Eskimo boots, glass slipper & Glass shoe in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Sun, 01/16/2022 - 02:14

Describing a stage play in which Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) plays the heroine, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions an old nurse in Eskimo boots and the glass slipper (left by the protagonist’s fickle lady) that Baron d’O. is holding in the middle of an empty stage:

 

Marina’s affair with Demon Veen started on his, her, and Daniel Veen’s birthday, January 5, 1868, when she was twenty-four and both Veens thirty.

As an actress, she had none of the breath-taking quality that makes the skill of mimicry seem, at least while the show lasts, worth even more than the price of such footlights as insomnia, fancy, arrogant art; yet on that particular night, with soft snow falling beyond the plush and the paint, la Durmanska (who paid the great Scott, her impresario, seven thousand gold dollars a week for publicity alone, plus a bonny bonus for every engagement) had been from the start of the trashy ephemeron (an American play based by some pretentious hack on a famous Russian romance) so dreamy, so lovely, so stirring that Demon (not quite a gentleman in amorous matters) made a bet with his orchestra-seat neighbor, Prince N., bribed a series of green-room attendants, and then, in a cabinet reculé (as a French writer of an earlier century might have mysteriously called that little room in which the broken trumpet and poodle hoops of a forgotten clown, besides many dusty pots of colored grease, happened to be stored) proceeded to possess her between two scenes (Chapter Three and Four of the martyred novel). In the first of these she had undressed in graceful silhouette behind a semitransparent screen, reappeared in a flimsy and fetching nightgown, and spent the rest of the wretched scene discussing a local squire, Baron d’O., with an old nurse in Eskimo boots. Upon the infinitely wise countrywoman’s suggestion, she goose-penned from the edge of her bed, on a side table with cabriole legs, a love letter and took five minutes to reread it in a languorous but loud voice for no body’s benefit in particular since the nurse sat dozing on a kind of sea chest, and the spectators were mainly concerned with the artificial moonlight’s blaze upon the lovelorn young lady’s bare arms and heaving breasts.

Even before the old Eskimo had shuffled off with the message, Demon Veen had left his pink velvet chair and proceeded to win the wager, the success of his enterprise being assured by the fact that Marina, a kissing virgin, had been in love with him since their last dance on New Year’s Eve. Moreover, the tropical moonlight she had just bathed in, the penetrative sense of her own beauty, the ardent pulses of the imagined maiden, and the gallant applause of an almost full house made her especially vulnerable to the tickle of Demon’s moustache. She had ample time, too, to change for the next scene, which started with a longish intermezzo staged by a ballet company whose services Scotty had engaged, bringing the Russians all the way in two sleeping cars from Belokonsk, Western Estoty. In a splendid orchard several merry young gardeners wearing for some reason the garb of Georgian tribesmen were popping raspberries into their mouths, while several equally implausible servant girls in sharovars (somebody had goofed — the word ‘samovars’ may have got garbled in the agent’s aerocable) were busy plucking marshmallows and peanuts from the branches of fruit trees. At an invisible sign of Dionysian origin, they all plunged into the violent dance called kurva or ‘ribbon boule’ in the hilarious program whose howlers almost caused Veen (tingling, and light-loined, and with Prince N.’s rose-red banknote in his pocket) to fall from his seat.

His heart missed a beat and never regretted the lovely loss, as she ran, flushed and flustered, in a pink dress into the orchard, earning a claque third of the sitting ovation that greeted the instant dispersal of the imbecile but colorful transfigurants from Lyaska — or Iveria. Her meeting with Baron O., who strolled out of a side alley, all spurs and green tails, somehow eluded Demon’s consciousness, so struck was he by the wonder of that brief abyss of absolute reality between two bogus fulgurations of fabricated life. Without waiting for the end of the scene, he hurried out of the theater into the crisp crystal night, the snowflakes star-spangling his top hat as he returned to his house in the next block to arrange a magnificent supper. By the time he went to fetch his new mistress in his jingling sleigh, the last-act ballet of Caucasian generals and metamorphosed Cinderellas had come to a sudden close, and Baron d’O., now in black tails and white gloves, was kneeling in the middle of an empty stage, holding the glass slipper that his fickle lady had left him when eluding his belated advances. The claqueurs were getting tired and looking at their watches when Marina in a black cloak slipped into Demon’s arms and swan-sleigh. (1.2)

 

Just Before the War with the Eskimos is a story by J. D. Salinger. In Salinger’s novella Franny and Zooey Zooey Glass (by profession, an actor, a leading man, in television) asks his mother where is his other shoe:

 

Mrs. Glass turned from her char duties to look at him and to ask a question of the kind that, over the years, had irritated every one of her children: "You're going to have some lunch before you go, aren't you?"

