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VIEVINUM – VINE LOUSE FOR A DAY

I am not a wine connoisseur. I’m just not. I will admit though that when I once went to a wine social in the US and the “glasses” were plastic cups, I opted for the water instead but I am no wine snob. I like wine. I drink wine. I have no idea what officially makes a good wine, I just know when I drink it, that either enjoy it or I don’t. But my obvious lack of wine 101 hasn’t stopped me from attending VieVinum (http://www.vievinum.com/) in the Vienna Hofburg for the past three years. After all, I might not know a thing about wine, but I do know you don’t serve it in a plastic cup (unless you’re backpacking in the wild). And I happen to agree with the old Viennese song that maybe there’s a little vine louse in all of us.

Steiermark Chamber at the VieVinum in the Vienna Hofburg

Steiermark Wines Chamber at the VieVinum in the Vienna Hofburg

In Austria in the beginning of June  you can let that inner vine louse go wild when hundreds of wine growers come to the Vienna Hofburg to present their best drops of nectar for three glorious days. Your 40 € ticket gets you access to room after room of local and international wineries. Lady Luck shone upon me this year and I won two tickets so I got to spend the afternoon sipping wines on someone else’s tab (thank you, Metropole!).

You stopped processing at the 40 € ticket. Okay, 40 € may be a steep entrance fee price but this isn’t an Epcot Center make-it-look-real-and-pretend-you’re-there façade and doesn’t even cost you a fraction of the price. This is it. The real thing. A once-a-year event. You can spend an entire afternoon (heck, an entire day if you’re so inclined) meandering through the opulent chambers of the former emperor’s palace while nipping on unlimited wines served by growers in Lederhosen and Dirndls. And the ambiance’s completely chilled. Remember all the times you promised yourself you would work to live and not live to work? This is those times – the living, the memory-making. Go for it! And let’s face it, by the third grower, you will no longer be worrying about the steep ticket price, you’ll be looking to the next table, the next bottle, and the next smooth, chilled Veltliner.

Wine Trolley

No. I didn’t get drunk enough to buy this baby but it was tempting even before the first drink – imagine the hissy fit this would cause the US TSA and how eager those guys would be to confiscate it.

My top picks for the afternoon (besides that handy carry on featured on the left):

The surprise of the afternoon was a selection of three red wines from Württemberger Weinberg Werk (www.weinbergwerk.de) – I skipped the first bottle on display and went straight for the Meisterwerk, which was very good but Lebenswerk was even better. In fact, it was so good that all three Austrians who I was making my rounds with praised the smooth, tasty red wine – and for Austrians to freely praise Germans for their wine requires either that the Austrians are drunk (they weren’t, I swear) or for the wine to be that good (it was).

Next, of course, was the Steiermark room. All good Austrians go to the Steiermark for great wine (and wonderful thermal spas) but where to start? We stood in the middle of the grand room, glasses empty, eyeballing all the possibilities and that’s when – like Eve in the garden of paradise – I turned to see the snake wrapped around the bottle. And with a name like Hirschmugl (Domaene am Seggauberg, Seggauberg, Steiermark – http://www.hirschmugl-domaene.at/) how could a girl resist? I convinced a group that didn’t need too much convincing that maybe the snake was on to something. And we were not disappointed. We particularly enjoyed the Muscaris and Sauvignon Blanc. Don’t judge them by their website – I think they are so busy making great wines, they don’t have time to list all their wines. The Sauvignon Blanc smells so lovely – really such an amazing aroma that in an instant I knew what all the sniffing’s about at those stuffy wine events. And if you are interested in a good excuse to do an outing to the Steiermark (as if one needs an excuse), on Saturday, 11 June from 11 am – 6 pm in Leibnitz, Hischmugl will be opening their wine shop and offering a presentation of their 2015 wines.

Vesper, a Grüner Veltliner from the Hohenwarth winery Setzer (www.weingut-setzer.at) was also great. Just the name itself invokes images of labyrinthine, cobblestone lanes in European hamlets, and a lone, romantic table for two on a wine terrace overlooking the vineyards in the warmth of the setting afternoon sun. And at 6.60 € a bottle, you can start saving up for that Vespa to get you there.

