Wednesday, April 29, 2020

It's a boy

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HSH Princess Alana of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn gave birth to a son in Koblenz, Germany, on April 27.  This is the first child for the former Alana Bunte and her husband, HSH Prince Casimir of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, the third of seven children of the TSH the Prince and Princess of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn.

The infant prince has been given the names: Johann Friedrich Salentin

Prince Casimir has an eighteen-year-old son, Alexander, by his first wife, Corinna Larsen.

Prince Johann is the tenth grandchild for the Prince and Princess of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

An interview with Crown Prince Leka

@Crown Prince Leka

I met Crown Prince Leka of Albania in January when we were both guests at HM Margareta, Custodian of the Crown's 30th anniversary of her first visit to Romania in January 1990.   The Crown Prince and I chatted several times during the weekend celebrations.

Crown Prince Leka succeeded as head of the Royal House of Albania on November 30, 2011, following the death of his father, King Leka I.   The Crown Prince was born on March 28, 1982, in Johannesburg, South Africa, where his parents then resided.  The 38-year-old Crown Prince is the only child of King Leka I and his Australian-born wife, Susan Cullen-Ward.   He also has American ancestry, which he enjoys talking about, as his paternal grandmother, Queen Geraldine,  the wife of King Zog, was half-American.  She was born Countess Géraldine Apponyi de Nagy-Appony.  Her father was a Hungarian count and her mother was born Gladys Virginia Steuart, the daughter of Virginia-born John Henry Steuart, an American diplomat.

Crown Prince Leka married Elia Zaharia, an Albanian actress, on October 8, 2016.   They live in Tirana.

How are you and Her Royal Highness the Crown Princess doing during this quarantine?  What is the situation in Albania and what is the government doing in regards to quarantine, social distancing. Are stores open? 

We are certainly living in unprecedented times; Albania has not escaped the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic with a number of people taken ill. This has been especially difficult as Albania has not recovered from the November 29th earthquake which caused much damage, with hundreds of families still homeless.

The Albanian government and local authorities were quick to act by implementing strict regulations that have been successful in limiting the spread of the pandemic. Our citizens have heeded the call to respect social distancing, quarantine for the elderly, and regulated hours of movement for the general population through online platforms. As a result, the situation is currently under control with some business activities reopening piecemeal.

We are living through a time of great uncertainty and both my wife and I are concerned about the social implications that the coronavirus will have for people suffering from depression, anxiety, and other social problems. So we are keeping a watchful eye.

This is also a time to show solidarity as many countries are suffering the consequences of this terrible disease and great loss. I am proud that Albania is doing its part by sending our neighbour Italy medical personal and doctors. And I am grateful to all the countries who have donated medical equipment to our hospitals in turn. 

I presume you and your wife are in your home in Tirana.  Are you able to go out to shop, go for walks?

We are at home and respect the necessity of self-isolation. Both Elia and I have limited our movements and meetings to an absolute minimum. We are maximizing the use of Skype and Zoom to communicate and have online meetings. We only go out when it is absolutely necessary.

We are fortunate to have a beautiful garden, which is currently blossoming with the start of spring. Most mornings we are out in the fresh air and soaking up the Sun. We live in the dead centre of Tirana, so the lack of cars has improved the air quality tremendously which is positive.

Are you keeping in touch with government officials, as well as your own charities as well as the Albanian people?

Our contact with the government depends on the day to day issues and work-related tasks. Due to the coronavirus, there are no protocol events or receptions happening.

Our focus at the moment has been with the Queen Geraldine Foundation. We have been successful in using the extra free time for administrative purposes; we have just approved a memorandum with partner organisations to identify and to build 15 new homes for earthquake victims. So I am very excited to see the results the months ahead will have.

We are coordinating with our regional volunteers so to help families with food during the pandemic. We plan to deliver 2 tons of clothing to families in need as soon as the COVID-19 restrictions are withdrawn. We are doing our best under the circumstances.