"I'll get a bite downtown. ... Where the hell's my other shoe?"

Mrs. Glass stared at him, deliberately. "Are you or aren't you going to speak to your sister before you leave here?" she demanded.

"I don't know, Bessie," Zooey answered, after a perceptible hesitation. "Just stop asking me that, please. If I had something really hot to say to her this morning, I would. Just stop asking me." One shoe on and tied, the other shoe missing, he suddenly got down on his hands and knees and passed a hand back and forth under the radiator. "Ah. There you are, you little bastard," he said. A small bathroom scale stood beside the radiator. He sat down on it, missing shoe in hand.

Mrs. Glass watched him pull it on. She didn't stay for the tying of the lace, however. Instead, she left the room. But slowly. Moving with a certain uncharacteristic heaviness-a drag, actually-that distracted Zooey. He looked up and over at her with considerable attention. "I just don't know any more what's happened to all you children," Mrs. Glass said vaguely, without turning around. She stopped at one of the towel bars and straightened a washcloth. "In the old radio days, when you were all little and all, you all used to be so-smart and happy and – just lovely. Morning, noon, and night." She bent over and picked up from the tiled floor what appeared to be a long, mysteriously blondish human hair. She made a slight detour with it over to the wastebasket, saying, "I don't know what good it is to know so much and be smart as whips and all if it doesn't make you happy." Her back was toward Zooey as she moved again toward the door. "At least," she said, "you all used to be so sweet and loving to each other it was a joy to see." She opened the door, shaking her head. "Just a joy," she said firmly, and closed the door behind her.

Zooey, looking over at the closed door, inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. "Some exit lines you give yourself, buddy!" he called after her-but only when he must have been sure that his voice wouldn't really reach her down the hall.

 

Describing Lucette’s visit to Kingston, Van mentions his and Ada’s half-sister’s very chic patent-leather Glass shoe:

 

‘Van, Vanichka, we are straying from the main point. The point is that the writing desk or if you like, secretaire —’

‘I hate both, but it stood at the opposite end of the black divan.’

Now mentioned for the first time — though both had been tacitly using it as an orientator or as a right hand painted on a transparent signboard that a philosopher’s orbitless eye, a peeled hard-boiled egg cruising free, but sensing which of its ends is proximal to an imaginary nose, sees hanging in infinite space; whereupon, with Germanic grace, the free eye sails around the glass sign and sees a left hand shining through — that’s the solution! (Bernard said six-thirty but I may be a little late.) The mental in Van always rimmed the sensuous: unforgettable, roughish, villous, Villaviciosa velour.

‘Van, you are deliberately sidetracking the issue —’

‘One can’t do that with an issue.’

‘— because at the other end, at the heel end of the Vaniada divan — remember? — there was only the closet in which you two locked me up at least ten times.’

‘Nu uzh i desyat’ (exaggeration). Once — and never more. It had a keyless hole as big as Kant’s eye. Kant was famous for his cucumicolor iris.’

‘Well, that secretaire,’ continued Lucette, considering her left shoe, her very chic patent-leather Glass shoe, as she crossed her lovely legs, ‘that secretaire enclosed a folded card table and a top-secret drawer. And you thought, I think, it was crammed with our grandmother’s love letters, written when she was twelve or thirteen. And our Ada knew, oh, she knew, the drawer was there but she had forgotten how to release the orgasm or whatever it is called in card tables and bureaus.’

Whatever it is called.

‘She and I challenged you to find the secret chuvstvilishche (sensorium) and make it work. It was the summer Belle sprained her backside, and we were left to our own devices, which had long lost the particule in your case and Ada’s, but were touchingly pure in mine. You groped around, and felt, and felt for the little organ, which turned out to be a yielding roundlet in the rosewood under the felt you felt — I mean, under the felt you were feeling: it was a felted thumb spring, and Ada laughed as the drawer shot out.’

‘And it was empty,’ said Van.

‘Not quite. It contained a minuscule red pawn that high’ (showing its barleycorn-size with her finger — above what? Above Van’s wrist). ‘I kept it for luck; I must still have it somewhere. Anyway, the entire incident pre-emblematized, to quote my Professor of Ornament, the depravation of your poor Lucette at fourteen in Arizona. Belle had returned to Canady, because Vronsky had defigured The Doomed Children; her successor had eloped with Demon; papa was in the East, maman hardly ever came home before dawn, the maids joined their lovers at star-rise, and I hated to sleep alone in the corner room assigned to me, even if I did not put out the pink night-light of porcelain with the transparency picture of a lost lamb, because I was afraid of the cougars and snakes’ [quite possibly, this is not remembered speech but an extract from her letter or letters. Ed.], ‘whose cries and rattlings Ada imitated admirably, and, I think, designedly, in the desert’s darkness under my first floor window. Well [here, it would seem, taped speech is re-turned-on], to make a short story sort of longish —’

Old Countess de Prey’s phrase in praise of a lame mare in her stables in 1884, thence passed on to her son, who passed it on to his girl who passed it on to her half-sister. Thus instantly reconstructed by Van sitting with tented hands in a red-plush chair.

