As Winter gets ready to hook her come-hither finger around the neck of the sun, our inner rooms begin to come alive with the warm glow of lamps, candles, a fireplace or wood stove, and a samovar for tea. It can only mean that the holidays are coming, and to start the season off properly, the Lady of Willow Manor shall throw her annual ball where everyone is welcome, no one excluded. With our bloggy imaginations we can publish fantasies right here with our fingers, choosing our dream escort and rich attire to adorn our perfect bodies. We are able to dance like gods and goddesses all cyber-night long. Maybe every girl who dreams of her someday-wedding gown at age five is really just dreaming of a ball. Which of us dreamed of anything as elegant (and sizzingly fun!) as Willow's Ball? And guess what, it's on the night of the full moon. With or without a full moon, no matter how perfectly envisioned and planned, things can go wildly out of control; you would not believe the stories from years gone by! Half the fun is reading reports of goings-on in the comments at Willow's blog the night of the ball! (Last year's here.) The ball is tomorrow, there's still time to gather your accoutrements and wits. Your invitation is here; Tess will have a Mr. Linky up in the next 24 hours or so. I didn't think I was in the mood for a ball, and here I am going on and on!
Update: Willow has declared the ball open, there are already acres of cars parked and terabytes of blogs to visit. The festivities are here!
I chose the white lace dress with yellow trims by James Tissot, at top. The whole scene is evocative, and although the painting is titled The Gallery of HMS Calcutta (Portsmouth), some call it Remembrance of an Onboard Ball. A ball on a small ship? Wow. The dress looks good from this side, I think, the side you see on the dance floor.
I learned last year, with my fine escort Fitzwilliam Darcy, that a dreamily handsome and charming date is not necessarily the best choice. I barely got one dance with him. He was popular even with the men! Quite a change from the snob who turned his nose up at dancing in certain ballrooms. But he had lost his pride, and anyway he could see that at Willow's Ball, everyone is a fine dance partner.
Because Leo Tolstoy has been my close companion for over a year (I hold him affectionately in my hands: War and Peace), after fingering through potential escorts in my heart's little black book, I realized he would be the perfect partner for the ball. After he picks me up in his skiff and we bob up river to the Manor, he will settle in with a book in a nook. (I offered him my Kindle—not Nook—to re-read W and P, but he said he's more interested in Rilke's letters from Russia.)
Tolstoy is not one for balls, despite his noble upbringing. But his choice of an ascetic life, he assures me, will not cause him undue discomfort in the presence of so much frivolous ruffle and draped satin. He craves the music. He is well on in years, and tired, so he will sit and listen, or read, while I dance the night away with whomever I wish. When I am fagged from waltzes and fox trots and need a few moments' rest, he will be waiting in his radiant corner to captivate me in conversation. Don’t worry about him being bored and neglected. See how he holds the chair open next to him? You too can sit and carry on discourse with Monsieur Tolstoy when you need a rest. I will concede this so long as I can cut in. I doubt very much that the chair will be empty for long, as we will all need a rest now and then, and hushed dialog about many things. (I want to tell him, for instance, what came of his epistolary acquaintance with Mohandas Gandhi a few decades after they corresponded for a year about nonviolent resistance until the end of his life in 1910.) At Tess’s Willow Ball, all things are possible, because while Monsieur Tolstoy speaks Russian and French, and I don't, we will magically understand one another.
Notes about the paintings:
The Gallery of HMS Calcutta (Portsmouth), circa 1876, sometimes called Remembrance of an Onboard Ball, by James Tissot, Tate collection
"Tissot often painted a man with two women in order to explore the subtle nuances of flirtation and attraction through body language and facial expression. Here a chaperone separates the young naval officer from the object of his attentions, the woman hiding her enjoyment of his flirtation behind her fan. Tissot focuses here on the boundaries of Victorian propriety and social convention, and their transgression. The languid pose of the nearest woman, and Tissot’s frank concentration on her fashionable hour-glass figure, inevitably led to the picture being criticised when it was first exhibited. The author Henry James dismissed it as ‘hard, vulgar and banal’." (From the display caption August 2004)
Leo Tolstoy, by Leonid Pasternak
This painting of my companion was done by Leonid Pasternak, father of the poet and novelist Boris Pasternak, best known for his novel Doctor Zhivago. Pasternak was a friend of Tolstoy's and painted illustrations for Tolstoy's novels. More info about Pasternak in a short bit I wrote for the Rilke blog here.
André Rieu is rehearsing Shostakovich's Russian Waltz for tomorrow night!