How are both of you keeping busy – any favorite TV show or movie that you have watched?  What good books have you read while inside?  Do you have a garden or backyard where you and the Crown Princess can relax outside – are parks open for people to walk while maintaining social distancing.

 I have restarted my excises routine in an attempt to stay fit, although Elia and I do enjoy watching the odd film or series on Netflix. Elia is following the series called the “Outlander”, whilst I am muddling between “Suits”, “The Blacklist” and a mixture of documentary and historical epic chronicles.

I have restarted my curiosity in philosophy, so I am currently reading “The Critique of pure reason”, by Immanuel Kant, after finishing a book by Robert Wilton, “The Spider of Sarajevo”. Whereas Elia is reading a book by the Albanian author Kadare and she is continuing with her painting.

Do you have any pets?

I have five boxer dogs which are my pride and joy, I absolutely love them and they are full of life and good fun. It is somewhat of a tradition in our family to have boxers.

What is the first thing you and the Crown Princess want to do when quarantine is lifted?

I asked Elia that exact question yesterday; there is nothing in particular which I could point directly too, except for the notion of freedom, simply being able to go out without the underlying concern of the virus is now a luxury which we do not have...

How did you spend the Easter Holidays?  Has the Crown Princess had to postpone any acting jobs because of the virus?

The first five photos were taken exclusively for this interview

Elia continues her work at the National Theatre; currently, the theatre is working online and now opening a new YouTube channel.

For Easter, we watched the midnight church service live and lit the candles for good fortune. Elia’s father sent us boiled red Easter eggs so to take part in the traditional egg-breaking contest. Our family's religious diversity and harmony allow us to enjoy the pleasantries and traditions of our respective faiths together. 

with permission of HRH Crown Prince Leka

I offer my sincere thanks to His Royal Highness for taking the time to answer my questions.   

Saturday, April 25, 2020

An Interview with Grand Duchess Maria of Russia

Do you know how you got the coronavirus? And can you tell me how it felt to have it?

 First of all, let me say how kind it was of you to think of me in a period when everyone is dealing with the crisis of this pandemic. As to the coronavirus itself, I haven't got a clue really as to how I might have gotten it. When one is quite active and out and about, as I was, travelling, seeing people, sometimes in groups, and the like, one would, I suppose, have multiple opportunities to be exposed to the virus. I think especially of the early days because there were no face masks and gloves available. For me, the first symptoms were similar to what one experiences at the beginning of a common cold.

I started to have headaches too. I thought at first in fact it might have been a seasonal dose of hay fever. Then my temperature became elevated, and there was a general feeling of aching everywhere, such as one has with flu. I had actually been doing some new physical exercises shortly before this, as was suggested during confinement, and it occurred to me for a little while that these aches might be my body saying to my brain, ‘What on earth are you playing at, Maria, after so many years of dolce far niente?' At a certain point, one lost the sense of smell and of taste too, and that is when my doctor told me that it was sounding more and more like a case of coronavirus and that I should take the appropriate medication to avoid any complications and should be tested for Covid-19 when this would be possible.

 But this was more easily said than done because there was a shortage of tests in Spain. It was not until last week that I was able to take the test. And, as you know, the result, which I received on our Good Friday, was positive for coronavirus. One of the reasons I was keen to have the test and to understand what the status of my illness is was to receive some understanding of when one was and was not still contagious, especially with regard to those most at risk, like elderly people. It is at times like these that one's paramount duty is to conduct oneself so as not to cause any harm to others. It is not just a question of one trying to get well.

 I presume you were resting at home during all this. I hear your son, Grand Duke George, was in Moscow for this. How is he doing?

