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VIENNA LIFEBALL COMBATS AIDS AND HIV

One life, But we’re not the same, We get to Carry each other, Carry each other – U2, One
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More vulnerable than the burlesque actress donning nothing more than blue body paint, Lifeball organizer, Gery Keszler, made an on stage confession at this past Saturday night’s Lifeball that struck a chord still resonating days after the event.

Amidst the glitz and glam, golden clogs and leather flogs, Gery Keszler stood tall in front of an audience of thousands and announced that for over 20 years, he’s been living HIV positive. Tears streamed down his face as he shared his story of traveling to Australia as a young man and returning to Vienna with an illness so unknown in Austria that at first his physicians had no idea what was wrong with him.

And now, two decades later, even in the midst of one of the city’s most celebrated annual events, his greatest desire is to see a world in which no Lifeballs are needed to raise money and awareness for HIV and AIDs because both have been eradicated. And yet, throughout the years, despite medical advancements, Gery Keszler has witnessed the death of many friends along the way who haven’t been so lucky. And eventually, this leads to the question any of us would have – why them and why not me?

Vienna City Hall, Lifeball 2015

Vienna City Hall, Lifeball 2015

On stage between the carriages drawn by the Lipizzaner horses and fashion designed by Jean Paul Gaultier, death appeared spewing off quotes about life and death. For Viennese, death has always gone hand-in-hand with life and there is hardly a Viennese song or theater piece where death doesn’t make a sudden cameo appearance. And as always, death seems to be a rather witty, jolly fellow who is a bit disheartened that no one seems to like him. And yet, even in Vienna, or perhaps especially in a city like Vienna, where life and death, tomorrow and yesterday always seems to co-exist in a kind of tug-a-war until the city manages to shed off its old conservative ways like flakes of old skin giving way to the new underneath, the stigma of HIV and AIDs continues.

And not just in Vienna. When it comes to HIV and AIDs it’s like the whole world has become a group of Long Island gossiping grandmothers, raising their hands to their mouths as their voices lower to a barely audible whisper that so-and-so has AIDs. As if speaking the words aloud will summon the AIDs and HIV gremlins and incite them to spread ill will to all within hearing distance. It is as if we as a society have drafted an unspoken but agreed upon hierarchy of illnesses from honorable to dishonorable and HIV and AIDs has been placed at the bottom of the disease  totem pole next to leprosy and syphilis.

Lifeball 2015 marked the 23rd year of the event. Twenty-two Lifeballs have come and gone and Gery Keszler has witnessed friends sicken and die from a disease that with proper treatment and care should no longer be a death sentence. And all the while, as he has been greeting and receiving guests and messages of goodwill from the Prince Harrys, Bill Clintons and Elton Johns of the world, he has never once mentioned his very personal connection to HIV. Saturday night, standing on stage with tears streaming down his face, a babbling heap of conflictedness, mourning the death of a friend who died merely two weeks ago of the disease, Gery Keszler announced, “I am HIV positive. And I don’t know why I’m still here when so many others I have loved are not.”

Thank you, Gery Keszler for a wonderful Lifeball and a memorable evening. Hopefully, future generations challenged with a disease, any disease, will never have to waste precious time and energy combating social stigmas attached to them so severe that causes those afflicted to be damned to decades of silence about their personal battle and suffering.

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 One life, With each other, Sisters, Brothers

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GREEN LIGHT TO LIFEBALL – TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT

Vienna is buzzing and it’s not the bees pollinating the trees. The subway speakers are quoting Conchita Wurst wisdoms about love and tolerance and gay and lesbian tourists holding hands and taking snap shots outnumber those from Asia. Even the city’s pedestrian lights are flashing green pairs of ladies walking hand and hand. And this morning, heeding the Austrian “Akademische Viertel” that Viennese have extended to not just the university but all parts of life, I cum tempore c.t.-ed my way to the Press Office at 12:15 pm and picked up my bright green press pass wristband. “Vienna muses!” she said, smiling and handing me my wristband.

