Sunday, July 17, 2011


322. The first time I heard it was from a highly respected, elder friend. He did not like Vladimir Nabokov, he told me, because to be able to write the scandalous Lolita, clearly the multilingual Russian writer must have been a pedophile. Or, at the very least, the friend conceded, had a dirty mind towards little girls. In subsequent occasions when others voiced similar opinions towards Nabokov, I have always responded by pointing out, that Stephen King, as far as we know, has never committed a murder. It is an argument that I have read from somewhere and liked, but having almost never read much about Nabokov, I never formed an opinion either way.

An excerpt from one of the numerous letters to Véra Nabokov, by Vladimir Nabokov, in the New Yorker.

...As soon as I barged in she told me that in ten minutes the guests invited in my honor would arrive, and at breakneck speed I began to bath and tug at my dinner-jacket armor. I love you. The shirt came out so starched that the cufflinks would not go through the cuffs and it ended with one of them rolling under the bed (to be discovered only today)...

Maybe there was a reason why, in the middle of the story he was regaling his wife, Nabokov wrote I love you. Maybe she has gifted him the dinner-jacket. Or the cufflinks. Or, maybe, Nabokov couldn't wait until the end of the paragraph, and simply had to tell his wife, as soon as he put down the period after the word armor, that he loved her, something made abundantly clear in every published letter. I love you, my sweetheart. Try to be cheery when I come back (but I love you when you're low, too), ends another letter.

We will never really know why Nabokov inserted the sentence I love you there -- without it the story would have been perfectly the same -- but it is hard to imagine that Nabokov had a mind for anyone else except his wife of more than half a century, who drove him to many field trips for butterfly hunting and protected him with a handgun, to whom all his works were dedicated, and who, it is said, has prevented Nabokov from throwing the manuscript of Lolita into the fire, more than once.

323. It has been a while since I was last given homework. Write something in passé composé, instructed the disembodied voice from my iPod, something about what you have done today. Include some reflexive verbs. Some of the millions that you probably have promptly forgotten as soon as we told you.

So here it is, my homework.

Je me suis réveillée, et puis J'ai mangé. J'ai toujours aimé manger. Après le petit-dej, j'ai pris un vélo et je suis allée à la librairie, toute seule, parce que mes amis ils n'étaient pas libres. (Ça a pris deux heures.) Je suis restée dans la librairie pendant trois heures, au cours desquelles j'ai ri toute seule en prenant des photos des pages des livres. Quand j'ai quitté la librairie, j'ai compris pourquoi mes amis n'étaient pas libres.

324. "Vas-y, ma belle!" yells the drunk, total stranger behind us. On the multiple flat-screens around the pub, a Japanese girl speeds toward a soccer ball, kicks it into the goal, and millions of Japanese around the globe burst into tears. As the Japan's teammates hug each other on screen, I sit still in the middle of the pub, trying not to get so upset over the loss of the States in the Women's World Championship final, of which I wouldn't have been aware, had we not decided on a whim to "get some dessert from the Irish pub" (great idea, by the way, Irish pubs have always been known for their pâtisserie), and even then I wouldn't have supported the States, had it not because my companion wanted to go for Japan. "Well, do you want to go now, or do you want to sit here and watch the celebration?" she now asks, rubbing salt into the wound. 
As we leave, the drunk, (still) total stranger says goodbye. "Enjoy your time in Brussels," he instructs. "Uhm, thanks..." I tell him, wondering what it is about me that exudes tourism. We had not even asked for the desserts -- the kitchen was closed by the time we got our table. I wait until completely outside and out of the stranger's earshot to laugh, at the maybe kind but very random conversation. I've been living in Brussels for almost two years now, I want to tell him, and, against all odds, for the most part it actually has been a fun experience. After all, it is not in every city that I have a friend who, a few hours earlier, self-confessed that one of her Christmas highlights is to, "unwrap, then wrap, then unwrap the presents." Ça c'est ma belle.

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