NABOKV-L post 0013321, Sun, 17 Sep 2006 10:00:21 -0700

Matches, Nabokov, and the Chavchavadzes
Contributor note: Nabokov at Cambridge had a flrtation with Nina Romanov (yes, those Romanovs) . Nina later married Paul Chavchavadze, author of "The Mountains of
of Allah" (1952) --still available but overpriced at 99-cents--and translator of Svetlana Stalin's post-defection memoir "Only One Year." The Chavchavadzes were among Edmund Wilson's circle of Russian friends.

Sunday, September 17, 2006 Last Update: 1:12 AM ET

Urban Studies | Playing With Matches

Cold War Memories, Burning Bright
New York Times, United States - 9 hours ago

Published: September 17, 2006
AT the corner of Nevins and Union Streets near the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn stands a squat former box factory. Inside is a gallery called Proteus Gowanus, and at the back of the gallery is the Museum of Matches.

The Museum of Matches is not so much a museum about matches, though it features a curious display of upright matchsticks. Rather, the year-old institution, a single room, offers a snapshot of the Cold War, a period that weighed heavily on the family of the museum’s curator, Sasha Chavchavadze, the 51-year-old granddaughter of Russian émigrés and daughter of a former C.I.A. operative.

In the center of the room sits a long wooden table lighted by a single hanging spot lamp. The table is covered with hundreds of matchsticks that Ms. Chavchavadze arranged, clustered in formations. “Little boys get very excited when they come in this room,” said Ms. Chavchavadze, a slim woman with dark, graying hair worn in a chignon, who is also an owner of the gallery.

The tabletop exhibit is a re-creation of a two-player matchstick war game that her father, David Chavchavadze, invented as a child. He and a friend placed matchstick armies in the earth and took turns throwing rocks at the make-believe soldiers until one army had been knocked down.

Displayed in the museum are autobiographies, histories, spy novels and paintings. There are photographs of Ms. Chavchavadze’s great-grandfather, Grand Duke George Mikhailovich, who was executed after the Russian Revolution, and of her C.I.A. agent father in a Berlin crowd.

“His whole life was clandestine, and I didn’t quite know who he was,” Ms. Chavchavadze said. Her father recently gave the museum an old Cuban cigar box with remnants of his game inside. “The match game was something he really loved as a child,” she said.

The museum was inspired by the game and by the idea of symmetry between past and present. The Russian author Vladimir Nabokov, whose novels are full of symmetry, also played a role.

There is more than a little symmetry between Ms. Chavchavadze’s family and the author’s. Nabokov came from a privileged Russian family, and his father was assassinated in Berlin, where Ms. Chavchavadze’s father blended expertly into the crowd. In his 1966 memoir, “Speak, Memory,” Nabokov describes a matchstick game he played as a child.

Ms. Chavchavadze pointed to a couple of Fabergé boxes she found in her grandmother’s home; the faded circular outline of the jewel that once lay within was still visible. Then she pointed to a lithograph above containing an excerpt from “Speak, Memory”: “I have an empty wooden box lined in velvet which has the imprint of the Fabergé jewel it once held. I don’t long for the jewel. It’s the empty space that captures my imagination.”

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