The young author of an essay ‘Villa Venus: an Organized Dream,’ Eric Veen called his palatial brothels “Floramors:”
In the spring of 1869, David van Veen, a wealthy architect of Flemish extraction (in no way related to the Veens of our rambling romance), escaped uninjured when the motorcar he was driving from Cannes to Calais blew a front tire on a frost-blazed road and tore into a parked furniture van; his daughter sitting beside him was instantly killed by a suitcase sailing into her from behind and breaking her neck. In his London studio her husband, an unbalanced, unsuccessful painter (ten years older than his father-in-law whom he envied and despised) shot himself upon receiving the news by cablegram from a village in Normandy called, dreadfully, Deuil.
The momentum of disaster lost none of its speed, for neither did Eric, a boy of fifteen, despite all the care and adoration which his grandfather surrounded him with, escape a freakish fate: a fate strangely similar to his mother’s.
After being removed from Note to a small private school in Vaud Canton and then spending a consumptive summer in the Maritime Alps, he was sent to Ex-en-Valais, whose crystal air was supposed at the time to strengthen young lungs; instead of which its worst hurricane hurled a roof tile at him, fatally fracturing his skull, Among the boy’s belongings David van Veen found a number of poems and the draft of an essay entitled’ Villa Venus: an Organized Dream.’
To put it bluntly, the boy had sought to solace his first sexual torments by imagining and detailing a project (derived from reading too many erotic works found in a furnished house his grandfather had bought near Vence from Count Tolstoy, a Russian or Pole): namely, a chain of palatial brothels that his inheritance would allow him to establish all over ‘both hemispheres of our callipygian globe.’ The little chap saw it as a kind of fashionable club, with branches, or, in his poetical phrase, ‘Floramors,’ in the vicinity of cities and spas. Membership was to be restricted to noblemen, ‘handsome and healthy,’ with an age limit of fifty (which must be praised as very broadminded on the poor kid’s part), paying a yearly fee of 3650 guineas not counting the cost of bouquets, jewels and other gallant donations. Resident female physicians, good-looking and young (‘of the American secretarial or dentist-assistant type’), would be there to check the intimate physical condition of ‘the caresser and the caressed’ (another felicitous formula) as well as their own if ‘the need arose,’ One clause in the Rules of the Club seemed to indicate that Eric, though frenziedly heterosexual, had enjoyed some tender ersatz fumblings with schoolmates at Note (a notorious preparatory school in that respect): at least two of the maximum number of fifty inmates in the major floramors might be pretty boys, wearing frontlets and short smocks, not older than fourteen if fair, and not more than twelve if dark. However, in order to exclude a regular flow of ‘inveterate pederasts,’ boy love could be dabbled in by the jaded guest only between two sequences of three girls each, all possessed in the course of the same week — a somewhat comical, but not unshrewd, stipulation. (2.3)
Veneris vena (1924) is a poem by Igor Severyanin:
Вервэна, вена Венеры,
Напиток плымный любви!
Благие свойства твои:
Ты так же, как и Омела,
Болезни можешь целить,
Злых духов загнать в пещеры,
Ах, чтили тебя друиды,
И маги, и древний галл.
Не ты ль — украшенье термы?
Не страсти в тебе ль закал?
Ведь сок твой исполнен спермы,
И ты очищаешь дом,
Волшебным своим цветком.
Аркан Бесспорной Доктрины
(Их было ведь двадцать два)
Шестой обозначил цифрой
С той эры культурьи вихри
Поверья метнули в прах,
Но их аромат не сгинул
И вечно душист в веках.
Да, в дюжину Розенкрейцер
Премудрость вложил Вервэну
В растительную семью.
Я славлю Венеры вену,
Будящую — как стихи —
Сарказм в лице европейца
И радость детей стихий!
The name of the plant verbena (vervain) comes from Veneris vena (Latin for "Venus' vein"). In his poem Likyor iz verveny ("The Liqueur from Verbena") Severyanin mentions Amor who catches the esthetes in his finest nets:
Ликёр из вервэны — грёзерки ликер,
Каких не бывает на свете,
Расставил тончайшие сети,
В которые ловит эстетов — Амор
Луною, наполнен сомнамбул фужер
И устричным сердцем, и морем.
