Describing the library of Ardis Hall, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions the mating habits of the fly Serromyia amorata Poupart and says that he prefers to burn than to be slurped up alive by the Cheramie:
Another hearty laugh shook Van when he unearthed for entomologically-minded Ada the following passage in a reliable History of Mating Habits. ‘Some of the perils and ridicule which attend the missionary position adopted for mating purposes by our puritanical intelligentsia and so justly derided by the "primitive" but healthy-minded natives of the Begouri Islands are pointed out by a prominent French orientalist [thick footnote, skipped here] who describes the mating habits of the fly Serromyia amorata Poupart. Copulation takes place with both ventral surfaces pressed together and the mouths touching. When the last throb (frisson) of intercourse is terminated the female sucks out the male’s body content through the mouth of her impassioned partner. One supposes (see Pesson et al.) [another copious footnote] that the titbits, such as the juicy leg of a bug enveloped in a webby substance, or even a mere token (the frivolous dead end or subtle beginning of an evolutionary process — qui le sait!) such as a petal carefully wrapped up and tied up with a frond of red fern, which certain male flies (but apparently not the femorata and amorata morons) bring to the female before mating, represent a prudent guarantee against the misplaced voracity of the young lady.’
Still more amusing was the ‘message’ of a Canadian social worker, Mme de Réan-Fichini, who published her treatise, On Contraceptive Devices, in Kapuskan patois (to spare the blushes of Estotians and United Statians; while instructing hardier fellow-workers in her special field). ‘Sole sura metoda,’ she wrote, ‘por decevor natura, est por un strong-guy de contino-contino-contino jusque le plesir brimz; et lors, a lultima instanta, svitchera a l’altra gropa [groove]; ma perquoi una femme ardora andor ponderosa ne se retorna kvik enof, la transita e facilitata per positio torovago’; and that term an appended glossary explained in blunt English as ‘the posture generally adopted in rural communities by all classes, beginning by the country gentry and ending with the lowliest farm animals throughout the United Americas from Patagony to Gasp.’ Ergo, concluded Van, our missionary goes up in smoke.
‘Your vulgarity knows no bounds,’ said Ada.
‘Well, I prefer to burn than to be slurped up alive by the Cheramie — or whatever you call her — and have my widow lay a lot of tiny green eggs on top of it!’ (1.21)
The Cheramie seems to hint at Leskov’s story Sheramur (“Cheramour,” 1879). In his sonnet Leskov (1927) Igor Severyanin mentions nizy (lower classes), verkhi (upper classes) and Obzhora Sheramur (the Glutton Cheramour):
Её низы — изморина и затерть.
Российский бебеизм — её верхи.
Повсюду ничевошные грехи.
Осмеркло всё: дворец и церкви паперть.
Лжёт, как историк, даже снега скатерть:
Истает он, и обнажатся мхи,
И заструят цветы свои духи,
Придет весна, светла как Божья Матерь,
И повелит держать пасхальный звон,
И выйдет, как священник на амвон,
Писатель, в справедливости суровый,
И скажет он: «Обжора Шерамур,
В больной отчизне дураков и дур
Ты самый честный, нежный и здоровый».
After his dinner in ‘Ursus’ (the best Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major) with Ada and Lucette (Van’s and Ada’s half-sister) Van asks Lucette to tell him the name of Ada’s fiancé and promises to reward her with a very special kiss:
‘My dear,’ said Van, ‘do help me. She told me about her Valentian estanciero but now the name escapes me and I hate bothering her.’
‘Only she never told you,’ said loyal Lucette, ‘so nothing could escape. Nope. I can’t do that to your sweetheart and mine, because we know you could hit that keyhole with a pistol.’
‘Please, little vixen! I’ll reward you with a very special kiss.’
‘Oh, Van,’ she said over a deep sigh. ‘You promise you won’t tell her I told you?’
‘I promise. No, no, no,’ he went on, assuming a Russian accent, as she, with the abandon of mindless love, was about to press her abdomen to his. ‘Nikak-s net: no lips, no philtrum, no nosetip, no swimming eye. Little vixen’s axilla, just that — unless’ — (drawing back in mock uncertainty) — ‘you shave there?’
‘I stink worse when I do,’ confided simple Lucette and obediently bared one shoulder.
‘Arm up! Point at Paradise! Terra! Venus!’ commanded Van, and for a few synchronized heartbeats, fitted his working mouth to the hot, humid, perilous hollow.
She sat down with a bump on a chair, pressing one hand to her brow.
‘Turn off the footlights,’ said Van. ‘I want the name of that fellow.’