‘— I took my pillow to Ada’s bedroom where a similar night-light transparency thing showed a blond-bearded faddist in a toweling robe embracing the found lamb. The night was oven-hot and we were stark naked except for a bit of sticking plaster where a doctor had stroked and pricked my arm, and she was a dream of white and black beauty, pour cogner une fraise, touched with fraise in four places, a symmetrical queen of hearts.’

Next moment they grappled and had such delicious fun that they knew they would be doing it always together, for hygienic purposes, when boyless and boiling. (2.5)

 

Describing the night after his dinner in ‘Ursus’ (the best Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major) with Ada and Lucette, Van mentions Ada’s Glass bed slippers:

 

‘My dear,’ said Van, ‘do help me. She told me about her Valentian estanciero but now the name escapes me and I hate bothering her.’

‘Only she never told you,’ said loyal Lucette, ‘so nothing could escape. Nope. I can’t do that to your sweetheart and mine, because we know you could hit that keyhole with a pistol.’

‘Please, little vixen! I’ll reward you with a very special kiss.’

‘Oh, Van,’ she said over a deep sigh. ‘You promise you won’t tell her I told you?’

‘I promise. No, no, no,’ he went on, assuming a Russian accent, as she, with the abandon of mindless love, was about to press her abdomen to his. ‘Nikak-s net: no lips, no philtrum, no nosetip, no swimming eye. Little vixen’s axilla, just that — unless’ — (drawing back in mock uncertainty) — ‘you shave there?’

‘I stink worse when I do,’ confided simple Lucette and obediently bared one shoulder.

‘Arm up! Point at Paradise! Terra! Venus!’ commanded Van, and for a few synchronized heartbeats, fitted his working mouth to the hot, humid, perilous hollow.

She sat down with a bump on a chair, pressing one hand to her brow.

‘Turn off the footlights,’ said Van. ‘I want the name of that fellow.’

‘Vinelander,’ she answered.

He heard Ada Vinelander’s voice calling for her Glass bed slippers (which, as in Cordulenka’s princessdom too, he found hard to distinguish from dance footwear), and a minute later, without the least interruption in the established tension, Van found himself, in a drunken dream, making violent love to Rose — no, to Ada, but in the rosacean fashion, on a kind of lowboy. She complained he hurt her ‘like a Tiger Turk.’ He went to bed and was about to doze off for good when she left his side. Where was she going? Pet wanted to see the album.

‘I’ll be back in a rubby,’ she said (tribadic schoolgirl slang), ‘so keep awake. From now on by the way, it’s going to be Chère-amie-fait-morata’ — (play on the generic and specific names of the famous fly) — ‘until further notice.’

‘But no sapphic vorschmacks,’ mumbled Van into his pillow.

‘Oh, Van,’ she said, turning to shake her head, one hand on the opal doorknob at the end of an endless room. ‘We’ve been through that so many times! You admit yourself that I am only a pale wild girl with gipsy hair in a deathless ballad, in a nulliverse, in Rattner’s "menald world" where the only principle is random variation. You cannot demand,’ she continued — somewhere between the cheeks of his pillow (for Ada had long vanished with her blood-brown book) — ‘you cannot demand pudicity on the part of a delphinet! You know that I really love only males and, alas, only one man.’

There was always something colorfully impressionistic, but also infantile, about Ada’s allusions to her affairs of the flesh, reminding one of baffle painting, or little glass labyrinths with two peas, or the Ardis throwing-trap — you remember? — which tossed up clay pigeons and pine cones to be shot at, or cockamaroo (Russian ‘biks’), played with a toy cue on the billiard cloth of an oblong board with holes and hoops, bells and pins among which the ping-pong-sized eburnean ball zigzagged with bix-pix concussions.

