I am so unbelievably honoured to welcome Cathy Marie Buchanan, author of the best selling The Painted Girls, to Paris Month today! Introduced to The Painted Girls via the Harper Collins Canada blog tour, I immediately knew this was a book I was going to enjoy. Paris, art & ballet? What’s not to love? I actually had the lovely opportunity to meet Cathy last night as she was out to support her friend and fellow author Ania Szado with the launch of her book Studio Saint-Ex.
CATHY MARIE BUCHANAN is the author of The Painted Girls and The Day the Falls Stood Still. Published January 2013, The Painted Girls has garnered rave reviews and been showered with special attention—everything from selection as a People Magazine pick to designation as a book “People Are Talking About” by Vogue to inclusion in Entertainment Weekly’s Must List. She holds a BSc (Biochemistry) and an MBA from Western University. Born and raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario, she now resides in Toronto.
Bio excerpt from CathyMarieBuchanan.com
I’ve been to Paris a handful of times, always as a tourist, except for the one trip I made to research The Painted Girls, my novel that tells the story of the real life model—Marie van Goethem—for Edgar Degas’s Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. I was dispirited before I left. The French were being—well—French and ignoring my requests for assistance, which was a far cry from my experience with North American experts, who’d been unilaterally generous. My French is lousy, and the plan was to travel to Paris with my favourite translator—my husband. Ah, well, I thought, if I’m not able to accomplish a single thing, at least we’ll share some fine pain au chocolat and French wine in the most romantic city in the world.
While I never was able to gain permission to visit the rehearsal studios or dressing rooms of Palais Garnier, where young Marie would have spent the bulk of her time, I did tour the opulent public side of the opera house and was lucky enough to take in a ballet in the jewellery box-like theatre. At intermission I sipped champagne, overlooking the marble and gilt of the grand staircase, and can honestly say, I cannot imagine a better way to conjure the belle époque setting of The Painted Girls. It was but a hairsbreadth away.
Palais Garnier houses the Paris Opéra Ballet archives, and though my requests for access had gone unanswered, my husband and I boldly presented ourselves to security at the back entrance and stated that we’d been corresponding with the archive’s director (which was only a lie if you consider corresponding a two way street). We were ushered into the archives, presented to the director, who greeted us like old friends. We were given unfettered access to photographs and sketches of costumes and sets for the ballets in which Marie had danced and dug up gems like the old ballet programmes where her name appeared. The space the archives now occupies was once the private rotunda of Napolean III, and it’s got to be one of the most elegant spots in which to research in the world.
Degas had written Marie’s Montmartre address on one of his sketches. We found the apartment house and let ourselves in as an occupant was on her way out. I peered into the claustrophobic courtyard. I climbed the narrow staircase to the top floor, where a family as poor as Marie’s surely would have lived, and marveled that my hand was on a railing that hers would have touched.
Best of all, though, was attending a class of fourteen-year-old girls at the Paris Opéra Ballet school. (For this I am indebted to my writer friend Ann Mah, who was living in Paris at the time. She secured permission when I’d all but given up.) Though thirty years and a continent away from my own days at the barre (I’d spent four or five nights a week in the ballet studio as a teenager), I was struck by how familiar the exercises, the practice garb, the corrections and the music were. It made me think that, despite having lived a very different life from Marie, a part of our experiences were very similar.
Oh, yes, my morale had very much improved.