Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Princesses – the tech specs

My niece's world is currently ruled by the various Disney princesses. My world has consequently been er...enriched?... by new versions of the fairytale princesses I knew when I was a kid (Disney was still in its Mickey-Donald phase then, so I had the Andersen-Grimm non-musical version). The rant about Disney leaching out the uncomfortable life lessons - and therefore the soul - of the stories is another post. This is just about the princesses, the ones in the written fairy tales. The male leads didn’t get much attention; most of them are pretty much one-dimensional (as my niece has subconsciously registered - she mixes them up freely in her games). Which would explain the other important feature of the fairytales: eternal love is usually accomplished in a single look. Here they are, seven of the princesses as I see them, with a handy watchability guide for the movie version:

1. Cinderella wallowed in soot and self-pity and needed a fairy godmother to help her go to the ball. The ugly sisters should have shared the prince, he would have had more fun in the long run.
No. of times you can sit through the movie without losing your mind: 2

2. Sleeping Beauty slept through it all. She didn’t seem very upset about being kissed awake by a trespasser. The Disney movie resembles the story in only three points - malevolent witch curse, death by spindle and wakened by kissing. The other 70 minutes are different and not too bad.
No. of times you can sit through the movie without losing your mind: 7

3. Snow White was the sort of idiot who took food from strangers and her prince was a necrophiliac who kissed girls in coffins.
No. of times you can sit through the movie without losing your mind: 2

4. The nameless one in the Frog Prince was a spoilt and unscrupulous brat who would promise anything just to get her way. Then she came up against something even slimier than herself. Also, this is one story that the Disney version has vastly - and I mean, vastly - improved.
No. of times you can sit through the movie without losing your mind: Probably a lot but have only had to see it once so don't know.

5. The Little Mermaid… no, I can’t be rude about her. Good fairy tales can stand up to the kind of critical appreciation you apply to Shakespeare, and this is one of them. You can see it as a simple parable about not hankering after what you can’t have. But it’s also a complex illustration of poignant darknesses – an Anne-Boleyn style sacrifice of the self to ambition, the fatal attraction of unequal, unrequited love, the fate of the second woman in a certain kind of relationship. It could also be a whole thesis on the inadvisability of giving up that much of your fundamental self for a relationship. Needless to say, the Disney version has none of the above subtext whatsoever.
No. of times you can sit through the movie without losing your mind: 2. Be warned that it has spawned sequels involving the mermaid's daughter and mother.

6. Rapunzel, I like! Apart from anything else, there’s something very cool about your fate being decided by a cabbage. This Pantene princess had spirit. She let a man into her room secretly and provided the means herself. And after the wicked witch blinded the guy, she said screw you wicked witch and went after him anyway. Disney's fairly recent interpretation of Rapunzel, Tangled, is a great version, too.
No. of times you can sit through the movie without losing your mind: 7

7. My favourite is Beauty. This is the only one that is a true romance and necessarily has a more detailed male lead. Beauty had work to do – she was not strictly a princess. She had chores, a job and human affection for people other than her prince. She found herself put on a difficult path and stuck to it, being brave when she had to be. She gave the beast a chance, unlovely though he was in face and character and unashamedly so. And before you could say Stockholm Syndrome, the beast let her go with no conditions attached. She returned of her own free will. They lived happily ever after.
No. of times you can sit through the movie without losing your mind: 7

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The grapes of wrath

Recently I made myself unpopular by spurning a bottle of Grover’s La Reserve as “singularly undrinkable”. What I meant of course was that I didn’t like it, but in the manner of wine-drinkers dangerous with little knowledge, I made it a problem with the wine. That’s just the tip of the personality disorder.

I can’t remember when wine, for me, went from being the thing you drink at Christmas in the wrong glasses to being what you drink, period. For that matter, I couldn’t tell you when or why my “hard drink” of choice became rum and coke or gin and tonic. I’ve never been a vodka person. Then one day it was all about wine.

I didn’t even have the excuse of being in the thick of the “wine revolution”; it just happened. Suddenly I had wine racks and bottles that meant more than “red or white”. I spent ages in wine boutiques picking them out. I courted eviction by rearranging bits of my landlord’s kitchen so I could store them properly. I worried about them in Dubai’s summer humidity. I changed my food habits to accommodate them. I did a lot of research and became insufferable on the subject, especially after a few glasses of it. I got caught up in it all for a while, until the sheer number of moving parts tired me out.

When you thought you’d finally grasped the grapes, you discovered unpronounceable Hungarian varietals. Just as you got some insight into the intricacies of France’s wine-growing regions and untangled them from the broader strokes of Napa Valley, along came an Argentinean Malbec, a Spanish Rioja or a German Riesling. Australia is even larger than France and New Zealand may be small, but it’s prolific. Then India joined the fray. When South African and Lebanese friends threatened to stop inviting me, I decided to give it a rest. They gave really good parties.

There was also the constant guilt that no wine enthusiast will admit to, the feeling that if you really liked the taste it had to be sub-standard. Whenever I started feeling particularly affectionate towards one – a certain South African Pinotage comes to mind – I would abandon it in a hurry without looking too closely at my reasons. Come to think of it, that bears close resemblance to other parts of my life as well, so perhaps I shouldn’t try shoving it off on to all wine-drinkers.

I now work with the fundamental truth of “I like it, I like it not”. The fancy language work I can do all on my own, and with a glass of water if necessary. Sometimes I just drink the syrup that somebody’s uncle made from apricots. I’m a better person for it, too. Occasionally, the snottiness I imbibed with the more difficult Bordeaux and horrifyingly mature Burgundies gets the better of me and I annoy a few friends, as above, but mostly I’m very relaxed, scrupulously agreeing with whatever my hosts think of their wine.

My fascination with the deliciously metaphorical concept of terroir has endured, though. And wine glasses, I love them, particularly the large works of art in which ruby liquid can swirl like dervishes, releasing entire Impressionist landscapes. I love that bouquet, the first multisensory tasting. A fresh bottle of wine is the calm of my flat before a party, warm light on wood, the pure sound of Leonard Cohen on my Linn before it turns into something louder, tea lights burning in a Zen holder that makes them look like they’re floating in the air, just as I am suspended in the solitude. This then, is probably the attraction for me. The rum and coke is always a noisy night out, but wine is personal. All the more reason, I suppose, for keeping my judgmental reflections to myself.

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