Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dmitri Nabokov, the son of...

...the famous writer, Vladimir Nabokov, died at age 77. When I saw his obit in the Times I thought to myself, This will be really interesting! What will it say about his father? And then I read this paragraph:  

In contrast with his father, who was said to focus on literature and lepidoptery to the exclusion of all else, Dmitri Nabokov was a bon vivant, a professional opera singer, a race car driver and a mountain climber.

Now, forgetting for a moment that my obituary will never describe me as a "bon vivant" or a "race car driver" (much less a professional opera singer or a mountain climber), I was most intrigued by the word "lepidoptery." What on earth is that?, I wondered. Apparently, it's the "study of moths and butterflies." Huh. (They say you learn something new every day; I guess I can go back to bed now.)

Lepidoptery, huh? I was interested enough to look up Vladimir Nabokov's entry in Wikipedia. And I stumbled across this passage (my emphasis):

Nabokov wrote "Lolita" while traveling on butterfly-collection trips in the western United States that he undertook every summer. Nabokov never learned to drive, type, fold an umbrella, or answer the telephone.

Really? He never learned how to "fold an umbrella" or "answer the telephone?" How hard is it to figure those two things out? As far as answering the phone, don't you just pick up the receiver and say "hello" into it? Does that require "learning?" Can't any four year-old do it? And what if you came across a thirty or forty year-old man who confided in you that he "never learned how to answer the telephone?" Wouldn't you teach him? After all, how long could it possibly take you, thirty seconds?

"Okay, Vlad. Here's how it works: when you hear the bell ring you pick up this top part -- that's called the 'receiver' -- and you put it up to your ear and say 'hello.'  Think you can handle that?"

I'm a little surprised that Nabokov didn't tackle some of those more basic life skills before taking on lepidoptery.

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