Memories of Russian Gardens

Today, self is finally able to slow down. The whole week was crazed: two classes on Monday, the second ending at 9 p.m. Two more (back to back) classes on Tuesday, which meant she was on her feet for five hours straight. Only one class on Wednesday, but self had to spend the whole afternoon grading papers and reading up on the texts she had to teach in two classes today, Thursday. Her neck ached something fierce, and she couldn’t even scrounge the time to douse her weary plants with so much as a bucket of water. She did, however, make vermicelli with clam sauce, and when hubby came home and showed more interest in the latest Sports Illustrated than in what self had cooked for dinner, self lay into him in a very uncharacteristic manner.

For the last few days, self’s been snatching moments to read Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory. The writer seems to miss two things acutely: butterflies and snow. While self is reading, she sometimes feels as if she has entered a hallucination. The Russia self knows is the Russia of Martin Cruz Smith novels and the Bourne movies (!!##) So: gray buildings, dour people.

But Nabokov’s Russia is a profoundly emotional and beautiful place, a Russia that seems to exist now only in a few old people’s imaginations, and in the stories of Chekhov. Here is Nabokov’s description of the landscape around one of his family’s homes:

The “English” park that separated our house from the hayfields was an extensive and elaborate affair with labyrinthine paths, Turgenevian benches, and imported oaks among the endemic firs and birches. The struggle that had gone on since my grandfather’s time to keep the park from reverting to the wild state always fell short of complete success. No gardener could cope with the hillocks of frizzly black earth that the pink hands of moles kept heaping on the tiny sand of the main walk. Weeds and fungi, and ridgelike tree roots crossed and re-crossed the sun-flecked trails. Bears had been eliminated in the eighties, but an occasional moose still visited the grounds. On a picturesque boulder, a little mountain ash and a still smaller aspen had climbed, holding hands, like two clumsy, shy children. Other, more elusive trespassers — lost picknickers or merry villagers — would drive our hoary gamekeeper Ivan crazy by scrawling ribald words on the benches and gates. The disintegrating process continues still, in a different sense, for when, nowadays, I attempt to follow in memory the winding paths from one given point to another, I notice with alarm that there are many gaps, due to oblivion or ignorance, akin to the terra-incognita blanks map makers of old used to call “sleeping beauties.”

Is “frizzly” an actual word, dear blog readers? Or is that simply a Nabokov-ian invention? Whatever, self thinks it sounds good.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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