 Yes, when the ‘lockdown', as it were, took effect, I was at my home in Madrid, and there I have remained. I have been staying home for the duration, surrounded by kind help. I do feel much better now, and my doctor tells me that according to the test I have apparently built up sufficient ‘antibodies' to have confidence that I have developed a good degree of immunity now to this disastrous contagion. I thank the Lord that he has spared my life and allowed me to recover so quickly, without the need to go into hospital, which for people my age involves considerable risk. There simply were not enough ventilators in the Spanish hospitals, and for patients over 65 the doctors in effect had to decide who would live and who would not.

 As to my son, George found himself in Moscow when the crisis began, and he remains there in confinement. I am happy to report that he is well thus far and taking all the specified precautions.

 Although I regret that there is such a long distance between my son and me, I must say that I am proud that he is in Russia at this difficult time - that the heir of our House is there and sharing with his fellow Russians what they are going through in this time of the pandemic. George, of course, keeps in touch via Skype and Facetime and other technology not only with me but with his own staff in Russia and various contacts throughout the world and with the various charities we are involved in or of which we are patrons.

 I know he has also had many group Zoom chats, including with groups of young people, in the evening. The same goes for me too, as to charities and foundations in Russia. They are of course very busy now during the crisis and they will remain extremely busy afterwards too, when one thinks of the toll that illness, confinement, stress, and financial reverses have taken on people in Russia.

We must be very grateful for this modern communications technology which has been such a useful work tool for governments, doctors, families, students and everyone else.

 What have you been doing during the quarantine? Have you been able to have supplies and food delivered? 

I have not had any problems with having food and necessities delivered. Food shops and chemists have been allowed to remain open. As for what I have been doing, I am usually an avid reader. Unfortunately, however, among the side effects of the coronavirus was an irritation to my eyes, so that it was hard to focus. This, with the headaches, made it difficult to concentrate on what I was reading, especially small print. Now that these symptoms are slowly subsiding, I will resume reading without straining my eyes. During Holy Week, I like to read at least one of the Gospels, and this I still managed to do.

 But in the meantime, like all the friends and relations in quarantine, I have been in contact with, I have found myself inevitably watching quite a bit of television. I have been watching documentaries, which can be very interesting. I also have been able to watch some operas and ballets, which I enjoy. Among the TV series I have been viewing are ‘Versailles', the old ‘Poirot', and ‘Outlander.' As to the latter, the concept of time travel has always interested me, and this series does it very well. But for some reason, I have found the episodes that take place in Scotland in the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie more compelling than those in colonial America. I also have been enjoying old films, what one calls films ‘d'époque.' You might call them period pieces. I am perhaps old-fashioned in this regard. I think of Barbara Cartland, who once said something to the effect that her novels could only take place before the 1920s when the magic and mystique and romance had not yet been lost.

On the subject of films, there were certain old movies I watched in my childhood and I associate them now with the Easter season. ‘Ben Hur', ‘The Ten Commandments', ‘Barrabas', ‘The Lord of Lords', and ‘Cleopatra' come to mind. With the enforced solitude of quarantine, I managed to watch a couple of these during the Easter season. They are always a joy to see again. I also follow the news quite closely.

 The internet and TV allow one to see and hear news programmes in various countries and languages, especially Russian news. It is useful to get perspectives and information straight from the horse's mouth, as the saying goes, rather than having it filtered and reported by a different country's media.

 For Holy Week and Easter services, how did you worship? On-line with Zoom? Have you been able to keep in touch with religious leaders during the past week or so?

 Easter is the most important day in the Christian faith, and this was a very unusual Easter. Of course, there was no possibility of confession or communion. But I have to say that Easter 2020 was very memorable for me. Again, thanks to the internet, I was able to watch the Holy Week services and of course the Easter service and liturgy in Russia – not once but twice. I had planned to watch the Easter service and liturgy celebrated in Moscow.

 The time zone in Madrid is earlier than in Russia. I started watching on Saturday evening, but it was too early for Moscow. The service at Christ the Saviour Cathedral there had not yet begun, but I saw that the service in Ekaterinburg was beginning. Ekaterinburg is in yet a later time zone than Moscow. This was very fitting, when one thinks that Emperor Nicholas II and his family are venerated as Passion Bearers in our Church. In a way it was as if the Holy Passion Bearers were calling on one to celebrate Easter in Ekaterinburg.