Vienna Lifeball

Vienna Pedestrian Crossing Lights – two ladies hand and hand

Vienna City Hall Lifeball 2015

Vienna City Hall Lifeball 2015

Armed with my ticket to the greatest party on earth, I opted to test its magic ASAP and flashed it to the guard at the Rathaus fence, who promptly let me slip in and snap a few shots of the City Hall.

The gold chariot awaits its driver and the cat walk is ready to go. The bars are up, the tent stations are manned and in less than five hours, Vienna’s craziest party of the year is about to begin.

But that’s not all. Thanks to my magical wristband, not only did I get some nice shots for you all of the Rathaus, but lo and behold, hurrying up the ramp to the stage, in a got-tons-to-do jot was Lifeball organizer, Gery Keszler himself – the man who must be utterly exhausted from all the preparations, and personally welcoming all the out-of-town “Promis” arriving at the Vienna airport. Pure adrenalin. And while I was kicking myself for not having my camera in ready-mode to get a better pix, he was all smiles and cheerful, making his rounds, checking it twice, making sure things will be perfect for the naughty and nice.

Gery Keszler

Gery Keszler – Lifeball Organizer – Making his rounds hours before the Opening

It’s time to Lifeball!!!

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READY TO LIFEBALL

Just as only a lover can reveal to a man what life means to him and develop its innermost significance… – Austrian writer Hermann Bahr, 1901, in his “Speech on Klimt” describing Klimt’s artwork.

Gearing up for Vienna’s 2015 LifeBall

Print This Post “Dress – good buy. Worn once. Wedding.” The taxi driver gave me a thumbs up and pocketed my Euros. One thing was sure, he was happy to see that thing go.

Second sure thing, if gowns could talk, this one would have tales to tell because it was going to the Lifeball. With me!

This year’s theme? GOLD – VER SACRUM ala Austrian artist, Gustav Klimt.

Gold Accessories for Lifeball

Gold Accessories for Lifeball

Klimt! The name “…intimately associated in the art-lover’s mind with sensuous lines, erotic and beautiful women, and decorative golden detail.” (Essential Klimt)

After the confirmation that I had accomplished the next-to-impossible task of securing a ticket, I moved into action mode. That evening I charged head first into Willhaben’s “Abendkleid” collection, scouring countless computer screens and hundreds of gowns. Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, my weary eyes in blurred determination spotted it like a fata morgana on a distant horizon — a flowing toga-looking dress bearing a bold gold sash and dotted with gold spheres destined for Gustav’s magic.

Close of Gown

Close of Gown

Next stop, basement of Libro in a hunt for fabric paints (don’t kids do crafts anymore?).

A kitchen table, a bottle of nail polish remover, 99 cent paintbrushes and a Klimt coffeetable book of art I had scored a few years ago for half price at Borders in North Carolina and I was set. I am no artist, but the lights in Vienna’s City Hall were bound to be forgiving. Or the alcohol flowing. Or both. Let’s face it, by midnight, all Cinderellas will have hurried home and every man, woman and Conchita is stunning in any costume.

Contrary to other Vienna balls, come 1 am at the Lifeball, it’s not just the ladies kicking off their heels to jam in their stockings, it’s the guys too. In fact, the entire night, you’re getting sympathetic nods, as they too adjust their mascara, dab some clear nail polish on the run in their ‘hose, and duck into a corner to readjust their bra straps.

Faschingsprinz

Gold Glam at Vienna’s Faschingsprinz – perfect of Lifeball accessories

“Hmm Hmm Hmmm giiirl! Where did you get such a sassy hair feather? That so accentuates the azure in that gown!” OK. Maybe the German version of that. But you get the idea. And hey! Maybe not. Because the Lifeball is without bounds and without borders. Folks are from anywhere and everywhere. And you won’t know if they are black, white, grey, brown, yellow or polka-dotted green. Speak German, English or Swahili. You also won’t know if they are homosexuals, heterosexuals, transsexuals, asexuals or what-ever. Are they male, female, neither or both? You won’t know. Because no one cares. Everyone is there to have fun, party, celebrate and raise money for a good cause. So get with the program!

