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1972 Vogue

"Simona Morini came to interview me on .., in Montreux."

Некоторые НАБОКОВские интервью / Nabokov's interview

Источник: www
     Simona Morini came to interview me on February 3, 1972, in
Montreux.  Our  exchange  appeared  in  Vogue, New York,
April 15, 1972. Three passages (pp. 200-1, 201-2 and 204),  are
borrowed,  with modifications, from Speak, Memory, G. P.
Putnam's Sons, N. Y., 1966.

     The world has been  and  is  open  to  you.  With  your
Proustian  sense  of  places,  what  is  there in Montreux that
attracts you so? 

     My sense of places is Nabokovian  rather  than  Proustian.
With  regard  to  Montreux  there  are  many attractions-- nice
people,  near  mountains,  regular  mails,  headquarters  at  a
comfortable  hotel.  We  dwell  in the older part of the Palace
Hotel, in its original part really, which was all that  existed
a  hundred  and fifty years ago (you can still see that initial
inn and our future windows in old prints of 1840  or  so).  Our
quarters  consist  of  several  tiny  rooms with two and a half
bathrooms, the result of two apartments  having  been  recently
fused.  The sequence is: kitchen, living-dining room, my wife's
room, my room, a former kitchenette now full of my papers,  and
our  son's  former  room,  now  converted  into  a  study.  The
apartment is! cluttered with books, folders,  and  files.  What
might be termed rather grandly a library is a back room housing
my  published  works,  and  there are additional shelves in the
attic whose skylight is much frequented by pigeons  and  Alpine
choughs.  I  am  giving this meticulous description to refute a
distortion in an interview published recently  in  another  New
York  magazine--  a long piece with embarrassing misquotations,
wrong intonations, and false exchanges in the course of which I
am made  to  dismiss  the  scholarship  of  a  dear  friend  as
"pedantry" and to poke ambiguous fun at a manly writer's tragic

     Is  there  any truth in the rumor that you are thinking
of leaving Montreux forever? 

     Well,  there   is   a   rumor   that   sooner   or   later
everybody living now in Montreux will leave it forever.

     Lolita  is  an  extraordinary  Baedecker  of the United
States. What fascinated you about American motels? 

     The fascination was purely utilitarian. My  wife  used  to
drive  me (Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Buick, Buick Special, Impala--
in that order of brand) during several seasons, many  thousands
of  miles  every  season,  for  the  sole purpose of collecting
Lepidoptera-- all of which are now in  three  museums  (Natural
History  in  New  York  City,  Comparative  Zoology at Harvard,
Comstock Hall at Cornell). Usually we spent only a day  or  two
in  each motorcourt, but sometimes, if the hunting was good, we
stayed for weeks in one place. The main raison d'etre of
the motel was the possibility of w! alking out straight into an
aspen  grove  with  lupines  in  full  bloom  or  onto  a  wild
mountainside.  We  also  would  make  many  sorties  on the way
between motels. All this I  shall  be  describing  in  my  next
memoir,  Speak  On,  Memory,  which  will deal with many
curious things (apart from butterfly lore)-- amusing happenings
at  Cornell  and  Harvard,  gay  tussles  with  publishers,  my
friendship with Edmund Wilson, et cetera.

     You   were   in   Wyoming   and  Colorado  looking  for
butterflies. What were these places like to you? 

     My wife and I have  collected  not  only  in  Wyoming  and
Colorado,  but in most of the states, as well as in Canada. The
list of localities visited between 1940 and  1960  would  cover
many  pages.  Each  butterfly,  killed  by an expert nip of its
thorax, is slipped immediately into a little  glazed  envelope,
about  thirty  of which fit into one of the Band-Aid containers
which represent, with the net, my  only  paraphernalia  in  the
field.  Captures can be kept, before being relaxed and set, for
any number of years in those envelopes, if properly stored. The
exact locality and date are written on every  envelope  besides
being jotted down in one's pocket diary. Though my captures are
now  in  American  museums, I have preserved hundreds of labels
and notes. Here are just a few samples picked out at r! andom:

     Road to Terry Peak from Route  85,  near  Lead,  6500-7000
feet, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, July 20, 1958.

     Above Tomboy Road, between Social Tunnel and Bullion Mine,
at about  10,500  feet,  near  Telluride, San Miguel County, W.
Colorado, July 3, 1951.

     Near Karner, between Albany  and  Schenectady,  New  York,
June 2, 1950.

     Near  Columbine Lodge, Estes Park, E. Colorado, about 9000
feet, June 5, 1947.

     Soda Mt., Oregon, about 5500 feet, August 2,  1953.  Above
Portal,  road  to  Rustler  Park,  between  5500 and 8000 feet,
Chiricahua Mts., Arizona, April 30, 1953.

     Fernie, three miles east of Elco, British  Columbia,  July
10, 1958.

     Granite  Pass,  Bighorn  Mts., 8950 feet, E. Wyoming, July
17, 1958.

     Near Crawley Lake, Bishop, California,  about  7000  feet,
June 3, 1953.

