Monday, October 18, 2010

Magic in Vienna - Discussion Thread

The twins are having a play-date with a little boy who was 'almost, but not quite, a vandal'. I'm sure we all know what kind of behavior is being described - but do you know where the term "vandal" comes from? According to Wiki:
The Vandals were an East Germanic tribe that entered the late Roman Empire during the 5th century, perhaps best known for their sack of Rome in 455. Although they were not notably more destructive than other invaders of ancient times, Renaissance and Early Modern writers who idealized Rome tended to blame the Vandals for its destruction. This led to the coinage of "vandalism", meaning senseless destruction, particularly the defacing of artworks that were completed with great effort.
Don't you feel smarter already?

Cordelia and Eileen take a ton of fiacre rides as they explore, and more importantly to Eileen, shop in Vienna. I find the word fiacre to be weird. The word/name 'fiacre' is derived from an ancient pre-Christian Irish name, Fiachra. St. Fiacre moved from Ireland to France when he got tired of the crowds. According to Wiki-the-infallible:
Fiacre (carriage)
Saint Fiacre is also the patron saint of taxi drivers. The connection arose from the fact that the Hotel de Saint Fiacre in Paris, France, rented carriages. People who had no idea who Fiacre was referred to the small hackney coaches as "Fiacre cabs", and eventually as "fiacres". Similarly, Viennese horse-drawn buggies are referred to as Fiaker.

Eileen is a budding fashionista...not only does she love shopping, she also gives fashion advice: Eileen: You'd look smashing in one of those bright prints with a V neck line that goes all the way down and a tight skirt...'
Cordelia: I don't think I'd feel very happy in that, love.
Eileen, Eileen, Eileen. Hopefully you learn a little restraint in fashion. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Governesses were not 'encouraged to be in the forefront of fashion'. For instance, if they did wear a dress with a v neck line 'all the way down', it might not only be distracting, but it might also be less than practical when it's time to take the kiddies for a walk.

It's 1985 and Eileen is listening to pop music on the radio. Who was making a living as a pop musician that year? Madonna, Phil Collins, Huey Lewis and the News, Tears for Fears, Bryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen, Duran Duran, Foreigner, Sting, Prince and the Revolution, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, Whitney Houston, Juice Newton, Billy Joel, etc...

At one point in the story Cordelia helps the family pack up. carrying a load of 'ironed undies' through the hall. Yes, ironed undies. This book was written in 1985, for Pete's sake - I have no idea what undies were being ironed (we're assuming the ironed undies weren't the doctor's boxers - which I guess I could understand being ironed...), but I can promise you that there were no undies being ironed in the Founding Bettys home in the eighties. Who irons undies?

Cordelia ate 'splendidly' at the hotel 'aware that she wasn't likely to get another meal like it for some time'. What good sense! I'm so glad she didn't let her blighted love life interfere with her survival instinct.


  1. Betty Barbara here--
    Oh thank you for mentioning the 'ironed undies'. I can't think she would mean panties or bras--so I'm guessing slips. But still--the mind boggles!
    No ironed undies in Betty Barbara's household, either, but then Betty Barbara tries to do as little ironing as she can get away with and still look presentable in public!

  2. Coming from a somewhat long long line of "hired help," I know of several well-to-do families who still prefer their undies to be ironed. All of them. And by "ironed," I mean the very folds are ironed in. Same with sheets and pillowcases. PAIN IN THE ...rump.

  3. Love that you boast a long line of 'hired help'--if only you had a chain-smoking Maisie in your family tree. Then we'd be in business.

  4. My father always complained if he caught any of us girls in a wrinkled slip--his mother (Dust Bowl poor)ironed all slips with her flat iron. I could never understand and mostly ignored it--you can't see the slip under a dress.

  5. Reminds me of the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip where Mom brings in Calvin's folded clothes to put away, and he complaines that the underwear aren't ironed. She says, "Buddy, if you want your underwear ironed, do it yourself." He replies under his breath, "She should take more pride in her work," as he forcefully stuffs the large pile of clothes into a too-small drawer.