Amongst this crowd, if you don’t want to blend into the background like a sparrow in a parade of peacocks, you better go for the gold and accessorize.

Fortunately, I live in the district with probably the very best shop in town for Lifeball needs – Faschingsprinz. Don’t judge this shop by its website. They seem to have last updated their important events list in 2010, but I’m sure that’s just because they’re too busy uniting creative customers with their artistic needs. No idea where to start with your Lifeball outfit? Go there. And if you’re tempted by those sparkling red no-place-like home heels, go for it. They’re bound to match someone’s leather outfit.

Armed with leis of golden flowers and sparkly Egyptian style eye make up damning me to hours of mirror time, I headed home to pimp up my parade.

Lifeball 2014

Lifeball 2014

Full Gown for Lifeball

Full Gown for Lifeball

By midnight, pleased my gown project didn’t end in disaster (I have a low success threshold when it comes to creative projects), I was sleep-deprived enough to convince myself that the smock-donning man who was still inspiring multitudes with his beautiful works of art almost a hundred years after his death would have forgiven my attempt to emulate his technique — considering it was for a good cause. But even at that hour I seriously doubted he would have exhibited the thrilled enthusiasm of the taxi driver husband who was so eager to get the gown gone that he offered to perform a home delivery on a Craigslist sale item. A good buy. A very good buy.

Friends have asked why I would want to go to a ball alone. Truth is, I only got one ticket so it wasn’t really a decision. Sure it’d be a blast to go with some friends but if last year’s ball is any indication, I’m not worried.

At the Lifeball there are no sparrows, only peacocks. And I will just sync my step with the suicidal stilettos, shiny heels, sensible sandals and ripped stockings of my fellow Dorothies dreaming of a better place somewhere over the rainbow. That in Vienna, year for year, exists for an entire amazing night. Because beyond the gold, flash, and pizazz is a celebration of “life’s innermost significance” – what distinguishes but unites us. No matter color, creed or sexual orientation. Everyone coming together in a night of awesomeness to fight HIV and AIDs and celebrate life.

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Sparkly Red Shoes

Shoes from Faschingsprinz high and sparkly enough to transport anyone over a rainbow

And I’m ready. Ready to Lifeball.

And maybe get a selfie with Conchita Wurst!

KC’s 2014 Lifeball Good Times and Memories: Celebrating Life in the Garden of Earthly Delights

Vienna Lifeball: Vienna’s City Hall (Rathaus)

Saturday, May 16, 2015
Ball Opening: 9:30 pm
Entrances: Open as of 7:30 pm
The Vienna Ringstrasse will be closed Saturday evening from Schwarzenbergplatz to Schottentor from 6 pm – 11:30 pm.

Don’t have a ball ticket?

Come to the Rathaus (U2 Schottentor or Rathaus) and admire the costumes as ball guests enter the ball parading down the red carpet to the Vienna City Hall.

Want a preview of what’s to come? Check out the Lifeball Style Bible – Klimt’s paintings staged with live models – a feast for the eyes! No wonder the man caused a ruckus when he opted to stop painting the cherubs and go for something a bit more modern – over 100 years ago!

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Celebrating Life in the “Garden of Earthly Delights” at Vienna’s 2014 Lifeball

A couple of years ago I had to catch a 6 am train to Budapest. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I boarded the subway expecting nothing but a quick ride to the train station. But when I boarded the U-4, I noticed that the only other person in my wagon at such an ungodly hour on a Sunday morning, was a handsome young man sitting in the next set of seats sharing his bench with a rather large plastic pink flamingo. Austrians might like garden gnomes but I have never witnessed them escorting them on outings via the U4. And a flamingo? This is Vienna, not Miami. Pigeons and magpies but no flamingos.

