Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ondine by Giselle Renarde

Novice painter Evelyn Fon gets more than she bargained for after receiving her first big commission for the brand new Drinkwater Hotel. Who would have guessed Gavin Drinkwater, heir to the family fortune, would take such a keen personal interest in her? But when Evelyn arrives at the hotel's elegant Gala Celebration, she soon discovers she's there as a date for Gavin Drinkwater Senior, her crush's elitist--albeit incredibly handsome--father!

In attempting to escape the party--not to mention her embarrassment--Evelyn stumbles upon Gavin's mother Imelda, who reveals the 20-year-old tale of her torrid affair with a young ballerina named Ondine. But, as Evelyn soon finds out from the Drinkwater patriarch, there's more deception to her love story than even Imelda is aware. Can Evelyn uncover the truths buried in the past and reunite Gavin's estranged free-loving parents? Perhaps her role in the family drama will even earn her a place in the bashful heir's heart...

An erotic journey through the worlds of ballet, art, and passionate liaisons, Ondine is a sensual exploration of pansexual free love wrapped in a boy-meets-girl tale of mix-ups and misunderstandings.

As I entered the sumptuous ballroom, I felt like a princess. An adroit server like the two at the door wouldn’t let me pass without taking a flute of champagne. Curtsying, I thanked the costumed man. I’m sure I looked ridiculous, but I didn’t care. It was all so exciting! As I gazed across the bustling ballroom, I was transported to another place, another era. France of the eighteenth century? History never was my strong suit.

Velvet drapery the colour of my dress adorned windows running floor to ceiling. Where guests were dancing, the marble floors were bare, but there were patterned carpets in dark red, navy blue and gold tones on the floor near the giant windows. Each carpet seemed to demarcate a seating area, and every seating area was crowned with lavish French furnishings. The ceiling supported a pair of crystal chandeliers glinting with every colour of the rainbow. The splendour of the surroundings had me feeling drunk before even taking my first sip of champagne.

The giant canvases hanging on the salon-red walls were not my work, but I could hardly feel slighted about that. After all, my paintings were barely figural at the best of times, and abstraction didn’t correspond with the elegance of this environment. No, the art on these walls could easily have arrived straight from Versailles. There were portraits of stern monarchs and mythic allegories, and even a copy of the well-known Marie Antoinette and her Children by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, one of the many uncelebrated female artists of her time. How sad women’s contributions to the world of art had gone so unacknowledged over time. Hopefully that would change, and my own name would live on even after I was gone.

As I shifted my gaze to the organic aspect of my surroundings, it dawned on me that my sister’s satin seemed no better than a housedress set against the lavish gowns the ladies wore. Rather than feeling embarrassed by the relative simplicity of my attire, I felt quite content to observe the scene around me without being part of it. In the nooks by the windows, women waved lace fans about their faces and teased their partners with them. Ladies in extensive crinolines and their gentleman friends showed off some intricate footwork on the ballroom floor.

“What sort of dance are they doing?” I asked one of the wig-wearing servers.

“They are dancing a quadrille, Madame,” he informed me in a sober voice that reminded me of Stephen Fry’s Jeeves.

Where would they have learned such an outdated dance?

“The rich are very different from you and me,” I accidentally said out loud.

“Quite so,” replied the server as he bowed and took his leave.

Tracing the outskirts of the ballroom, I soon found myself standing behind a man wearing a yellow and blue silk brocade suit and a tall white wig. He looked just like a portrait of the King of France. I wasn’t sure which King of France, but in my mind they all look the same. At first I wondered if he was one of the servers, since none of the other male guests seemed to be wearing wigs, but his manner of addressing the group surrounding him suggested he was very much more than a mere server.

“It came to me in a dream,” said the King of France, who spoke with an English accent. “I saw this ballroom just as it is now and I thought, Eureka! I knew this would be the perfect hook for my little hotel. The Versailles Ballroom, I call it. All of our banquets will be catered with French haute cuisine by servers in period costume. There will be live baroque music, fancy dress and dancing. Have you ever before seen a sight such as this? Ladies in the finest garments of all time dancing a formal quadrille! It is simply exquisite.”

That’s when I retrieved a piece of information that must have fallen behind my filing cabinet of memories. On the inside of my invitation, I remembered seeing the words, fancy dress ball. Fancy dress was a British term. It meant “costume party.” I don’t how I managed not to pick up on that. I wasn’t supposed to wear a fancy dress to the ball, I was supposed a costume! A French period costume, by the looks of it. Why didn’t I read my invitation more carefully? Stupid, stupid, stupid…

“So, if I understand you correctly, this ballroom is to be a sort of costumed amusement park for the dangerously wealthy. Is that it?” a short balding man with a voice recorder asked the king.

“No, no, no. You’ve got it all wrong, man!” the King of France replied. “I am single-handedly reviving capital-C Culture in this country. Many would agree culture— the right sort of culture—has been lost for some time, replaced by that bastard child, multiculture, and by naïve artists with neither training nor talent. I, of course, would argue high culture never existed in this country in the first place.”

My head pounded as I listened to that snob extol the virtues of fine European art. He was a bizarre mix of the worst of two stereotypes: English classism and French arrogance. It was a brave blend in Ottawa—a city split unofficially but nonetheless noticeably along language lines. The English would view his adoption of all things
French as abandonment. The French would see it as cultural appropriation. Only someone with money and connections could get away with the stance this privileged man took.

When nobody within the circle of listeners spoke up, I couldn’t keep myself from voicing my opinions. I stepped through the crowd and sneered, “Are you kidding me? Canada has a thriving high arts community. I’m what you might call a naïve painter and my background is obviously not European, but you know what? My art is hanging on the walls of this extravagant hotel. My sister Sharon performs with the Ottawa Sinfonietta, and a lot of groups like theirs offer free or pay-what-you-can concerts. That way it’s not just the uber-rich who can attend. It’s the only way I could ever afford to see live classical music. Plus, the international press is saying the Canadian Opera’s new house one of the best in the world. Not just that, but when they opened the new opera house, they simulcast the gala performance right in front of City Hall so everybody could watch it for free.”

A fight or flight reaction raced through my veins as the king turned around to face me. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. After my brief tirade I couldn’t even bring myself to look this man in the eye. Instead, I stared at the ruffle of lace at the neck of the silky white shirt. He spoke self-righteously, like his word was final. “That’s precisely the problem I’m talking about! Is nothing sacred? Everybody has access to all levels of culture nowadays. Even homeless people can see the Opera! Historically, that was not so.”

Edmond the driver had advised me to pretend not to be offended by the ignorant things rich people say. I guess I wasn’t very good at following instructions. I replied, “Yes, but those homeless people would still have had to pay upwards of, what, $100 per ticket to actually set foot inside the Opera House? And if you want to speak historically, plenty of peasants attended performances of Shakespeare’s plays back in his day. I think they had to stand, but at least tickets were cheap enough for everyone to go.” I wasn’t certain my argument was on firm footing. High School English class was a long time ago, and I might have misremembered my facts. “Anyway, that’s not even the point. The point is that capital-C Culture, as you call it, should not be relegated to the rich. The Opera and the Symphony and every other kind of art should be accessible to the masses.”

“And yet, Ms Fon,” the King replied, “the prices of your own artistic creations contradict everything you’ve just said.”

My jaw literally dropped as I stared dim-wittedly at the man’s silk brocade outfit. How did the King of France know me?

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Giselle Renarde
Canada just got hotter!

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