Gary Guinn

Literature of the Ozarks

Guest Post: Daisy Mae and The Blue Danube!

A Very Special Christmas Present

by Daisy Mae

Blue Danube:

One, Two, Three … One, Two, Three … When Johann Strauss composed the Blue Danube – he had no idea how much this would change my life. This piece of music – the most well known Viennese Waltz of all time – and of course the Viennese Waltz itself –  would become my lifetime ambition! Photo of Johann Strauss

Here’s the thing – I have never been a dancer. But somehow, at 52, I felt the buzzing in my veins, the urge in my feet, and the rhythm in my body.

I phoned my local dance school in trepidation. Was I too old at 52,  I asked? Silly question of course – their oldest member is 91!

Any dance to me, is good dance.  But it was the Viennese Waltz that always took my imagination. That glitzy, floaty, whirly, twirly, ultimate fantasmagorical, fairy tale dance.

Could I do that?

Would I ever do that?

Who would do it with me?

Inspiration:

As a child I had tap-tapped my heart out in any open space I could find, most often on a deserted railway station platform. Thinking no-one could see me, I would flit up and down off the benches and pirouette beside the Ladies Toilets. Why did I think no one could see me? Only a child could answer that.

Edward was my inspiration to fulfil my Viennese Waltz dream. When we met during my Dating Daisy, internet dating escapades, I found he shared my fascination for dance. His mother had been a ballerina. He was a pianist and a sportsman. He had natural ability, athleticism and musicality. Here I found my Fred Astaire. We had started dance lessons together as soon as we met and were having the time of our lives, dancing everywhere and anywhere as often as we could possibly do so.

My mind was racing faster than my feet. Could we get to Vienna, to a Viennese Ball, to do a real Viennese Waltz in a real Viennese Ballroom? … Yes, we could. And it would be a Christmas present! The best Christmas present I could possible imagine for us both!

I did it – in true Daisy fashion. I bought tickets for the Johann Strauss Valentine’s Ball at the Kursalon Palace on 13th February 2016. It was  July when I booked the tickets, and I kept it a secret for a whole 5 months! Yes – I told a few friends at the dance school, but they were sworn to secrecy!

On Christmas Eve we went to bed and I couldn’t sleep. Roughly once an hour, I poked Edward in the ribs and asked what the time was.

“It’s only an hour since you last asked,”  he groaned wearily – “Please can we get some sleep! … “

“I can’t sleep,” I whispered – “I’m just so excited to give your present!”

I think it was about 6.30am, when he finally capitulated and turned on the bedside lamp. With childlike enthusiasm I thrust my gift at him. He had to open the card first. I had bought and assembled one of those cards which when you open it up, plays a tune! And Yes, I stuck a  picture of a beautiful couple Viennese waltzing onto the front of it. And when you opened it up – you probably guessed this! – Yes it did play the Blue Danube!

Edward was suitably overjoyed – but in typical male fashion after a few hullabaloos – he did go back to sleep! (By the way – I was not fazed by his present  for me – which we laughed about afterwards – was  a  box of soap! He is very generous to me all the time – but not present minded shall we say! – I just think it’s funny!)

Holiday of a Lifetime:

Fast  forward to February 2016. This turned out to be a holiday of a lifetime. We flew to Vienna on Austrian Airlines, and were presented on the aircraft with a beautiful breakfast of homemade pastries and champagne, courtesy of our hotel, The Do & Co, a sumptuous hotel situated right in St Stephen’s square, opposite the Cathedral. A limousine escorted us from the airport, something I had not specifically requested and was a fabulous surprise. Our hotel room was exquisite. Having recently been refurbished, the furnishings were lavish and so comfortable.

The breakfasts we had in that hotel were undoubtedly the best I have ever had anywhere in the world. Our personal chef cooked us smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, while we drank freshly squeezed orange and banana juice, and groaned over the mouth watering homemade breads, cinnamon whirls, chocolate brownies and apple Danish pastries. (I’ve no idea how Austria does not have the fattest population in the world!)