Another wine I really liked was the 2011 Grand Cuvée from the winery Reichardt (www.weingut-reichardt.at) called Supreme. It definitely lives up to its name and at 11.50 € a bottle, you can take a bottle along when invited for dinner without looking like a cheapskate (unless you have very uppity friends who can’t appreciate a good bottle of 11.50 € wine which means you should probably decline the dinner invitation and drink it yourself while searching for a new set of friends).

One winery I actively sought out was Antinori (Tuscany, Italy, https://www.vinorama.at/Weingueter/Marchesi-Antinori-Firenze/) and I found the Dirndl-donning server in the Falstaff room. As a podcast junkie I could tell you a million tidbits about a million-and-one topics so when 60 Minutes’ beloved journalist, Morley Safer, passed away and they re-broadcast his favorite segment about an Italian wine (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-toasts-morley-safer/), my curiosity was piqued. This family has been in the wine-making business for 6 centuries(!) and now three sisters are at the forefront of the operations. The wines presented at the VieVinum were apparently newly acquired wines and they didn’t disappoint. Of course, the classic Chianti tasted like the rolling, green hills of Tuscany in a bottle but the one I thoroughly enjoyed as a perfect, light, summer wine was the Vivia, La Mortelle, 2015 (https://www.vinorama.at/Weine/Alle-Weine/Vivia-Maremma-Toscana-IGT-oxid.html). And an extra goody for those living in or visiting Vienna – the family also has an amazing Italian restaurant in the lane directly across from St. Stephan’s cathedral (http://www.cantinetta-antinori.com/en/vienna/cantinetta-antinori-di-vienna). When I dined there once, the food and atmosphere were so inviting, that I think our little group did like the Italians, lost track of time and ended up staying until closing (no slapping down the check with the after-dinner espresso in these places).

I may have missed some of the best wines at the VieVinum. But frankly, I don’t think so. I’ve noted the ones I enjoyed and I’ll be sure to somehow acquire some bottles for home (they all said to send them an email). And every time I drink a Sauvignon Blanc from Hischmugl or a Vivia from Antinori, I’ll remember our afternoon at the VieVinum and the wine will taste all the better for the memory – not just of a beautiful afternoon with good friends but of the wine makers and that twinkle they get when talking about their wines, the history, the barrels, the soil. You listen, swirl the wine in your glass, inhale the fine aroma, and no sooner have you savored the fine texture, and unique flavor, that you find yourself turning to the winemaker with a “Wow ! That’s great stuff.” Immediately you see it – for them this is more than a hobby, more than a product, a business, a way of life – it’s their Lebenswerk, and when done well, a Meisterwerk.

And a special treat for you – a Viennese classic to accompany your Achterl – Hans Moser singing about his former and future life as a grapevine louse.

I weiß ned was des is,
i trink so gern a Flascherl Wein.
Da muass goar ka bsondrer Anlass oda Sunntog sein…

I’m not sure what it is, I really like to drink a little bottle of wine, And it doesn’t even have to be  a Sunday or a special time… I must have been a vine louse in a former life… And when I die I want to be born again as a vine louse…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WOMEN AND WILD SAVAGES PRINT VERSION NOW AVAILABLE

You asked for it – Women and Wild Savages, the print version, hot off the presses! Hold it in your hands. Feel the sleek, smooth surface of real paper. Revel in the smell of fresh ink. Dog ear it. Marginalia it. Mark it with an R for Reader and Me.

Romance, love, betrayal, poetry, friendship, horse-drawn carriages, coffeehouses, wineries, death, tragedy and hope – all wrapped up in the story of a young, aspiring actress and her marriage to the world-famous architect and designer, Adolf Loos. Because you deserve to spend some quiet hours in Vienna’s coffeehouses.

Women and Wild Savages

Women and Wild Savages is the first book in the Vienna Muses series

Women and Wild Savages at Amazon – print version

E-Book Versions are Available too

Women and Wild Savages at Amazon for Kindle

Women and Wild Savages at Barnes and Noble for Nook

Women and Wild Savages for Kobo

And Don’t Forget to Download the Free Readers Guide

Women and Wild Savages Readers Guide

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SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC CITY CROWNED WITH TOP QUALITY OF LIFE 7th (!!) YEAR IN A ROW

Seriously America? We didn’t manage one city in the top 10?!