     Near  Gatlinburg, Tennessee, April 21, 1959. Et cetera, et

     Where do you go for butterflies now? 

     To various good spots  in  the  Valais,  the  Tessin,  the
Grisons;  to  the hills of Italy; to the Mediterranean islands;
to the mountains of southern France and so forth. I am  chiefly
devoted  to  European  and  North  American butterflies of high
altitudes, and have never visited the Tropics.

     The  little  mountain  trains  cogwheeling  up  to  alpine
meadows,  through  sun and shade, along rock face or coniferous
forest are tolerable in action and delightful  in  destination,
bringing  one  as  they  do to the starting point of a day-long
hike.  My  favorite  method  of  locomotion,  though,  is   the
cableway,  and  especially the chairlift. I find enchanting and
dreamy in the best sense of the word to glide  in  the  morning
sun  from  valley  to  timberline in that magic seat, and watch
from above my own shadow-- with the ghost of a butterfly net in
the ghost of a fist-- as it keeps gently ascending  in  sitting
profile  along  the flowery slope below, among dancing Ringlets
and skimming Fritillaries. Some day the butterfly  hunter  will
find  even  finer  dream  lore  when  floating  u!  pright over
mountains, carried by a diminutive rocket strapped to his back.

     In the past, how did you usually travel, when you  were
looking for butterflies? Did you go camping, for instance? 

     As  a  youth  of  seventeen,  on  the  eve  of the Russian
Revolution,  I  was  seriously   planning   (being   the
independent    possessor    of    an   inherited   fortune)   a
lepidoptero-logical expedition to Central Asia, and that  would
have involved naturally a good deal of camping. Earlier, when I
was,  say,  eight  or  nine,  I  seldom roamed further than the
fields and woods of our country estate near St. Petersburg.  At
twelve,  when aiming at a particular spot half-a-dozen miles or
more distant, I would use a bicycle to get there  with  my  net
fastened  to the frame; but not many forest paths were passable
on wheels; it was possible  to  ride  there  on  horseback,  of
course,  but,  because  of  our ferocious Russian tabanids, one
could not leave a horse haltered in a wood for  any  length  of
time:  my spirited b! ay almost climbed up the tree it was tied
to one day trying to elude them: big fellows with  watered-silk
eyes  and tiger bodies, and gray little runts with an even more
painful proboscis, but much more sluggish: to dispatch  two  or
three of these dingy tipplers with one crush of the gloved hand
as  they glued themselves to the neck of my mount afforded me a
wonderful  empathic  relief  (which  a  dipterist   might   not
appreciate).  Anyway,  on my butterfly hunts I always preferred
hiking to any other form of locomotion  (except,  naturally,  a
flying  seat gliding leisurely over the plant mats and rocks of
an unexplored mountain, or hovering just above the flowery roof
of a rain forest); for when you walk, especially  in  a  region
you  have  studied  well,  there  is  an  exquisite pleasure in
departing from one's itinerary to visit, here and there by  the
wayside,  this  glade, that glen, this or that combination o! f
soil and flora--  to  drop  in,  as  it  were,  on  a  familiar
butterfly  in his particular habitat, in order to see if he has
emerged, and if so, how he is doing.

     What is your ideal of a splendid grand-hotel? 

     Absolute quiet, no radio playing behind the wall, none  in
the  lift,  no  footsteps thudding above, no snores coming from
below, no gondoliers carousing across the lane,  no  drunks  in
the  corridor.  I remember one awful little scene (and this was
in a five-turret palace with the guidebook sign of a red
songbird  meaning  luxury  and  isolation!).  Upon  hearing   a
commotion  just  outside the door of my bedroom, I poked out my
head, while preparing my curse-- which fizzled out when  I  saw
what   was  happening  in  the  passage.  An  American  of  the
traveling-executive type was staggering about with a bottle  of
whisky  and  his  son,  a  boy  of  twelve or so, was trying to
restrain him, repeating: "Please, Dad, please, come  to  bed,"  
which  reminded  me  of  a similar situation in a Chekhov story.

     What do you think has changed over the last sixty years
in the traveling style? You loved wagons-lits.

     Oh, I did. In the early years of this  century,  a  travel
agency on Nevski Avenue displayed a three-foot-long model of an
oak-brown    international    sleeping    car.    In   delicate
verisimilitude it completely outranked the painted  tin  of  my
clockwork  trains. Unfortunately it was not for sale. One could
make out the  blue  upholstery  inside,  the  embossed  leather
lining  of  the compartment walls, their polished panels, inset
mirrors,  tulip-shaped  reading  lamps,  and  other   maddening
details. Spacious windows alternated with narrower ones, single
or  geminate, and some of these were of frosted glass. In a few
of the compartments, the beds had been made.