Tropes are the dreams of speech. Through the boxwood maze and bagatelle arches of Ardis, Van passed into sleep. When he reopened his eyes it was nine a.m. She lay curved away from him, with nothing beyond the opened parenthesis, its contents not yet ready to be enclosed, and the beloved, beautiful, treacherous, blue-black-bronze hair smelt of Ardis, but also of Lucette’s ‘Oh- de-grâce.’ (2.8)

 

Lucette’s perfume, ‘Oh- de-grâce’ seems to be a play on Eau de Grasse. It brings to mind not only Baron d’O., but also “Zooey Grass” (as Zooey Glass calls himself when he talks over the ’phone to Franny):

 

He said he was-this is exactly what he said-he said he was sitting at the table in the kitchen, all by himself, drinking a glass of ginger ale and eating saltines and reading 'Dombey and Son,' and all of a sudden Jesus sat down in the other chair and asked if he could have a small glass of ginger ale. A small glass, mind you-that's exactly what he said. I mean he says things like that, and yet he thinks he's perfectly qualified to give me a lot of advice and stuff! That's what makes me so mad! I could just spit! I could! It's like being in a lunatic asylum and having another patient all dressed up as a doctor come over to you and start taking your pulse or something.. . . It's just awful. He talks and talks and talks. And if he isn't talking, he's smoking his smelly cigars all over the house. I'm so sick of the smell of cigar smoke I could just roll over and die."

"The cigars are ballast, sweetheart. Sheer ballast. If he didn't have a cigar to hold on to, his feet would leave the ground. We'd never see our Zooey again."

There were several experienced verbal stunt pilots in the Glass family, but this last little remark perhaps Zooey alone was coordinated well enough to bring in safely over a telephone. Or so this narrator suggests. And Franny may have felt so, too. In any case, she suddenly knew that it was Zooey at the other end of the phone. She got up, slowly, from the edge of the bed. "All right, Zooey," she said. "All right."

Not quite immediately: "Beg pardon?"

"I said, all right, Zooey."

"Zooey? What is this? . . . Franny? You there?"

"I'm here. Just stop it now, please. I know it's you."

"What in the world are you talking about, sweetheart? What is this? Who's this Zooey?"

"Zooey Glass," Franny said. "Just stop it now, please. You're not being funny. As it happens, I'm just barely getting back to feeling half-way-"

"Grass, did you say? Zooey Grass? Norwegian chap? Sort of a heavyset, blond, ath-"

"All right, Zooey. Just stop, please. Enough's enough. You're not funny. ... In case you're interested, I'm feeling absolutely lousy. So if there's anything special you have to say to me, please hurry up and say it and leave me alone." This last, emphasized word was oddly veered away from, as if the stress on it hadn't been fully intended.

 

“Several experienced verbal stunt pilots in the Glass family” make one think of “pilots of tremendous airships” mentioned by Van in his apologetic note to Lucette written after the debauch à trois in Van's Manhattan flat:

 

Van walked over to a monastic lectern that he had acquired for writing in the vertical position of vertebrate thought and wrote what follows:

 

Poor L.

We are sorry you left so soon. We are even sorrier to have inveigled our Esmeralda and mermaid in a naughty prank. That sort of game will never be played again with you, darling firebird. We apollo [apologize]. Remembrance, embers and membranes of beauty make artists and morons lose all self-control. Pilots of tremendous airships and even coarse, smelly coachmen are known to have been driven insane by a pair of green eyes and a copper curl. We wished to admire and amuse you, BOP (bird of paradise). We went too far. I, Van, went too far. We regret that shameful, though basically innocent scene. These are times of emotional stress and reconditioning. Destroy and forget.

Tenderly yours A & V.

(in alphabetic order).

 

‘I call this pompous, puritanical rot,’ said Ada upon scanning Van’s letter. ‘Why should we apollo for her having experienced a delicious spazmochka? I love her and would never allow you to harm her. It’s curious — you know, something in the tone of your note makes me really jealous for the first time in my fire [thus in the manuscript, for "life." Ed.] Van, Van, somewhere, some day, after a sunbath or dance, you will sleep with her, Van!’

‘Unless you run out of love potions. Do you allow me to send her these lines?’

‘I do, but want to add a few words.’

 

Her P.S. read:

 

The above declaration is Van’s composition which I sign reluctantly. It is pompous and puritanical. I adore you, mon petit, and would never allow him to hurt you, no matter how gently or madly. When you’re sick of Queen, why not fly over to Holland or Italy?

A. (2.8)

 

In March, 1905, Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) perishes in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific (3.7). Van never finds out that his father died because Ada (who could not pardon Demon his forcing Van to give her up) managed to persuade the pilot to destroy his machine in midair.

 

Btw., "no sapphic vorschmacks" (Van's words to Ada before he falls asleep) brings to mind J. D. Salinger's story Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters whose title was borrowed from Sappho.

 

Esmeralda (Van calls Lucette "our Esmeralda and mermaid") is the gypsy girl in Victor Hugo's novel Notre Dame de Paris (1831). On the other hand, she brings to mind Salinger's story For Esmé  with Love and Squalor.