Vienna Lifeball 2014 Entrance Bracelet

Vienna Lifeball 2014 Entrance Bracelet

Baroque Couple

Baroque Couple with stunning body paint, gorgeous costumes and bashful smiles

By the time we had reached Schwedenplatz, I started to worry about them. Was this city worldly enough to tolerate a a lonely guy, with only a plastic flamingo as a companion?

At Stadtpark, a group of two girls and a guy, also in their early twenties, boarded our train. I determined then and there that if need be, I would exhibit the civil courage necessary to defend my fellow passenger and his fine feathered friend. Thus, we’d be three against three. First a smirk, then a shameless smile, and before we’d even reached Karlsplatz, the three of them were barreled over in laughter. At 5:15 am on a Sunday morning mind you. The young man played it cool and politely feigned obliviousness. But then one of them had the audacity to address the elephant in the U-4.

Me and my friend at the Lifeball 2014

Me and my friend at the Lifeball 2014

“What’s up with the flamingo?”

And this past Saturday evening, as I made my way, slightly self-conscious, to the Vienna Rathaus donning a sparkly grassy green ballgown, flowered heels and tights, white-feathered, garden party hat and discreet fairy wings, I feared there may be a person or two who, at the worst, would question my state of my mental health, at best, my fashion sense. But as I reached the barriers, a group of  about 20 guys standing beside the security guards cheered and high-fived me with a, “Hey!!! Way to Go!!! Lifeball! Yeah!”

Some charmingly mischievous Lifeball Guests

Some charmingly mischievous Lifeball guests who I thought may have walked in from Alice in Wonderland

Fascinating Creatures at Vienna's Lifeball

Fascinating Creatures at Vienna’s Lifeball – they looked intimidating but smiled (only one time) when I asked for a photo with them

Because nowadays, everyone in the city knows the annual event of the Vienna Lifeball and everyone welcomes its. Once a year, Bill Clinton flies into town to get together with the founding father and “face of the Lifeball”, Gery Keszler. Together they work to increase AIDs awareness while raising money to battle HIV and AIDs. The red ribbon event is one of the biggest and most spectacular of its kind in the world. And IT WAS SPECTACULAR.

This year’s theme was, “Garden of Earthly Delights” and the costumes were extraordinary. The stairs and rooms of the Rathaus were over-flowing with peacocks, baroque couples, walking lawns, snakes, flower-pots with legs, Medusas, swans, farmers, gnomes, butterflies, bird cages…If you could find it in a garden, it was there too. Live music in the courtyard, (remember Erasure?), discos in countless rooms, pole dancing, massage parlors, and a “Oops!-your-costume/hair-needs-a-quick-fix” room. Amazing. Fun. Prominent people, famous people, politicians, costume designers, singers, actors, actresses, and ordinary people like me. All getting together for a great cause and a wonderfully unforgettable time.

Me and Peacock Man

Me and Peacock Man in his wonderfully gorgeous golden and blue costume.

Garden Gnome from the other side of the fence

Black Leather Garden Gnome from the other side of the fence –  Hitler had forbidden gnomes

Which brings me back to that flamingo. The athletic young man with the bird? A dancer who had delicately balanced his flamingo atop his head while opening the Lifeball that year.

Now it sat tamely by his side. But his night of partying was not yet over. The group invited him and his feathered companion to a bar at next stop. They disembarked together, talking, laughing and enjoying themselves and I smiled. No longer about the flamingo, but about living in a place tolerant and worldly enough where  flamingos, Lifeballs and Conchita Wursts can not only be possible but celebrated.

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Lifeball

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_Ball

 

Vienna's Lifeball welcomes prominent guests from around the world

Former US Pres Bill Clinton and US Ambassador to Austria, Alexa Wesner, were amongst the VIP guests who attended to 2014 Lifeball at Vienna’s Rathaus

Lifeball 2014 with Conchita Wurst

Lifeball 2014 with Conchita Wurst

Can you find Conchita Wurst in this photo at Vienna's 2014 Lifeball?

Can you find Conchita Wurst in this photo at Vienna’s 2014 Lifeball?

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