For the 7th consecutive year in the row, Vienna has been voted number one city in a quality of life survey of folks who work and live abroad. It doesn’t surprise me. I’ve written many a post about Vienna and her virtues and even one about her selection to this supreme place of honor but given the current climate in the US primaries, I think now is the perfect opportunity to delve a bit deeper.

Why? Because the city voted world’s most livable is the capital of a…wait for it…wait for it… social democratic country. Yep. There’s that word again.

Austria 101 in three paragraphs

First a bit of a background so that you don’t get any wrong ideas. John Oliver can attest to the fact that many of my fellow Americans are woefully ignorant in geography. In fact John Oliver might say something like, “Austria, that country in the Alps somewhere with raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and Terminator.”

Following WWII Austria found itself geopolitically situated as a neutral nation wedged between the countries of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. For decades Austria negotiated its precarious stance between two highly belligerent neighbors with diplomatic grace and finesse. Unlike Germany, after WWII Austria was spared a division of the country into east and west. It also managed to escape, unlike its neighbors to the north and east, decades of occupation by foreign powers. Unlike Switzerland, its likewise neutral neighbor to the west, Austria has become an active member of the European Union. Austria is a place where Russians, Americans, Israelis and Saudi Arabians can bump elbows at the Park Plaza buffet table and politely engage in chit chat. (http://www.kcblau.com/spy-capital/)

Austria is not capitalist, communist, socialist or corporatist (shops here are still closed on Sundays and I have come to believe that that’s something positive). It is a social democracy and has been since the end of WWII (that’s over 70 years).

Social democrats and social democracy have become buzz words lately and since I currently live in a place organized under these principles, I thought I would share some firsthand, frontline thoughts about what that means exactly.

Yes, taxes in Austria are high but…quality of life is too.

Life in the USA as Harry and Louise 

I don’t know about you but my name isn’t Walton, Koch, Goldman, Rothschild or Bush. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon dangling from pouty lips and though I loved my high school green and gold, the sports fields were baseball and football, not rugby and tennis.

My father grew up in a part of Pittsburgh where every man either worked for the steel mill or joined the military to escape it. Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and John Cougar Melloncamp – those were the guys who sang from the soul of my roots – roots that could be like those of Harry and Louise.

Life in a Social Democracy as Harry and Louise

So what will you, Harry and Louise, find in a social democratic city?

Universal public health insurance – this means that you are not one cancer diagnosis away from personal bankruptcy or uninsurability. People search for jobs based on salary and job satisfaction, not benefits. No deductible payments for treatment and no exorbitant fees for medications (I think I pay a flat fee of about 5 bucks per prescription here).

Private health insurance: Don’t like sharing a hospital room with a snoring neighbor who has fifty relatives visit a day? Want to have a posh hospital with display cases of swords donated by former patients who happened to be sheikhs? No worries, Harry and Louise. You can get that here too. No one is going to forbid you from buying private insurance coverage.

Sick leave: Austrian law forbids firing an employee because of illness – a novel idea – you get sick or have an accident and don’t have to worry that it could also be a financial death sentence for you and your loved ones.

Maternity Leave: a year or more of paid maternity leave and what is becoming more and more common is that mom and dad split the “time off” so both get the joys of diaper changes and “Mein Pipihendl” rounds. And what does that look like back home in the US? John Oliver on Paid Family Leave.

Five weeks paid vacation by law for everyone: I swear it’s true, even for the “wage slaves” (more details here: http://www.kcblau.com/five-weeks/).

Affordable housing so well planned that there are no ghettos because

Hundertwasser housing in Vienna's 3rd district

Hundertwasser housing in Vienna’s 3rd district

subsidized housing complexes have been strategically spread throughout the city in all districts – some have even been designed by some of the city’s most famous architects – functional and livable – check out Hundertwasser’s housing for example.

