NABOKV-L post 0026745, Sat, 26 Dec 2015 19:58:28 -0200

Christmas and Berlin in the twenties
Eric Naiman: Nabokov's best and most original Christmas story, though, is
"Путеводитель по Берлину." (Nabokov may have forgotten it was a Christmas
story when he translated it into English....). Thursday marks the 90th
anniversary of its publication. Read it on Christmas Eve to appreciate
Nabokov's unique contribution to the genre, if not to the "Christmas

Jansy Mello: Thanks to both Joseph Schlegel and Katherina Kokinova who came
to my rescue after I wondered about the translation of the Russian title of
VN's short-story, "A Guide to Berlin".*

I selected some of my favorite sentences in the guise of "excerpts" to
stimulate Nablers (as Eric Naiman did) to read it during this festive period
of beneficent good-will, beauty and hope that may shine through numbing
routines, losses and in the midst of the ever present dire signs.

In the morning I visited the zoo and now I am entering a pub with my friend
and usual pot companion. Its sky-blue sign bears a white inscription,
"LOWENBRAU," accompanied by the portrait of a lion with a winking eye and
mug of beer. We sit down and I start telling my friend about utility pipes,
streetcars, and other important matters.

The Pipes: Today someone wrote "Otto" with his finger on the strip of virgin
snow and I thought how beautifully that name, with its two soft o's flanking
the pair of gentle consonants, suited the silent layer of snow upon that
pipe with its two orifices and its tacit tunnel.

The Streetcar: In these winter days the bottom half of the forward door is
curtained with green cloth, the windows are clouded with frost, Christmas
trees for sale throng the edge of the sidewalk at each stop, the passengers'
feet are numb with cold, and sometimes a gray worsted mitten clothes the
conductor's hand.[ ] I think that here lies the sense of literary
creation: to portray ordinary objects as they will be reflected in the
kindly mirrors of future times; to find in the objects around us the
fragrant tenderness that only posterity will discern and appreciate in the
far-off times when every trifle of our plain everyday life will become
exquisite and festive in its own right: the times when a man who might put
on the most ordinary jacket of today will be dressed up for an elegant

Work: A young white-capped baker flashes by on his tricycle; there is
something angelic about a lad dusted with flour. A van jingles past with
cases on its roof containing rows of emerald-glittering empty bottles,
collected from taverns. A long, black larch tree mysteriously travels by in
a cart [ ] A postman, who has placed the mouth of a sack under a
cobalt-colored mailbox, fastens it on from below, and secretly, invisibly,
with a hurried rustling, the box empties and the postman claps shut the
square jaws of the bag, now grown full and heavy. But perhaps fairest of all
are the carcasses, chrome yellow, with pink blotches, and arabesques, piled
on a truck, and the man in apron and leather hood with a long neck flap who
heaves each carcass onto his back and, hunched over, carries it across the
sidewalk into the butcher's red shop.

Eden: Every large city has its own, man-made Eden on earth.// If churches
speak to us of the Gospel, zoos remind us of the solemn, and tender,
beginning of the Old Testament. The only sad part is that this artificial
Eden is all behind bars, although it is also true that if there were no
enclosures the very first dingo would savage me. It is Eden nonetheless,
insofar as man is able to reproduce it, and it is with good reason that the
large hotel across from the Berlin Zoo is named after that garden.[ ]
Behind the glass, in bright recesses, transparent fishes glide with flashing
fins, marine flowers breathe, and, on a patch of sand, lies a live, crimson
five-pointed star. This, then, is where the notorious emblem originated-at
the very bottom of the ocean, in the murk of sunken Atlantica, which long
ago lived through various upheavals while pottering about topical Utopias
and other inanities that cripple us today.

The Pub: "I can't understand what you see down there," says my friend,
turning back toward me.// What indeed! How can I demonstrate to him that I
have glimpsed somebody's future recollection?


".* * -The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov: note "Written in December 1925 in
Berlin, Putevoditel' po Berlinu was published in Rul', December 24, 1925,
and collected in Vozvrashchenie Chorba, Slovo, Berlin, 1930. Despite its
simple appearance, this "Guide" is one of my trickiest pieces. Its
translation has caused my son and me a tremendous amount of healthy trouble.
Two or three scattered phrases have been added for the sake of factual

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