Monday, May 30, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 1.2 (Vladimir Nabokov)

The Defense by Michael_Kelleher
The Defense, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

Nabokov, Vladimir
The Defense

This was mailed to me as a gift during the year I lived in Quito, Ecuador. It is inscribed, yet unsigned:


Enjoy! Hope you haven't read it.

I hadn't. Neither did I read it while I was in Ecuador. I do have a memory of having read it afterward, but I don't recall much about the story. I think it was also a movie starring John Turturro.

Pulling this book off the shelf reminds me of my room at the volunteer center in Ecuador. The volunteer center was a large, white, square stucco building in a northern section of Quito called Cotocollao. The floors of the entire building, easily 10,000 square feet, were tiled with large white ceramic tiles. They always felt cool underfoot.

Each volunteer had his or her own white-tiled room that included a bed, a desk, and a bathroom. We also had storage space of some kind. I remember only that it was made of wood. It may have been a wardrobe or a built-in closet. There might also have been a dresser or some built-in that served the same purpose. I can't recall. Everything was made of some kind of dark wood and all of it was made at the center's wood shop. Wooden bed, desk, dresser, doors, everything.

Entering my bedroom the bed and night stand stood immediately to the right of the door. I seem to recall not using a bed frame, just a mattress on the floor. I have a memory of often sitting low to the floor in that room.

I brought a small boombox with me and a box full of cassettes, all of which sat on or around the night stand. I used to listen to music late into the night. I'd often try to fall asleep listening to music, smoking one cigarette after another, waiting for sleep to arrive. I often had insomnia. I no longer smoke and I don't listen to music as I go to sleep, and I mostly don't drink coffee late at night (another habit of the time) and guess what? I sleep much better now.

Straight ahead on the far wall were windows stretching the width of the room, facing out over the dusty soccer field that connected the volunteer center to the school buildings. A beautiful, snow-capped mountain peak that I loved to stare at rose up in the distance behind the school buildings.

My desk was shoved into the corner to the left, near the door to the bathroom. A laptop PC I'd bought to write with just before leaving NY sat on the desktop. Mostly I wrote journal entries or letters while I was there. Not much "real" writing got done. I think all of that information is now stored on floppy disk and is probably lost to the world. Not that it's a big loss.

I remember my friend "P" used to send me long letters by fax. I still have some of them. They're printed on this horrible old glossy fax paper. The ink will not last forever, I am sure. It's already faded almost beyond recognition.

That was about the last year of my life that I actually wrote letters. By the time I got back to the states the world had started converting to email and I along with it. Truly a lost pleasure, receiving letters in the mail. Yet I can't seem to bother writing them anymore, with communication in other forms so easy and convenient and immediate.


from The Defense

What struck him most was the fact that from Monday on he would Luzhin. His father–the real Luzhin, the write of books–left the nursery with a smile, rubbing his hands (already smeared for the night with transparent cold cream), and with his suede-slippered evening gait padded back to his bedroom. His wife lay in bed. She half raised herself and said: "Well, how did it go?" He removed his gray dressing gown and replied: "We managed. Took it calmly. Ouf...that's a real wight off my shoulders." "How nice..." said his wife, slowly drawing the silk blanket over her. "Thank goodness, thank goodness..."

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