Public transportation for less than a dollar a day (365 Euros a year!) that will allow you to ride all of the city’s public transportation (buses, subways, trams) and will get you anywhere you want to go in a timely and reliable manner. Like to party on the weekends? No worries about drinking and driving because the Wiener Linien always picks the short straw and will happily play designated driver and see you home safe and sound. Public transit is so popular that in 2015, 700,000 annual tickets were sold. In fact people are so in love with public transportation here that a woman from Manchester, England wrote the Vienna Public Transit a love letter when she moved away from Vienna complaining about the overpriced and unreliable transit system back in her hometown in England: Thank you for a fantastic, affordable public transport system. I miss you every day and I know someday we’ll meet again.

Free Higher Education: Can you imagine graduating from college with absolutely no debt? None? Zip? Zero? Or changing your major without having to consider the financial consequences? Vienna might not be completely made of milk and honey but this really, truly exists here. Seriously. But hey! If you want to pay and ensure that special one-on-one professor mentoring time – there are Private Universities here too. Don’t believe Harry and Louise if they try to tell you otherwise.

Pedestrian Shopping Zones: no cars and in the warm months – outdoor cafes, dining areas and plenty of room for street artists to do their thing. Because there is more to quality of life than money.

Karmeliter Market

Every Saturday you will find young and old shopping at the second district open air market, Karmeliter Market.

Parks, green areas, flowers, trees: Yes, all here. Vienna is a very “green” city.

Museums free for those 18 and under: culture and education for the kids – something we could only wish for with our 9/11 Memorial Museum.

(http://www.kcblau.com/nyc-national-september-11-museum/)

Minimum Assistance

(Mindestsicherung) – people who don’t have more than about 4000 USD to their name and can’t work because they are disabled or too old are automatically insured and entitled to financial help from the government – about 800 USD a month total. The idea is to catch disadvantaged members of society in a social net before they fall into extreme poverty. It’s called brotherly (or sisterly) love, Harry and Louise, so deal with it.

Required civil or military service: giving back to Uncle Sam (or Onkel Franz?) 6 months military or 9 months civil service. Young, able men serve their country after graduating from high school. It’s a few months in which all male members of society are equalized – regardless of the pedigree of your background. Where and when do we have that in the US? And let’s face it, many 18-year-olds could benefit from a year of figuring out what they really want to do with their futures before diving head first into the next (often expensive in the US) chapters of their lives.

Services for the elderly and disabled: transportation to the hospital for treatment, food delivery, as well as care and workshops for the mentally disabled.

Humane prisons with lower prison terms and strict regulations regarding length of solitary confinement and conditions of cells and fewer prisoners. Prisons here are not privatized because let’s face it – should someone be increasing his or her wealth based on the number of people we lock up and how long they are kept there? Kind of a scary, Orwellian idea that a rational person may have been tempted to believe would have ended with the “Cash for Kids” scandal in 2009. And one last question on this – are we truly, seriously convinced that we have the most misbehaved, criminal human beings in the entire world who would justify us having the highest number of our own citizens locked up behind bars (followed by China and Russia)? Or is $omething $eriously amiss? And don’t just take my word for it, check out the World Prison Brief numbers for the extremely depressingly, dismal reality.

High life expectancy (higher than US) (http://www.kcblau.com/usprogress/)

Water so Good it’s Constitutionally Protected

Private property – you can certainly own land, houses and apartments here but many folks choose to rent because rent prices are highly regulated and therefore renting is an affordable option.

Private businesses – your can found and run your own business here too

Life in a Social Democracy as a Property Mogul

Karmelitermarkt

High quality of life doesn’t have to be about money

I am not going to lie to you. I don’t know whether or not a Donald Trump could have made his billions here (though Richard Lugner apparently managed). At the same time, and I’m going to quote The Guardian for this: “In the mid-90s the property mogul hoped eminent domain would help move out a widow who stood in the way of a planned limousine parking lot.” Said property mogul would have not  harbored such hopes in a country where the rights of the so-called “little people” carry equal weight as their wealthier fellow countrymen.

Worth here is not based on wealth. And who of us normal mortals really believes it should be?  It would be like saying Ebenezer Scrooge in the beginning of the Christmas Carol is a far more worthy individual than Bob and Timothy Cratchit.