И тот, кто ликёром аморим,
Тому орхидейное нежит драже
Уста и фужер сетью струн сплетены,
При каждом глотке чуть звенящих,
Для нас — молодых, настоящих, —
Для нас, кто в Сейчас своего влюблены
Лишь тот, кто отрансен, блестящ, вдохновен,
Поймет тяготенье к ликеру,
Зовущему грезы к узору,
К ликеру под именем: Crеme de verveine —
In his memoir essay Groza v Gertsegovine (“A Thunderstorm in Herzegovina,” 1940) Severyanin tells about his stay in January, 1931, at Colonel Slivinski’s Adriatic villa Flora Mira:
На дебаркадере вокзала к нам подошел господин среднего роста, очень похожий на Наполеона, и представился нам:
– Полковник ген<ерального> шт<аба> А. В. Сливинский. Узнал из газет, что сегодня утром Вы приезжаете в Дубровник, счел своим долгом Вас и Вашу спутницу встретить и просить оказать мне и моей жене честь остановиться у нас в доме. Мы живем по правому берегу моря в трех километрах отсюда. Моя машина – в Вашем распоряжении.
Мы, конечно, с удовольствием приняли его приглашение. Автомобиль быстро понесся по дивно шоссированной дороге на его дачу «Флора мира».
Мария Андреевна, его жена, встречала нас на белом открытом балконе. Апельсины и нэспали вплотную приникали к нему. Мы пили кофе в одних костюмах, было двадцать два градуса тепла. Адриатика (или поместному Ядран) веяла на нас своим воздухом – Богом. Весь покрытый лесами остров Локрум темно синел как раз против дачи. Вдали угадывались берега Италии около Бриндизи. Даже кто не родился поэтом, можно было им стать!..
Вскоре к кофе спустился из своей комнаты во втором этаже единственный гость этой симпатичной четы, живший у них почти всю зиму, – б<ывший> член Госуд<арственной> думы, обаятельный собеседник, Василий Витальевич Шульгин.
Colonel Slivinski met Severyanin at the railway station in Dubrovnik (Ragusa) and invited him to his villa Flora Mira in three kilometers off Dubrovnik. Ada’s lesbian schoolmate at Brownhill, Vanda Broom was shot dead by the girlfriend of a girlfriend on a starry night in Ragusa of all places:
Would she like to stay in this apartment till Spring Term (he thought in terms of Terms now) and then accompany him to Kingston, or would she prefer to go abroad for a couple of months — anywhere, Patagonia, Angola, Gululu in the New Zealand mountains? Stay in this apartment? So, she liked it? Except some of Cordula’s stuff which should be ejected — as, for example, that conspicuous Brown Hill Alma Mater of Almehs left open on poor Vanda’s portrait. She had been shot dead by the girlfriend of a girlfriend on a starry night, in Ragusa of all places. It was, Van said, sad. Little Lucette no doubt had told him about a later escapade? Punning in an Ophelian frenzy on the feminine glans? Raving about the delectations of clitorism? ‘N’exagérons pas, tu sais,’ said Ada, patting the air down with both palms. ‘Lucette affirmed,’ he said, ‘that she (Ada) imitated mountain lions.’
He was omniscient. Better say, omni-incest.
‘That’s right,’ said the other total-recaller.
