How does one prepare oneself to emerge from two years of sitting alone in a room and writing? In my case, one buys shoes.
The galleys of the book I labored over for those many months have landed on the desks of reviewers and readers. My mom has one. My old boss has another. The people who are in the book are starting to read the book. It’s enough to make a person a tad nervous.
So I went shoe shopping. And the moment I slipped my dainty heels into this pair, I knew that they were the ones. In these shoes, I can face down anyone (as long as I don’t have to stand for very long). Some authors have a media strategy. I have a shoe strategy.
If I needed more proof that Gary Shteyngart’s semi sci-fi book “Super Sad True Love Story” is a work of oracular genius, I got it today at Printemps department store in Paris. Shteyngart’s book is set in a fictionalized New York City, about 30 years in the future, when a few rich people live like gods, while the poor masses barely eke by. Today at Printemps I asked for directions to the restroom, and was sent to a fee-paying toilet boutique with designer loo paper (see photo) and an attendant who dashed in and out of the sleek stalls preparing them for the next fee-paying bottom. Ok, it was only 1.5 euros for this haute-toilette experience. And after the initial sticker shock, I settled in and enjoyed it. But I couldn’t escape the feeling that in the (near) future the rich will be having these sorts of privileged potty experiences, while the rest of us will be, well, left on the can.
I’ve read storybook versions of Cinderella to my kids dozens of times, usually without much interest. The characters are flat and uninteresting, and gaps in the plot – how come the glass slipper doesn’t disappear along with the rest of the magic outfit, for instance – never cease to bug me.
But I’ve just returned from watching Rudolf Nureyev’s stunning ballet version of “Cendrillon” – a.k.a. Cinderella – performed by the Paris Opera Ballet. And I’ve changed my mind.
Nureyev hooked me from the opening scene, set in an enormous, dungeon-like home where a humble-looking Cinderella sweeps the chimney, and is taunted by her clumsy, self-absorbed stepsisters and cruel stepmother.
Seeing Cinderella visibly, miserably stuck is wrenching. It’s a reminder that children are physically trapped in their families, and at the mercy of however wonderful or horrible, drunk or sober, sensitive or oblivious, their parents are.
When we meet the prince, he’s alone too – isolated by having been born into a froid royal family. When he and Cinderella are drawn to each other at the ball, it isn’t just because they’re the best-looking people in the room. It’s because they’re two equally alienated souls.
And though Cinderella has met her man and is finally in the perfect dress and sparkling slippers, we feel her ambivalence. She knows what’s waiting for her at midnight. When we see her the next day, sweeping the chimney again, it’s clear that having had that magical night makes the daily drudgery even worse.
The prince goes through the kingdom searching for Cinderella, of course, but he doesn’t just pass the slipper around. He sleeps around too, and tries out lots of other women. He keeps looking for that one girl, though.
The most poignant scene comes when he recognizes Cinderella, even though she’s dressed in rags. She doesn’t even try on the slipper. She just runs up to him and they embrace, with enormous relief.
In the storybook version, we’re supposed to be impressed that the prince is the sort of fellow who doesn’t care about fancy clothes and social stature. In Nureyev’s version, however, the prince is desperately lonely, and finally finds some comfort. What Cinderella and the prince give each other isn’t just new-love bliss. It’s a cocoon away from their wounding families.
In the final duet, it’s clear that Cinderella and her prince are madly in love. Their dance is gorgeous. But it also feels fragile, with no guarantee of happily ever after.
The vertiginous 19th century staircase that leads to my daughter’s ballet class (actually not called “ballet” in French, but “danse classique”).
SAME BOOK: US AND UK VERSIONS
“Marvelous... Like Julia Child, who translated the secrets of French cuisine, Druckerman has investigated and distilled the essentials of French child-rearing.” —NPR
“’I’ve been a parent now for more than eight years, and—confession—I’ve never made it all the way through a parenting book. But I found Bringing Up Bébé to be irresistible.” ” —Slate
“Self-deprecating, witty, informative... But however much she admires the ‘easy calm authority’ French parents seem to possess... will Druckerman manage it herself? Her efforts to do so add a compelling narrative to this fascinating study of French parenting.” — The Guardian (London)
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