Worth based on honest values is a sentiment I could swear would appeal to all my freedom-loving, flag-carrying American compatriots who’ve heard the story of Abraham Lincoln’s humble beginnings since the time they could pledge allegiance to the flag. It’s what is preached in the churches that are still overflowing in the small towns every Sunday from sea to shining sea.

Glock sign

You can get a Glock in the land that makes them but you will have to undergo a psychological test first and store it under lock and key. So I can’t lie that it boggles my mind that in the US, we as a people can nod and hail “hallelujahs” as our preachers, ministers, and priests instruct us to love-our-fellow-man while we don our WWJD bracelets with the same hand clutching the 45 special under the pew, just in case that brotherly love takes a temporary hiatus.

There was a time in history when only the off-spring of the privileged elite could afford tutors and thus receive an education; a time when we packed up our undesirables and shipped them to distant shores and unknown futures; a time when where you sat on the bus or at a coffee shop depended on the color of your skin; a time when your right to vote was determined by the M or F on your birth certificate. Thank God those days are behind us.

We’ve moved to a better place since then and ensured more rights for more people. Let’s not stop now.

Part of the reason so many people fear “social democracy” is that they don’t understand what it means in day-to-day life. Fear-mongering media outlets funded by companies holding big-billed self-interests inundate the public with opinion-swaying “Harry and Louise” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_and_Louise) ads that skew the real issues. It’s simple. Should health care be a profit-oriented business? Are profit-oriented businesses the ultimate means to create a civil, socially humane nation? Do we want to live in a society where money just doesn’t talk, it talks the loudest and mutes all others from even having a voice? Is that the kind of democracy we think of when we proudly wave the stars and stripes?

As Americans isn’t it time we pause long enough from the selfies to soul-search and ask ourselves: why are so many others in the world living such a high quality of life and none of our cities have even managed the top 10 (despite our bagels, pulled porks and reubens)? Yes, let’s come together (and stop bickering) and make America great again. But let’s not do it based on hot air and empty promises. Let’s start by seeing how others have obviously managed it elsewhere.

And one last thing: Dear Harry and Louise, When you go to vote, vote based on what’s best for you and Larry and Marlene next door and your parents, and your kids and your kids’ kids, not the property moguls, bankers and opportunistic politicians whose greatest objective is to park their limos in what used to be the sweet-old-widow-down-the-street’s living room.

What the US could Learn from a Place like Austria: http://www.kcblau.com/usprogress/

Mercer Website with Survey Results: https://www.imercer.com/content/mobility/quality-of-living-city-rankings.html

Wiener Linien (Vienna Public Transportation): http://www.wienerlinien.at/eportal3/ep/contentView.do/pageTypeId/66526/programId/74577/contentTypeId/1001/channelId/-47186/contentId/82733

The Guardian article about Donald Trump’s Eminent Domain Battle:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/19/donald-trumps-eminent-domain-nearly-cost-widow-house

Forbes list of America’s Richest Families:

http://www.forbes.com/families/

Super Pacs undressed: New York Times article (“The Families Funding the 2016 Presidential Elections”) on the 158 families who are funding half of the US political campaigns in the early stages: “They are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male.” Read it and weep for our American “democratic” system: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/10/11/us/politics/2016-presidential-election-super-pac-donors.html

Article from the New York Times in Oct 2001 about Bin Ladens liquidating their holdings in the Carlyle Group (where Pres Bush worked as an adviser and former Sec of State James Baker as a partner) so as not to give the appearance that they would be profiting from the War on Terrorism that would ensue after 9/11: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/26/business/bin-laden-family-liquidates-holdings-with-carlyle-group.html

In case you missed the link above: Economist article from 2003 (!) about the Bush family and their link to the Carlyle Group http://www.economist.com/node/1875084 – “At a time when America is aggressively promoting democracy and capitalism abroad, including by military means, it would be helpful if its politicians and businesses were regarded as cleaner than clean. Shrouded in secrecy, Carlyle calls capitalism into question.”