And, by the way, Grace — yes, Grace — was Vanda’s real favorite, pas petite moi and my little crest. She (Ada) had, hadn’t she, a way of always smoothing out the folds of the past — making the flutist practically impotent (except with his wife) and allowing the gentleman farmer only one embrace, with a premature eyakulyatsiya, one of those hideous Russian loanwords? Yes, wasn’t it hideous, but she’d love to play Scrabble again when they’d settled down for good. But where, how? Wouldn’t Mr and Mrs Ivan Veen do quite nicely anywhere? What about the ‘single’ in each passport? They’d go to the nearest Consulate and with roars of indignation and/or a fabulous bribe have it corrected to married, for ever and ever. (2.6)
Vanda (1908) is a poem in octaves by Severyanin. Eyakulyatsiya (ejaculation) mentioned by Van brings to mind sperma (sperm) mentioned by Severyanin in his poem Veneris vena. It seems that the girlfriend of a girlfriend who shot poor Vanda dead was Ada herself. According to Severyanin, Colonel Slivinski resembled Napoleon very much. In the battle of Waterloo Napoleon was deteated by Wellington. Grace Erminin (Erminia was the nickname of Eliza Khitrovo, Kutuzov's daughter who was hopelessly in love with Pushkin) marries a Wellington:
As if she had just escaped from a burning palace and a perishing kingdom, she wore over her rumpled nightdress a deep-brown, hoar-glossed coat of sea-otter fur, the famous kamchatstkiy bobr of ancient Estotian traders, also known as ‘lutromarina’ on the Lyaska coast: ‘my natural fur,’ as Marina used to say pleasantly of her own cape, inherited from a Zemski granddam, when, at the dispersal of a winter ball, some lady wearing vison or coypu or a lowly manteau de castor (beaver, nemetskiy bobr) would comment with a rapturous moan on the bobrovaya shuba. ‘Staren’kaya (old little thing),’ Marina used to add in fond deprecation (the usual counterpart of the Bostonian lady’s coy ‘thank you’ ventriloquizing her banal mink or nutria in response to polite praise — which did not prevent her from denouncing afterwards the ‘swank’ of that ‘stuck-up actress,’ who, actually, was the least ostentatious of souls). Ada’s bobrï (princely plural of bobr) were a gift from Demon, who as we know, had lately seen in the Western states considerably more of her than he had in Eastern Estotiland when she was a child. The bizarre enthusiast had developed the same tendresse for her as he had always had for Van. Its new expression in regard to Ada looked sufficiently fervid to make watchful fools suspect that old Demon ‘slept with his niece’ (actually, he was getting more and more occupied with Spanish girls who were getting more and more youthful every year until by the end of the century, when he was sixty, with hair dyed a midnight blue, his flame had become a difficult nymphet of ten). So little did the world realize the real state of affairs that even Cordula Tobak, born de Prey, and Grace Wellington, born Erminin, spoke of Demon Veen, with his fashionable goatee and frilled shirtfront, as ‘Van’s successor.’ (ibid.)
Herzegovina Flora were Stalin’s favorite cigarettes. After the dinner in ‘Ursus’ and debauch á trois with Lucette (Van’s and Ada’s half-sister) in Van’s Manhattan flat Ada calls Cordula “Cordula Tobacco alias Madame Perwitsky:”
‘She’s terribly nervous, the poor kid,’ remarked Ada stretching across Van toward the Wipex. ‘You can order that breakfast now — unless... Oh, what a good sight! Orchids. I’ve never seen a man make such a speedy recovery.’
‘Hundreds of whores and scores of cuties more experienced than the future Mrs Vinelander have told me that.’
‘I may not be as bright as I used to be,’ sadly said Ada, ‘but I know somebody who is not simply a cat, but a polecat, and that’s Cordula Tobacco alias Madame Perwitsky, I read in this morning’s paper that in France ninety percent of cats die of cancer. I don’t know what the situation is in Poland.’ (2.8)
The only other guest of Colonel Slivinski at his villa Flora mira was Vasiliy Shulgin, the former member of the Russian State Duma. In March, 1917, Guchkov and Shulgin persuaded the tsar Nicholas II to abdicate the throne. In 1920 Shulgin emigrated to Yugoslavia. In 1925-26 he secretly visited the Soviet Union. He described this visit and his impression of the New Economic Policy in the book called Tri Stolitsy (The Three Capitals). While in emigration Shulgin continued keeping in touch with other leaders of the White movement until 1937 when he ceased his political activity. In 1944 the Soviet army entered Yugoslavia. Shulgin was arrested and sentenced to 25 years for his "hostile to communism antisoviet activity". After twelve years in prison he was released in 1956 under the amnesty. Since then he lived in Vladimir (of all places!). In his later books he argued that communism was no more a disaster for Russia since former Bolsheviks turned into patriots of Russia. In 1965 Shulgin was the main character in a documentary film, "The Verdict of History" in which he told his story to a Soviet historian. He died in February, 1976, aged ninety-eight. Valentina (‘Lyusya’) Shulgin (VN’s first love, Tamara of Speak, Memory) was in no way related to Vasiliy Shulgin.
