One hundred years ago today, on his twentieth birthday, Vladimir Nabokov arrived in Athens after he and his family had escaped from revolutionary Russia. He would never see his homeland again. Over the next 20 years, he and his family moved restlessly from Greece to England to Berlin, and finally to America, barely escaping the Nazis.
Nabokov’s amazing story is brilliantly told in the long read: “Vladimir Nabokov, Literary Refugee” by Stay Schiff. I will not reduce that article’s many charms by attempting a precis: It is well worth the reading.
But this is a fine time and place to note that Vladimir Nabokov is one of the five authors I could not do without. As with each of the others — James Joyce, Dylan Thomas, John Dos Passos, and Joseph Conrad — I have read and reread all of his works in English, without tiring of them. There are times when other authors are my favourite of the day (Irving, usually, or Brautigan), but I always return to the Big Five.
It must be time again for Pale Fire or Ada, and then perhaps the USA trilogy. That would make for a fine summer.
The waitress at the county’s
favourite luncheonette counter
swings and sings
the songs of the sixties
“She walks like an angel,
talks like an angel”
jiving and gesturing with the farmers
and truckers and travelers
flashing her eyes
delivering pies a la mode
“In Dreams, you’re mine,
All of the time”
dancing and prancing to mothers
and all kinds of others
soothing and smoothing
and smooching and cooing
“Mashed potato, yeah, yeah, yeah
The mashed potato, yeah, yeah, yeah”
passing the work day with nary a cloud
of concern no matter the crowd
that packs in the cafe
Regular readers may have noticed that I have posted a lot less this week than usual. That is because I suddenly find myself rather busy.
About eight years ago I published “The Drive”, a history of Commercial Drive from 1935 to 1956. It was assumed by many, including me, that I would move swiftly onto the remainder of the history from the mid-1950s. But that proved difficult for a couple of major reasons:
First, recent local history is dependent for much of its documentation on newspapers and for many years the necessary papers (Sun, Province, Echo, etc.) of that period were hard to access without the time-consuming process of reading through the microfiches of each edition of every paper for every day. Before the writing of “The Drive“, for example, I spent a full year in the 7th floor of Central Library doing little else but reading through every edition of the Highland Echo from 1935 to 1960 — and that was just one weekly newspaper of about 8 to 10 pages an edition. Going through the morgues of three much larger daily newspapers for, say, 1955 to 1975, would literally take years. It was a daunting task.
Second, I became ever more interested in the first quarter century of Grandview’s life — from, say 1891 through the end of the First World War — and the work I put in started to concentrate on that period. This was assisted greatly by many of the early newspapers — Vancouver World, etc — being accessible on line with the context searching that that functionality makes available to the researcher. Most of my writing over the last decade has concentrated on this era.
Over that same stretch of time, I made a few attempts to pull together the history of Commercial Drive and Grandview, its hinterland. That means I have dozens or scores of half-completed essays and research lists scattered throughout my computer. I pride myself on the tidiness of my research. However, at times like these when a reassessment of what material I already have is required, that pride takes a bashing.
Which brings me to the purpose or reason for this reassessment. I have decided that I will write a full scale history of the Drive from its beginnings to about 2000. The primary driver has been the very recent availability of both the Vancouver Sun and Province on line. This means that I can use the searching tools available through OCR to make my research searches far more specific and productive. There is still a great deal of old-fashioned research to complete (including the page by page reading of the Echo‘s microfiche library from the 1960s through the 1990s that we bought some years ago for this very purpose) and, of course, grinding my way though the mountain of material I already have collected.
This is all going to take some time. But at least you will know I am not just relaxing on the couch eating ice cream and watching game shows.