 It was jarring at first to see all the worshipers wearing face masks. Metropolitan Kyrill of Ekaterinburg, whom I know quite well, was presiding, and he cited the words of Jesus in the Gospel, ‘Be not afraid, for I have overcome the world', which was also such a fitting message for our times. I have visited Ekaterinburg several times. It was very moving for me in July 2018 to attend the liturgy for the 100th anniversary of the deaths of the Emperor and his family there, sung in the church built over the site where the tragedy occurred. Then as the liturgy in Ekaterinburg was ending, the liturgy in Moscow presided over by our beloved Patriarch, His Holiness Kyrill I, appeared on my screen.

 The placement of the various recording cameras at different locations in the cathedral, including from directly above the altar, produced absolutely beautiful visual images from multiple vantage points, in a way one would never experience standing in the church. There is nothing quite like a Russian Orthodox choir on Easter Sunday to communicate in a very emotional way our joy at the Risen Saviour. The Easter liturgy brought me great comfort and relief during this period of crisis. One truly felt the presence of the Divine.

 On an amusing note, I was a bit miffed at the thought of not having the Easter cakes or bread that I associate so much with Easter. This is our traditional Kulitch and Paska. They simply were not available this year. To my surprise, rummaging in the freezer, I suddenly beheld Easter cakes from last year that I had frozen. I had completely forgotten about them. I am not sure why I did not eat them last year, perhaps due to being on a diet then. In any event, they were de-frosted and ready by Easter. And after attending to all this, all I really had left to do was to paint some Easter eggs.

 Yes, I have remained in touch during this quarantine with a number of hierarchs and priests of the Church, via phone, WhatsApp, and other means, mainly to make sure they are well and to send them Easter greetings.

 I know you were planning a trip to Russia next month and that this trip has been put on hold.   What is the first thing you want to do when the quarantine is lifted?

 When the quarantine is lifted, I will of course still be in Madrid. I cannot really think of a first thing I would like to do, other than to be able to gather with old friends again as we used to do, rather than via the internet or phone. And to go freely outside and hopefully to see people healthy, happy and working again. As to Russia, my trip in May has been postponed indefinitely. But I look forward to returning there as soon as possible.

 Do you have any message for my readers as well as the Russian people? 

Just my hope that the death of thousands and the suffering of so many will not be in vain. May world leaders, politicians and all of us draw the right lessons from the mistakes we made during this pandemic, either because of lack of foresight, equipment, courage in taking unpleasant but essential measures on time, or selfishness or carelessness in our deeds and actions by not complying with the rules for confinement and safety, which will make us responsible for inflicting so much pain. Let no one have to live the rest of his life with the remorse that one has caused the death of a parent, a loved one, a friend, or even a stranger.

 Having said all that, I would appeal to all your readers as well as my fellow countrymen to help to alleviate the suffering of those in need as a result of this pandemic, either directly or through donations to charities. So many are already in desperate need and others will inevitably be so at the end of this devastating quarantine.

 Finally, knowing that this virus makes no distinctions between genders, races, social classes, or religions and that it respects no borders and travels at ease from country to country hitting us all, I pray that all countries will generously join forces to help each other get back on our feet by providing the means to facilitate the revival of our economies – thus assuring people a dignified life which is everybody's human right. With goodwill, faith, hope, love, and care, we can make it. God bless you all.

I want to thank Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria of Russia for agreeing to this interview, especially as she is recently recovered from COVID-19.   

The Grand Duchess also provided all the photographs.

I have had the pleasure of corresponding with the Grand Duchess for many years and had the opportunity to meet her and Grand Duke George in Bucharest when we were guests at King Michael of Romania's 90th birthday celebrations.