Everything about Vienna is still vibrant in my mind. If you have never visited the city I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’m focussing on dance in this article, and we had two, two hour Viennese waltz lessons the two days before the ball, in a Viennese Dance School. BUT, Vienna is famous for coffee shops and delicious Sachertorte – and we certainly fitted in more of these than we should have done!

The night of the Ball we dressed with great care and sophistication. I had chosen a full length gold dress, satin with a taffeta overlay. I curled my long hair, adorned myself with jewels, wore a fur cape with a diamante clasp and my new high heeled gold dance shoes. Edward wore his Black formal Dinner Suit, with a gold cummerbund and bow tie. We were a real life Cinderella and Prince Charming off to the Ball!

The most embarrassing thing I recall was having to walk across the pedestrian precinct in our attire, as there is no vehicular access directly to the hotel for taxis! – So we walked to our taxi, picking our way, myself in my high heels,  through crowds of tourists snapping photographs and thronging in the plaza. I felt very self conscious!

The Kursalon Palace lit up the night sky.  We walked through the majestic entrance and were greeted with rows of waiters and waitresses with trays of champagne. Many were in traditional Austrian dress and we were invited to take pictures. I spoke to a lady standing next to me, and it turned out she and her husband were English. Soon, a few other English speaking couples had joined us. There was a couple from Ireland, and four young people from Australia. The Kursalon Palace

Inside the palace there were 3 ball rooms. We were seated in one of these for our meal, which was a beautiful banquet. The dinner was served, the wine flowed, the company was sparkling and we were all eagerly waiting for the dancing to start.  Eventually, the orchestra struck up and we all left our seats and crowded round the dance floor. The debutantes danced onto the floor and displayed their routine. It was mesmerising. We clapped and clapped … and then … suddenly … the moment we had been waiting for!

Yes – you got it – One, Two, Three, … One,  Two,  Three … the Blue Danube!

We ran to the dance floor in high anticipation! This was it! …

BUT… What was this?! … something we had never anticipated! …

…  The dance floor was jam packed, and in fact so crowded we were squeezed in like sardines! Viennese Waltz? … We could hardly breathe in and out! … As we soon discovered, there was no way you could do a Viennese Waltz at a Viennese Ball … just because there were just too many Viennese people on the dance floor!! It was a shock realisation!

In truth, as the evening wore on, and people drank too much,  got tired and went home, the dance floor thinned out, and yes, we did do some Viennese Waltz! The orchestra  also played other dance music too, so were able to dance all our Ballroom and Latin routines – and of course visit the disco upstairs! But it was a sad truth, that we did far more Viennese Waltz in our two dance lessons before the Ball, than we ever did when we were actually there!

Reflections:

Reflections? … I loved it. I want to do it again! That night, I did eventually manage to do enough Viennese Waltz to feel I had lived the dream!  The  feeling of dressing up and being a princess for a night is such a precious memory. I savour it, and bring it out whenever I feel sad. Memories are something so special, as they can never be erased – these memories will be with me forever.  And that’s what Edward calls me now … ‘precious!’

Yes, in my life,  Johan Strauss has a lot to answer  for!

Daisy Mae x

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dating-Daisy-Mae-ebook/dp/B0734BFKZK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510687472&sr=8-1&keywords=Dating+Daisy

Dating Daisy … now an Audio Book!

See www.datingdaisy.net. (Ask me any questions about sexual health, menopause or internet dating? – I’m now an Agony Aunt!).

Plus see my Sexual Health blog – Daisy Mae – at The Huffington Post UK (www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/)

Follow Daisy Mae on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.         Copyright © Daisy Mae 18/11/2017

Review: Julia Haeberlin’s Black-Eyed Susans

The Black-Eyed Susans:Book Cover Black-Eyed Susans

“The Susans are a greedy plant, often the first to thrive in scorched, devastated earth.” This line, early in Julia Heaberlin’s novel Black-Eyed Susans, works on more than one level and becomes an underlying motif for the narrative. Tessa Cartwright was raped and left for dead as a teenager among a field of flowering black-eyed Susans. The bones of other long-lost girls surrounded her. In the media coverage of the case, she and the other girls become known as the Black-Eyed Susans. Out of her scorched and devastated life, Tessa has managed to thrive.