Private vs. Public – what is good for the general population is not always good for private industry – let us not forget history and why many US cities no longer have the public transportation options that a city like Vienna does:
Documentary Taken for a Ride Part 1, Taken for a Ride Part 2

Schoenbrunn Park in Vienna

Schönbrunn Park in Vienna

 

 

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HOW TO FAN A FLIRT AND PIN DOWN A STINGING MESSAGE – ACCESSORIES WITH MEANING

“Women are armed with fans as men with swords, and sometimes do more execution with them.” – Joseph Addison was a publisher and ran an academy in the 1700s that taught ladies the language of fans

For hundreds of years, women have used accessories as tools for secret communication.

Brooching Diplomacy

Evidenced by recent events, Madeline Albright has never been one to keep her opinions to herself. In former times, however, she expressed her ideas with a bit more subtlety and charm. As US Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeline Albright was in charge of monitoring the sanctions against the Iraqis at the end of the first Gulf War. Saddam Hussein did not take kindly to her tough stance. A meeting between her and her Iraqi counterparts was followed up with the publication of poem in the government-controlled Iraqi press entitled “To Madeleine Albright, Without Greetings.” The poem included the line: “Albright, Albright, all right, all right, you are the worst in this night” and ended with a reference to her as an “unparalled serpent.” Ms. Albright’s attire for her next get-together with her Iraqi counterparts included a golden snake brooch.

Kaffeesiederball Fan 2016

Kaffeesiederball Fan 2016

In 1997, when Ms. Albright was appointed as US Secretary of States and thus became the highest ranking female civil servant in US history, she continued using her brooches as an essential part of her “personal diplomatic arsenal.” While balloons, butterflies and flowers signified optimism during diplomatic talks, crabs and turtles indicated frustration. After the Russians were caught tapping the State Department, and even listening in on Ms. Albright’s office, she engaged in the next round of talks with the Russian officials wearing pin with a gigantic bug on it. Stinging message on its way? Ms. Albright donned a wasp pin. Time and again, she accentuated her polite talk with no-nonsense pin speak.

In the same manner, women over the centuries have used ornate fans as both a fashion accessory and a communication tool. Fluttering signals could indicate that the lady in question considers you infatuating or a flop.

Fanning the Flame

Fan from Kaffeesiederball 2011

Fan from Kaffeesiederball 2011

Fan held high at the chest, spread open and pointing downwards: Better luck next time, this girl’s taken.

Fan spread open and the top is lightly pressed against the lips: Shut up, get over here and kiss me.

Fan spread open at shoulder height with pinky finger extended outwards: Take a hike. You’re a total bore.

Fanning self slowly: Nothing to see here, keep moving, I’m hitched.

Fanning self quickly: Engaged. Catch the glint of the rock on my finger as I vigorously bat this fan back and forth.

Fan spread open, pointed upwards and pressed against the heart: I love you.

Campari Fan

Campari Fan

Placing the fan on the right check: Why yes!

Placing the fan on the left check: No way!

Fan closed and pressed against the ear straight up and down (not angled like a telephone!): Call me, maybe. Definitely.

Opening and shutting the fan: You are cruel.

Twirling the fan in the left hand means: We are watched.

Fan closed and pressed against the lips: Get over here and whisper sweet nothings in my ear.

Fan closed and pressed against a coffee cup (or wine glass, beer mug, whiskey flask…): I’m thirsty, sweetcakes, and you look like the perfect man to buy me a drink.

Kaffeesiederball Fan 2014

Kaffeesiederball Fan 2014

But the thing about communication is that it is a two-way street and only effective if the person on the receiving end understands the message being sent. While the press and even Vladimir Putin became quite skilled in recognizing Ms. Albright’s “Read-My-Pin,” codes, it is easy to imagine the young men throughout the ages have had quite a time at making heads and tails of the slow, rapid, hand-switching, waving, fluttering signals of fans to the point where there must have been some Cassanovas-in-waiting who got so frustrated that they simply surrendered and walked away. But take heart. It is equally important to recognize that sometimes, a fan is simply just a fan.

Interested in learning more? Check out these sites:

Wikipedia page of Jean-Pierre Duvelleroy – a fan manufacturer from 1827 from Paris: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duvelleroy

Exhibition of 200 pins used by Ms. Albright during her service as US Secretary of State:

Black Wooden Fan

Black Wooden Fan

http://www.bellevuearts.org/exhibitions/read_my_pins.html

 

 

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