The Grand Duchess is the head of the Imperial House of Russia, the de jure Empress.  She was born in Madrid on December 23, 1953, as the only child of Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovitch of Russia and Princess Leonida
Bagration-Mukhraneli.     She married HRH Prince Franz Wilhelm of Prussia in 1976.   The couple had one son, Grand Duke George, in 1981, before the marriage was dissolved by divorce in 1985.

The Grand Duchess is a descendant of Queen Victoria, as is her former husband.

Victoria - Alfred - Victoria Melita - Vladimir - Maria

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Maria de las Mercedes Zornoza y Ponce de Léon (1942-2020)

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Doña Maria de las Mercedes Zornoza y Ponce de Léon,  the first wife of Prince Jorge (George) Bagration (1944-2008) died  on March 17 at her sister-in-law's house in Villafrano Castillo in Madrid.    She was 77 years old.

Doña Maria de las Mercedes had been talking with her only daughter, Princess Maria, who lives in Barcelona, about what to watch on television due to the COVID-19 quarantine.  Princess Maria told Vanity Fair that her mother's favorite show was Mad Men.

Because of the pandemic, Maria de las Mercedes's children were unable to attend her funeral.   Prince Irakly is in Athens and Prince David, the youngest child, who some see as the heir to Georgian throne, lives in Tiblisi, Georgia.

Princess Maria said:  "I could not believe it.  I had just spoken to her.  She was perfectly fine and apparently had no problem."

Embed from Getty Images 

Prince Jorge, who died in 2008, met his first wife at school in Madrid.  Their friendship blossomed in love and they were married at Nice in an Orthodox ceremony on March 11, 1968.

The bride  "dazzled"  by wearing a Cristóbal Balenciaga- designed gown.    Princess Maria said: "My mother was very quirky and fun.  She loved music."

Maria de las Mercedes supported her husband's desire to return to Georgia, which he did in the 1990s, two decades after their marriage ended in divorce.

The princess added that her mother loved to travel and one of her "most exciting trips" was to Georgia in 2009 to attend the wedding of her son Prince David.

The princess and her two brothers look forward to getting together as "we want to have a mass and say our last goodbye."

Maria de las Mercedes is survived by her three children, HRH Princess Maria Antonieta, HRH Prince Irakaly, and HRH Prince David and two grandsons, Jaime Gaixas Bagration and HRH Prince Giorgi Bagration Bagrationi, the only child of Prince David and his former wife, Princess Anna Bagrations-Gruzinsky

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

the infant Grand Duchess Maria

A friend has allowed me to publish these photos from his private collection. The first four photos are from the Baptism of HIH Grand Duchess Maria of Russia.

Prince Nicholas of Romania (representing Grand Duke Andrew, who was unable to attend the Baptism) Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia and Queen Giovanna of Bulgaria

Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia and Queen Giovanna of Bulgaria

Maria being held by her Aunt Kira

Front row: Empress Hermine and Crown Princess Cecilie  Back row: Grand Duchess Kira, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Prince Louise Ferdinand of Prussia and Grand Duke Vladimir
all the images: private collection

The Queen

I took these photos in the 1980s and 1990s before digital photography.  I had a 35mm but did not have any zoom lenses. 

State visit 1992

Kentucky May 1989

Trooping  1991.  You can see the Hon Leonora Knatchbull in a red hat, bottom right.  She died four months later

Lanes's End Farm May 1989

The wedding of the Duke and Duchess of York  1986

Arlington National Cemetery

With Mrs. Bush visiting a school in DC

Shakespeare Theatre to see a production of King Lear

Mount Vernon, home of George Washington.   The Queen dedicated the newly renovated wharf.

the Garden Party at the British Embassy . right at me

the wedding of then Viscount Linley and the Hon. Serena Stanhope

Will and Sarah Farish and the Queen at Lane's End Farm, Versailles, Kentucky

Can't remember this one
Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh 1986