‘Vinelander,’ she answered.
He heard Ada Vinelander’s voice calling for her Glass bed slippers (which, as in Cordulenka’s princessdom too, he found hard to distinguish from dance footwear), and a minute later, without the least interruption in the established tension, Van found himself, in a drunken dream, making violent love to Rose — no, to Ada, but in the rosacean fashion, on a kind of lowboy. She complained he hurt her ‘like a Tiger Turk.’ He went to bed and was about to doze off for good when she left his side. Where was she going? Pet wanted to see the album.
‘I’ll be back in a rubby,’ she said (tribadic schoolgirl slang), ‘so keep awake. From now on by the way, it’s going to be Chère-amie-fait-morata’ — (play on the generic and specific names of the famous fly) — ‘until further notice.’
‘But no sapphic vorschmacks,’ mumbled Van into his pillow.
‘Oh, Van,’ she said, turning to shake her head, one hand on the opal doorknob at the end of an endless room. ‘We’ve been through that so many times! You admit yourself that I am only a pale wild girl with gipsy hair in a deathless ballad, in a nulliverse, in Rattner’s "menald world" where the only principle is random variation. You cannot demand,’ she continued — somewhere between the cheeks of his pillow (for Ada had long vanished with her blood-brown book) — ‘you cannot demand pudicity on the part of a delphinet! You know that I really love only males and, alas, only one man.’ (2.8)
Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Nikak-s net: Russ., certainly not.
famous fly: see p.109, Serromyia.
Vorschmacks: Germ., hors-d’oeuvres.
In Igor Severyanin (1911), a pastiche by Arlekin (Harlequin, Ivan Ignatiev’s penname), the poet says: “I want to caress your armpit!.. Yes, only your armpit:”
— Медикаменты —
— Не вижу зги!
Твой взгляд вспаляет
Хочу подмышку твою ласкать!..
Да, лишь подмышку.
На шерамыжку, —
Как пса Амишку,
В кровь исхлестать!
In Harlequin’s verses podmyshku (Acc. of podmyshka, “armpit”) rhymes with na sheramyzhku (freebies) and psa Amishku (the dog Ami). The idiom na sheramyzhku and the noun sharomyzhnik (parasite) come from cher ami (“dear friend,” a phrase that was often used by starving French soldiers when they addressed Russian peasants in the cold winter of 1812-13).
Tribadic schoolgirl slang (“I’ll be back in a ruby”) brings to mind berlinskoe kafe “Tribad” (the Berlin café Tribad) mentioned by Severyanin in his poem Grustnaya gnus’ (“A Sad Foulness,” 1923):
Позвал меня один знакомый,
Веселой жизни акробат,
Рокфором городским влекомый,
В берлинское кафэ «Трибад».
Был вечер мглистый и дождливый,
Блестел и лоснился асфальт
С его толпою суетливой.
Мы заказали «Ривезальт».
Смотря на танцы лесбиянок —
Дев в смокингах и пиджачках,
На этих гнусных обезьянок
С животной похотью в зрачках…
И было тошно мне от этой
Столичной мерзости больной,
От этой язвы, разодетой
В сукно и нежный шелк цветной.
Смотря на этот псевдо-лесбос,
На этот цикл карикатур,
Подумал я: «Скорее в лес бы,
В зеленолиственный ажур!»
И церемонно со знакомым
Простясь, я вышел на подъезд,
Уколот городским изломом,
С мечтой: бежать из этих мест.
Severyanin calls his acquaintance who invited him to the Berlin café “Tribad” vesyoloy zhizni akrobat (“the acrobat of merry life”). At the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) calls Van (who performs in variety shows as Mascodagama, dancing a jig and a tango on his hands) “a sensational acrobat:”
‘What was that?’ exclaimed Marina, whom certicle storms terrified even more than they did the Antiamberians of Ladore County.
‘Sheet lightning,’ suggested Van.
‘If you ask me,’ said Demon, turning on his chair to consider the billowing drapery, ‘I’d guess it was a photographer’s flash. After all, we have here a famous actress and a sensational acrobat.’
Ada ran to the window. From under the anxious magnolias a white-faced boy flanked by two gaping handmaids stood aiming a camera at the harmless, gay family group. But it was only a nocturnal mirage, not unusual in July. Nobody was taking pictures except Perun, the unmentionable god of thunder. In expectation of the rumble, Marina started to count under her breath, as if she were praying or checking the pulse of a very sick person. One heartbeat was supposed to span one mile of black night between the living heart and a doomed herdsman, felled somewhere — oh, very far — on the top of a mountain. The rumble came — but sounded rather subdued. A second flash revealed the structure of the French window. (1.38)
Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): certicle: anagram of ‘electric’.
