Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Purple Haze

In honeyed light the aerie windows project their images aslant the wall, bright trapezoids with venetian-blind stripes. The clock reads five. The radio plays downstairs and the drier runs with an incessant squeak. Penelope marches around the house, sulking. Earlier I glanced out the kitchen window at the bird feeder and saw that she was lazily grooming herself, but with one eye trained on a tiny gray titmouse on the mulch pecking at scatterings flung from lofty heights by chickadees, woodpeckers, and finches from a pair of hanging feeders that I had just refilled. In the past week I've been startled (gasp!) to find two tiny dead birds in as many days. I tapped on the window to get her attention. (Like a Robert DeNiro character - yeah you, I'm looking at you.) Penelope saw me, froze, assumed a casually innocent air, and sauntered around the back of the house to the door where I stood to let her in. (Can you believe my power? I can summon a cat!) But I'm not letting her out again, not at this magic hour anyway - let the chickadees and titmice have their fill in peace.

Dinner's on the stove, a hot curry with shrimp and all sorts of vegetables - onion, cauliflower, carrot, zucchini, and peppers - and basmati rice set to go in another pot. I've been quite cooking quite a lot this week - meat loaf, chicken stock, braised pork & cabbage, blueberry cake, etc. - enjoying it more than usual.

Thinking a little more about that Chekhov story, and Nabokov. I haven't read as much Nabokov as I should, considering how much I love Lolita. I read Pale Fire in college but don't remember any of it. I would like to make an effort to read more of him. Anyway, Lady With the Little Dog reminds me of Lolita. In a lackadaisical, unscholarly way I can see some parallels, as if the Chekhov story had provided Nabokov with the seed from which his mighty twisted oak grew. Or - how else to put it? The Chekhov story filtered through the labyrinthine pasta machine of Nabokov's imagination. You can see that the similes come only halting forth, to paraphrase a Sydney sonnet. (It's times like this that I miss Updike, by now he'd have both Chekhov and Nabokov neatly tucked into a tissue paper-lined gift box sealed with an exquisite gilt sticker.) Enough of this writerly flailing. What I mean is this: Humbert Humbert reminds me of Dmitri G. - both are aging, narcissistic predators. Dmitri falls for a young woman half his age, idly noting that she is not so much older really, than his twelve-year old daughter. I can imagine Nabokov seizing on that, ratcheting his own story up several notches - HH falls for - how old is Lolita? - I guess around 12 (not factchecking at the moment), and there's a passage near the beginning where HH delineates the general nature of his obsession and how after about age fourteen it's all over with them - for him. HH and Miss Dolores Haze don't have a suite at the S.B. Hotel - rather they motor all over the country, peripatetically staying in motel after motel. Their love is, to say the least, doomed (their union given (immortal) stay only in the hotel "refuge of art"). Lolita - insolent, backtalking, flirtatious, grumpy, sneakily and capably self-gratifying as circumstances arise - is a lot more interesting than Anna. The erotic encounter between HH and Lolita on the settee, with their elaborate squirmings reminds me of the scene in the Chekhov story where Dmitri and Anna race madly up and down staircases and corridors at the provincial theatre and manage a kiss. Nabokov (as he noted in his lecture on Chekhov) admired that passage particularly - "a remarkably fine scene." Nabokov beautifully described Chekhov's writing style:
... Chekhov managed to convey an impression of artistic beauty far surpassing that of many writers who thought they knew what rich beautiful prose was. He did it by keeping all his words in the same dim light and of the same exact tint of gray, a tint between the color of an old fence and that of a low cloud. The variety of his moods, the flicker of his charming wit, the deeply artistic economy of characterization, the vivid detail, and the fade-out of human life - all the peculiar Chekhovian features - are enhanced by being suffused and surrounded by a faintly iridescent verbal haziness.
Is it coincidence, or homage, that Lolita's given name is Haze?

Anyway, all probably a bit of a stretch, but my mind is always mad to make such connections.

I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of this hotsheet motel. And this is the only time you and I may share, my dear Dmitri.

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