and put ice cubes on her nipples immediately before shooting a scene, in order to appear sexier! Yet, in much the same way as Marilyn Monroe a couple of decades later, she counted thousands of female fans among her admirers. As Harlow herself said, "Men like me because I don't wear a brassiere. Women like me because I don't look like a girl who would steal a husband. At least not for long."

Harlow packed a lot of living, not a little tragedy - and three marriages - into her 26 years. She ran away from home at 16 to marry businessman Charles McGraw, but their marriage lasted less than three years and ended in divorce. Actor Paul Bern fell for her charms and they were married in 1932. Shockingly, just two months later, he was found dead of shotgun wounds in his dressing room. A verdict of suicide was delivered, although this was subject to much speculation and controversy that he might have been murdered. 

Harlow's third husband was cameraman Harold Rosson, who worked with her on her most famous films - Red Dust, Red-Headed Woman and Blonde Bombshell. He captured both her looks and effervescence with perfect insight into what made Harlow unique. Sadly, it seems professional admiration wasn't enough to make this marriage stick and it lasted less than a year.

Harlow was a natural comedienne and there is probably no better example of this talent than in her only major starring role in which she failed to appear with her trademark platinum hair. Anita Loos wrote the perfect script for her in Red-Headed Woman.

Most of us, when we imagine Harlow, think of her in black and white. Hardly surprising really, for this most colourful of characters only appears in glorious Technicolour for eight minutes of her acting life - in the 1930 hit film, Hell's Angels.

She made six films with Clark Gable who adored her. While the rest of the studio called her 'Baby' (she was only 5' 1"), he called her 'Sis'. Perhaps fittingly, her last film was with him. While filming Saratoga, she became increasingly ill, until she was unable to continue. Gable said he felt he was holding a ghost in his arms. The final scenes had to be shot using her stand-in and employing long and wide camera angles.

Poor health had dogged Harlow most of her life. As a teenager she had suffered from scarlet fever and meningitis and this had left her permanently weakened. In the last year of her life, she contracted an apparent case of acute sunburn. a throat infection and influenza. She collapsed in May 1937, but seemed to be rallying when, on June 6th, she fell into a coma from which she never awoke. She died on June 7th 1937 with her fiance, actor William Powell, at her side, along with her mother, stepfather and cousin. It was widely reported - and even shown in a film of her life made many years later - that her mother's Christian Scientist beliefs had led to a refusal to allow medical intervention which might have saved her life. This has now been discounted as without foundation.

Her legacy lives on and she has inspired generations of blonde bombshells. Marilyn Monroe was one of her greatest fans and was approached to play her in a biopic of Harlow's life. When she saw the script, she declined, saying, "I hope they don't do that to me after I'm gone."

Jean Harlow was ranked 49th Greatest Movie Star of All Time by Entertainment Weekly.