A ball at the palace (again)

028Last year, we went to the IAEA Ball, at the Hofburg palace.  It was phenomenally cool, and the setting was gorgeous and fabulous and opulent.  On the other hand, I had a terrible time finding a dress, I wasn’t able to get my hair to behave, and I ripped my already frustrating dress in the first five minutes after we arrived.  And although it might sound ridiculous to let anything get in the way of enjoying a ball at the palace, all of that really dampened my spirits about the evening and the experience (although I did, ultimately, end up having a pretty good time).

What a difference a year makes!  Yesterday, we went to the IAEA Ball again, and this year, we had a blast.  After the frustration of dress shopping from last year, I planned ahead and bought a dress online from the US.  (I figured, correctly, that even buying a dress over the computer and not getting to see it or try it on before I purchased it would be LESS of a hassle than finding a dress here.)  It was a good choice.  I got a great dress for a fraction of what it would have cost here and got it successfully altered.  Just being able to look forward to having an appropriate, flattering dress to wear changed my entire outlook on the evening.  Instead of being discouraged and deflated, I was excited and enthusiastic.  I was able to do my hair (on the first try!) in a new, functional style that I really loved, and did my makeup in just a few minutes so that I ended up feeling pretty and put together.  And then, the kids were happy and relaxed to be staying with Jo and watching a movie while we went out.  We started our evening a little later this year, so we were home to do dinner and bath with the kids before we went out.  When we were all together and ready to leave, everyone was happy.  It was a great way to start the evening!

030We arrived at the palace for the ball, and hit our first (and only) real snag of the evening.  Dan had to switch out his ornately tied tie for a bow tie (which, apparently, is part of the required dress for the palace) which he had to buy on site.  We chalked it up to getting an extra souvenir and got on with enjoying our evening.

058We did a little dancing on a floor that was every bit as crowded and insane as last year, got our picture taken, walked around to survey the palace in all of its splendor (the chandeliers are particularly remarkable) and chatted with some friends and coworkers of Dan’s.  We made it back to the main ballroom just in time for the quadrille — a large, complex, semi-organized group dance that one of Dan’s collegues aptly explained this way: “There are long lines of too many people.  It’s like square dancing.  They give instruction, although not quite enough, and then the music keeps getting faster.”  Which is, in fact, exactly what it’s like.  It was tremendous fun to watch, but it went on for quite a while and, given the lack of appropriate seating in the main ballroom, I eventually just 043gave in and sat down on the marble steps to watch.  There was something fantastically inappropriate, and yet perfectly indulgent about sitting on the floor, in a ball gown, in a palace, listening to an exquisite orchestra frantically playing manic quadrille music for several hundred partially intoxicated revellers who had no hope of keeping up.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself (and I started a trend — I was the first to sit on the steps in my finery, but many others quickly followed)

051After that, the crowds thinned out somewhat, and Dan and I got to do some dancing ourselves.  We danced until it was late, we were tired, and my feet wouldn’t take any more.  We came home to sweet kids who had been asleep for hours and a happy (if tired) babysitter.  We had a great, magical evening.  It was everything that a ball at the palace ought to be.

The liberation of anonymity

For most of my life, I’ve been a pretty self-conscious person.  I’m constantly judging myself, and I imagine (much more than is probably true) that other people are judging me, too.  I have spent years of my life evaluating every little thing that I did, trying to see if it was “right” and adjusting it if it wasn’t.  I spent many years trying incredibly hard to be, do or say what I was “supposed” to or what was “expected” or what (I thought, probably incorrectly) would make people like me — I denied who I really was a lot.

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Dress saga: the final chapter

I wore my new, custom made, blue dress to the ball last Saturday.  It was suitable and appropriate, but not quite right for me.  It was left much too big, and even after 3 fittings, with drawings, demonstrations and much pinning of the dress, the dressmaker wasn’t able to create what we had agreed on.  (Although I admit it improved considerably between the first fitting, where it was awful, and when I actually wore it.)  I just didn’t feel good in it, and given the number of opportunities the dressmaker had to fix it, plus the amount of money I spent on it (a lot) I was pretty unhappy with the final result.

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Feeling more like Cinderella

We really did have a great time at the ball yesterday — it was grand, lovely and truly, quite an experience.  Although, I was kind of feeling down about my dress.  I didn’t love it, and I’m a little exasperated that it didn’t even fit properly.  Also, I forgot to put my glitter on.  I have some (a lot) from my dancing days, and brought it with us expressly for use at a ball.  I found it, got it out, and put it right next to my hairbrush in the bathroom . . . and then completely forgot to use it.  (Bummer!)  But, I’m done with feeling bad about my dress or feeling sad about our experience yesterday at all.

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To the ball

After a lot of deliberation (and a lot of shopping for accessories for both dresses) I ended up deciding to wear the first dress.  Even though it still didn’t quite fit properly (after 3 fittings — seriously?) it just seemed like the more appropriate one.  Besides, I liked the jewelry that went with that one better.  So, this evening, Dan & I got all fancied up and went to the ball . . . me in my blue dress.  We got the boys through an early dinner and bath, and our downstairs neighbors came up to watch them, while we went out.