According to Severyanin, from villa Flora Mira one could vaguely see the Italian shores on the other side of the Adriatic. Describing his last visit to one last Villa Venus, Van mentions a rocky Mediterranean peninsula:
Van never regretted his last visit to one last Villa Venus. A cauliflowered candle was messily burning in its tin cup on the window ledge next to the guitar-shaped paper-wrapped bunch of long roses for which nobody had troubled to find, or could have found, a vase. On a bed, some way off, lay a pregnant woman, smoking, looking up at the smoke mingling its volutes with the shadows on the ceiling, one knee raised, one hand dreamily scratching her brown groin. Far beyond her, a door standing ajar gave on what appeared to be a moonlit gallery but was really an abandoned, half-demolished, vast reception room with a broken outer wall, zigzag fissures in the floor, and the black ghost of a gaping grand piano, emitting, as if all by itself, spooky glissando twangs in the middle of the night. Through a great rip in the marbleized brick and plaster, the naked sea, not seen but heard as a panting space separated from time, dully boomed, dully withdrew its platter of pebbles, and, with the crumbling sounds, indolent gusts of warm wind reached the unwalled rooms, disturbing the volutes of shadow above the woman, and a bit of dirty fluff that had drifted down onto her pale belly, and even the reflection of the candle in a cracked pane of the bluish casement. Beneath it, on a rump-tickling coarse couch, Van reclined, pouting pensively, pensively caressing the pretty head on his chest, flooded by the black hair of a much younger sister or cousin of the wretched florinda on the tumbled bed. The child’s eyes were closed, and whenever he kissed their moist convex lids the rhythmic motion of her blind breasts changed or stopped altogether, and was presently resumed.
He was thirsty, but the champagne he had bought, with the softly rustling roses, remained sealed and he had not the heart to remove the silky dear head from his breast so as to begin working on the explosive bottle. He had fondled and fouled her many times in the course of the last ten days, but was not sure if her name was really Adora, as everybody maintained — she, and the other girl, and a third one (a maidservant, Princess Kachurin), who seemed to have been born in the faded bathing suit she never changed and would die in, no doubt, before reaching majority or the first really cold winter on the beach mattress which she was moaning on now in her drugged daze. And if the child really was called Adora, then what was she? — not Rumanian, not Dalmatian, not Sicilian, not Irish, though an echo of brogue could be discerned in her broken but not too foreign English. Was she eleven or fourteen, almost fifteen perhaps? Was it really her birthday — this twenty-first of July, nineteen-four or eight or even several years later, on a rocky Mediterranean peninsula?
A very distant church clock, never audible except at night, clanged twice and added a quarter.
‘Smorchiama la secandela,’ mumbled the bawd on the bed in the local dialect that Van understood better than Italian. The child in his arms stirred and he pulled his opera cloak over her. In the grease-reeking darkness a faint pattern of moonlight established itself on the stone floor, near his forever discarded half-mask lying there and his pump-shod foot. It was not Ardis, it was not the library, it was not even a human room, but merely the squalid recess where the bouncer had slept before going back to his Rugby-coaching job at a public school somewhere in England. The grand piano in the otherwise bare hall seemed to be playing all by itself but actually was being rippled by rats in quest of the succulent refuse placed there by the maid who fancied a bit of music when her cancered womb roused her before dawn with its first familiar stab. The ruinous Villa no longer bore any resemblance to Eric’s’ organized dream,’ but the soft little creature in Van’s desperate grasp was Ada. (2.3)
Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): smorchiama: let us snuff out the candle.
Ragusa is also a city in Sicily. In Severnyi triolet ("The Northern Triolet," 1916) Severyanin mentions Eric who gave to Queen Ingrid himself, his love and the North:
Что Эрик Ингрид подарил?
Себя, свою любовь и Север.
Что помечталось королеве,
Всё Эрик Ингрид подарил.
И часто в рубке, у перил
Над морем, чей-то голос девий
Я слышу: "он ей подарил
Себя, любовь свою и Север".