     The then great and glamorous Nord-Express  (it  was  never
the  same  after  World  War  I when its elegant brown became a
nouveau-riche blue), consisting solely  of  such  international
cars  and  running  but  twice a week, connected St. Petersburg
with Paris.  I  would  have  said:  directly  with  Paris,  had
passengers  not  been  obliged  to  change  from one train to a
superficially  similar  one  at   the   Russo-German   frontier
(Verzhbolovo-Eydtkuhnen),  where  the  ample  and  lazy Russian
sixty-and-a-half-inch    gauge    was    replaced    by     the
fifty-six-and-a-half-inch   standard   of   Europe,   and  coal
succeeded birch logs.

     In the far end of my mind I can unravel,  I  think,
at  least  five  such  journeys  to  Paris, with the Riviera or
Biarritz as their ultimate destination. In 1909, the year I now
single out, our  party  consisted  of  eleven  people  and  one
dachshund.  Wearing  gloves  and a traveling cap, my father sat
reading a book in the compartment he shared with our tutor.  My
brother and I were separated from them by a washroom. My mother
and  her  maid Natasha occupied a compartment adjacent to ours.
Next came my two small sisters, their English  governess,  Miss
Lavington  (later  governess  of  the  Tsar's  children), and a
Russian nurse. The odd one of our  party,  my  father's  valet,
Osip  (whom,  a  decade  later, the pedantic Bolsheviks were to
shoot, because he appropriated our bicycles instead of  turning
them  over  to  the  nation),  had  a  stranger for comp! anion
(Feraudi, a well-known French actor).

     Gone the panache of steam, gone  the  thunder  and  blaze,
gone  the  romance  of the railroad. The popular train rouge
is  merely  a  souped-up   tram.   As   to   the   European
sleeping-cars,  they  are  drab  and vulgar now. The "single" I
usually take is a  stunted  compartment  with  a  corner  table
concealing  inadequate  toilet  facilities (not unlike those in
the farcical American "roomette," where to get at the necessary
utensil one has to rise and shoulder one's bed  like  Lazarus).
Still,  for  the  person  with a past, some faded charm remains
clinging  to  those  international  sleepers  which  take   you
straight  from Lausanne to Rome or from Sicily to the Piedmont.
True, the dining-car theme is muted; sandwiches  and  wine  are
supplied   by   hawkers  between  stations;  and  your  plastic
breakfast  is  prepared  by  !  an   overworked,   half-dressed
conductor in his grubby cubicle next to the car's malodorous W.
C.; yet my childhood moments of excitement and wonder are still
brought  back  by the mystery of sighing stops in the middle of
the night or by the first morning glimpse of rocks and sea.

     What do you think of the super-planes? 

     I think their publicity department, when  advertising  the
spaciousness of the seat rows, should stop picturing impossible
children  fidgeting  between  their  imperturbed  mother  and a
gray-templed stranger trying to read.  Otherwise,  those  great
machines  are  masterpieces  of  technology. I have never flown
across the Atlantic,  but  I  have  had  delightful  hops  with
Swissair  and  Air  France. They serve excellent liquor and the
view at low elevations is heartbreakingly lovely.

     What do you think about luggage? Do you  think  it  has
lost style, too? 

     I think good luggage is always handsome and there is a lot
of it  around  nowadays.  Styles,  of  course, have changed. No
longer with us is the kind of  elephantine  wardrobe  trunk,  a
specimen   of  which  appears  in  the  visually  pleasant  but
otherwise absurd cinema version of Mann's mediocre, but  anyway
plausible, Death in Venice. I still treasure an elegant,
elegantly scuffed piece of luggage once owned by my mother. Its
travels  through  space  are finished, but it still hums gently
through time for I use it to keep old family letters  and  such
curious  documents  as  my  birth certificate. I am a couple of
years younger than this antique valise, fifty centimeters  long
by  thirty-six  broad  and sixteen high, technically a heavyish
necessaire  de  voyage  of
pigskin,  with  "H.  N." elaborately interwoven in thick silver
under a similar coronet, it had been  bought  in  1897  for  my
mother's  wedding trip to Florence. In 1917 it transported from
St. Petersburg to the Crimea and then to London  a  handful  of
jewels.  Around  1930,  it  lost  to a pawnbroker its expensive
receptacles of crystal and silver leaving empty  the  cunningly
contrived  leathern  holders on the inside of the lid. But that
loss has been amply recouped during the thirty  years  it  then
traveled  with  me--  from Prague to Paris, from St. Nazaire to
New York and through the mirrors of more than two hundred motel
rooms and rented houses, in forty-six states. 
The fact that of our Russian heritage the hardiest survivor 
proved to be a traveling bag is both logical and emblematic.

     What is a "perfect trip" for you? 

     Any first walk in any new place-- especially a place where
no lepidopterist  has  been  before  me.  There   still   exist
unexplored  mountains  in  Europe  and  I still can walk twenty
kilometers  a  day.  The  ordinary  stroller  might   feel   on
sauntering out a twinge of pleasure (cloudless morning, village
still asleep, one side of the street already sunlit, should try
to  buy  English  papers  on  my  way  back, here's the turn, I
believe, yes, footpath to Cataratta), but the cold of the metal
netstick in my right hand  magnifies  the  pleasure  to  almost
intolerable bliss.
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