Tessa:

The attack itself remains an empty spot scorched in Tessa’s memory. The novel opens years later, when Tessa has a teenage daughter of her own. She is working with an attorney and a forensic scientist to free the man convicted of the crime, who sits on death row awaiting imminent execution. Though she can’t remember the attacker, she has become convinced that her testimony at the trial sent the wrong man to death row. Underlying the race to save the condemned man is the possibility that the real killer is now stalking Tessa.

The Voices:

Two voices tell the story—the first-person voice of the present-day Tessa, and the first-person voice of her earlier self, the young Tessie in the months after the attack. The voices alternate in short chapters of three to five pages, creating a dynamic pace in the complex and gripping narrative. The two narrative voices press against each other, one from the past and one from the present. The tension grinds inevitably toward the final revelation, squeezing out the truth that lurks behind the Black-Eyed Susans.

Supporting Cast:

Tessa’s teenage daughter, the defense lawyer, and the forensic scientist are engaging and well-developed characters and become important pieces in solving the puzzle, as does Tessa’s best friend from childhood, who disappeared years earlier after the trial. And always, the voices of the other Susans in Tessa’s head, the dead girls who encourage, warn, and challenge her.

Conclusion:

Some readers may find the resolution of the mystery a bit contrived, maybe a little far-fetched. I did. But that won’t take away from a really good story told very well. As in the case of the Nordic Noir novel Sun and Shadow, by Ake Edwardson, the flaws do not outweigh the strengths. I don’t hesitate to recommend the book.

Review: An Artist of the Floating World, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Introduction: Ishiguro

Memory and the heart. Such fragile things on which to build our notion of ourselves. As the old prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things . . . Who can understand it?” And memory is surely at least as deceitful as the heart. Both memory and the heart seem to function at the mercy of the transient, ephemeral world of human life. And they are central to the fiction of Japanese writer Kazuo Ishiguro, who  just won the 2017 Nobel Prize for LiteratureKazuo Ishiguro photo

An Artist of the Floating World is a beautiful emotional set piece. Following World War II, an aging Japanese artist struggles with his experience of post-war Japan. In time, he regrets his role in the rise of empire that ended in the destruction of the old world.

Comparison: Remains of the Day

Remains of the Day film still Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins

Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins in Remains of the Day.

It may be that most people know Kazuo Ishiguro for his novel The Remains of the Day and its film adaptation, with Anthony Hopkins as the butler Stevens and Emma Thompson as Miss Kenton. In fact, there are significant similarities in tone and theme between the two novels. In both cases, the main character looks back on a career in which he devoted his life to a cause that was later shown to be horribly mistaken and in which he turned his back on a path that would have resulted in a different, and probably more fulfilling life. Mr. Stevens, in The Remains of the Day,  does not marry Miss Kenton. In An Artist of the Floating World, the artist Masuji Ono turns his back on “fine art.” Fine art focuses on the fleeting beauty of this world. Ono  makes his art serve the empire of the “New Japan.”

Both novels come from a perspective not long after the war. The protagonists look back on a time prior to and during the war, blended with their current lives. The tone of both is nostalgic, beautiful. In An Artist of the Floating World, Ishiguro’s use of an unreliable narrator, whose growth in the novel is toward self-realization, is masterful. Numerous times in the narrative, the artist Ono says it is entirely possible that his memory of an event or conversation is not accurate, that things might not have happened exactly as he presents them. These admissions become part of his growth in awareness of self. They are some of the elements that make him sympathetic and human, and very like all of us.

Conclusion: CatharsisArtistOfTheFloatingWorld.jpg Cover

A reader who identifies with Ono, and feels compassion for him, may experience in reading this novel what Aristotle called catharsis in his Poetics, a vicarious purging of guilt and fear, the impetus toward self-understanding. (See Aristotle on Character)  Ishiguro seems to be saying that as we grow older, we come to realize how much of our image of ourselves is dependent on feeling and memory, and we come to understand how fickle, how deceitful, those things can be. If we are to live in peace with ourselves, we must see ourselves honestly and forgive ourselves. We have all committed well-intentioned errors in our pasts. Only with honesty and forgiveness can we live with integrity and dignity.

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