Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003064, Fri, 24 Apr 1998 10:05:54 -0700

VN Birthday: Encounters / Tributes (fwd)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 24 Apr 1998 12:40:24 -0400 (EDT)
From: Juan M Martinez <jmm80625@pegasus.cc.ucf.edu>

My first experience with Nabokov was at a lending library ran by a
non-denominational American church group in Bogota, Colombia. They
charged about $5 per year and had tons of novels, and their schedule was
organized around the time of the volunteer church-members, so that you
would knock, pet a decrepit German shepherd and talk to the gardener, who
would open the door of the church, lead you into a patio, and let you wait
in a courtyard for someone to open the little library, off to the side,
next to a choir practice room---this remove was a sidewalk and a few walls
away from the bustle of Bogota.

The library, at any rate, was one of the few places where English books
were available and, since I'd dropped out from college and had begun
writing for a small English-language weekly which paid poorly and late, it
provided me with the bulk of my reading. I hit upon Nabokov by pure
chance, browsing. _Pale Fire_'s preface fooled me completely---right up
to the amusement park bit, and at that moment, chuckling, there was that
tingle of the spine, the sense that a trap-door had opened on the page and
that something bright and shimmering lay just off to the side, on the
bottom, on the next page, on the third reading of the same line.

I checked the book out and returned to the newspaper office. The Arts
editor, Pilar Leyva, once a young piano prodigy, saw the cover of the book
and said, "I didn't know that he also wrote." She had confused Vladimir
with his son Dmitri, whom she had seen in concert in Bogota a few years
back. Coincidences and concordances in life, minor miracles, never really
struck me until I saw them reflected in Nabokov's novels---for which I'm
still grateful.

I'm still discovering all sorts of minute signs of design and grace in
Nabokov's novels. I'm back in school. Back in the US.

Buying and finding books is easier, but my happiest reading
memories---disorganized, messy, devouring paragraph after paragraph---are
still tied to that lending library where the Nabokov shelf was well
stocked (not far from Naipaul, two steps from Rushdie), and to my
apartment (_ADA_ by candlelight during a power outage), which overlooked
the broken spine of the cordilleras, from where the green windows of the
military hospital revealed patients who would stand a block and a half
away, and look directly down on you and on the rest of the Bogota skyline,
and when you waved they would wave back.

"Speak softly,
drive a Sherman tank.
Laugh hard,
it's a long way to the bank."
They Might Be Giants, _Rhythm Section Want Ad_

---visit Strobe at http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~jmm80625