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I thought about it over the weekend, and decided that my best bet (for my sanity, if not for my bank balance) in dealing with all of my current dress drama was just to go out and buy another dress.  That way, if the first shop surprises me and makes the dress like I wanted it, I’ll end up with the good problem of having two nice things to choose between, rather than having to scramble at the true last minute if it doesn’t work out well.  It took me a while to make up my mind about what to get — I didn’t want to go out and get something similar to what I’m having made:  then I could, potentially, end up with two dresses, neither of which I like very much.  This would pretty much defeat the purpose of having a “plan B dress”.

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Adventures, and failures, in dress making

Earlier this evening, I had my first (of two) fittings for the dress I’m having made for the ball.  It’s a pretty color.  The skirt is quite full, so I shouldn’t have any trouble dancing comfortably.  My arms will be covered.  I’m sure it will fit me quite well.  I am confident that it is of a style appropriate to attending a ball.

Those are the only nice things I have to say about it.

It seems that nearly everything, from the silhouette of the dress to the length of the arms to the cut of the back — even the time of the appointment — was miscommunicated in the great game of multi-language telephone played between myself, the shop clerk and the seamstress.  The shop assistant kept saying things like, “I thought she was going to . . . ” and I kept saying, “Me too”.  I think that I understood the shop assistant just fine — it seems that most of the breakdown of communication was between her and the seamstress, who did not, it seems, understand what I was going for.  In many ways, the dress is the complete opposite of what I asked for, and I think several of my “not”s must have been lost in translation (as in, “I would NOT like it to have an empire waist, and I would NOT like there to be a horizontal seam across the middle of the dress”).

Sigh.  I’m frustrated, disappointed, and I feel pretty dumb.  I’ve just invested a great deal of money in a dress that will be much less flattering than several of the less expensive options I tried on at the dress shops.  It’s hard, because I don’t feel good about my current weight, or how I look these days, so putting on a dress that I was hoping would be lovely, and is instead frumpy and unflattering, is no fun.  It dims my enthusiasm about going to the ball, which, although understandable, is really kind of silly.  Yes, it would be great to have a gorgeous dress and feel beautiful, but I’m going to a *ball* at the *palace*, and what I’m wearing need not be the focus of the evening.  I’m trying to keep myself focused on the wonderful time we’re going to have, and on being grateful for the fact that I even have this problem to worry about in the first place.

Both the seamstress and the shop assistant seemed confident that they’ll be able to rectify my issues at the next fitting.  I am not holding my breath.  But maybe they will pull off a miracle.  Maybe.  If not, my options are to reject the dress (I have no idea how that would go over in Vienna, but I may try it anyway, although I do accept partial responsibility for the failure of communication — I’m the one in a German speaking country without the ability to speak the language) but then I’d have to scurry around to try and find something else that will work (and which would probably need to be altered), or I can accept it in whatever state it’s in at the next fitting next week and make the most of it.

At this point, perhaps I’ve now mentally set the bar so low that when I see it again next week, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.  I doubt it, but I’ll hope.

Shoe shopping

For reasons I may never understand, our movers decided that nearly every pair of shoes I own should go to storage, rather than coming here to Vienna.  Only about 6 pairs of my shoes made it to Vienna — and that includes a pair of snow boots.  Although this would have been an emergency for a lot of women, I managed to get through my first 9 months here with only one shoe purchase, but with the ball coming up next week, I need a pair of shoes that isn’t snow boots or sandals.

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Dance Party Osterreich

019On a whim this afternoon, my mom and I packed the boys into the double stroller and set out for a walk with no particular destination in mind.  We got a couple of eiskaffees and started walking down the Ringstrasse to look at some of Vienna’s sights:  the Rathaus, Parliament, the Volksgarten, the Hofburg.  We came upon a place I’d seen before but not visited:  the Burggarten behind the Hofburg.  Dan joined us there when he got off of work.

It was lovely, as most of the gardens in Vienna are, if a little less . . . orderly.  I have not yet seen a place where so many people disregard the “keep off the grass” signs.  But, it was beautiful, verdant and very popular.  Benjamin made friends with a little girl his own age by a fountain — they played chase and flirted until she ran off for an older, badder boy.  (He seems to have gotten over it.)  We really enjoyed it, and it was fun to make another discovery of a nice place to walk and enjoy Vienna.

033Then, on our way out, we joined into an impromptu swing dance party.  Right behind the Hofburg, at the base of the stone steps, on the wide marble walkway, people were dancing enthusiastic, American style triple swing and Lindy Hop.  Dan and I joined in, and Benjamin quickly added himself to the mix.  We all took turns — Liam and my mom danced, too.  It was great to dance again — it’s been a while.  We danced ourselves to exhaustion — even Benjamin just wanted to watch by the end.  And then, when we were done, Dan got up the courage to talk to the assembled dancers and ask whether they get together often (they apparently do, and we got their information).

We had a great day.  I am worn out.  Now I remember why I was in such great shape when I was dancing.