After the L disaster in the beau milieu of the 19th century electricity was banned on Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set). Severyanin is the author of Elektricheskie stikhi ("Electric Verses," 1911), a fact stressed by Harlequin in the subtitle of his pastiche:
Автор электрических и прочих осветительных материалов, то бишь «стихов») «Керосино-калильные (я?!?) поэзы)
A white-faced boy flanked by two gaping handmaid who stands aiming a camera at the harmless, gay family group is Kim Beauharnais, a kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis. His surname seems to hint at Josephine Beauharnais, Napoleon’s first wife who is known on Demonia as “Queen Josephine” (1.5). In his memoir essay Groza v Gertsegovine (“A Thunderstorm in Herzegovina,” 1940) Severyanin says that Colonel Slivinski, who in January, 1931, met him at the railway station in Dubrovnik (Ragusa) and invited him to his Adriatic villa Flora Mira, resembled Napoleon very much:
На дебаркадере вокзала к нам подошел господин среднего роста, очень похожий на Наполеона, и представился нам:
– Полковник ген<ерального> шт<аба> А. В. Сливинский. Узнал из газет, что сегодня утром Вы приезжаете в Дубровник, счел своим долгом Вас и Вашу спутницу встретить и просить оказать мне и моей жене честь остановиться у нас в доме. Мы живем по правому берегу моря в трех километрах отсюда. Моя машина – в Вашем распоряжении.
Мы, конечно, с удовольствием приняли его приглашение. Автомобиль быстро понесся по дивно шоссированной дороге на его дачу «Флора мира».
According to Ada, Vanda Broom (Ada's lesbian schoolmate at Brownhill whom Cordula de Pery calls "a regular tribadka") was shot dead by the girlfriend of a girlfriend on a starry night in Ragusa of all places:
Would she like to stay in this apartment till Spring Term (he thought in terms of Terms now) and then accompany him to Kingston, or would she prefer to go abroad for a couple of months — anywhere, Patagonia, Angola, Gululu in the New Zealand mountains? Stay in this apartment? So, she liked it? Except some of Cordula’s stuff which should be ejected — as, for example, that conspicuous Brown Hill Alma Mater of Almehs left open on poor Vanda’s portrait. She had been shot dead by the girlfriend of a girlfriend on a starry night, in Ragusa of all places. It was, Van said, sad. Little Lucette no doubt had told him about a later escapade? Punning in an Ophelian frenzy on the feminine glans? Raving about the delectations of clitorism? ‘N’exagérons pas, tu sais,’ said Ada, patting the air down with both palms. ‘Lucette affirmed,’ he said, ‘that she (Ada) imitated mountain lions.’
He was omniscient. Better say, omni-incest.
‘That’s right,’ said the other total-recaller.
And, by the way, Grace — yes, Grace — was Vanda’s real favorite, pas petite moi and my little crest. She (Ada) had, hadn’t she, a way of always smoothing out the folds of the past — making the flutist practically impotent (except with his wife) and allowing the gentleman farmer only one embrace, with a premature eyakulyatsiya, one of those hideous Russian loanwords? Yes, wasn’t it hideous, but she’d love to play Scrabble again when they’d settled down for good. But where, how? Wouldn’t Mr and Mrs Ivan Veen do quite nicely anywhere? What about the ‘single’ in each passport? They’d go to the nearest Consulate and with roars of indignation and/or a fabulous bribe have it corrected to married, for ever and ever. (2.6)
It seems that the girlfriend of a girlfriend who shot poor Vanda dead was Ada herself.
Describing the dinner in ‘Ursus,’ Van mentions Flora:
The uha, the shashlik, the Ai were facile and familiar successes; but the old songs had a peculiar poignancy owing to the participation of a Lyaskan contralto and a Banff bass, renowned performers of Russian ‘romances,’ with a touch of heart-wringing tsiganshchina vibrating through Grigoriev and Glinka. And there was Flora, a slender, hardly nubile, half-naked music-hall dancer of uncertain origin (Rumanian? Romany? Ramseyan?) whose ravishing services Van had availed himself of several times in the fall of that year. As a ‘man of the world,’ Van glanced with bland (perhaps too bland) unconcern at her talented charms, but they certainly added a secret bonus to the state of erotic excitement tingling in him from the moment that his two beauties had been unfurred and placed in the colored blaze of the feast before him; and that thrill was somehow augmented by his awareness (carefully profiled, diaphanely blinkered) of the furtive, jealous, intuitive suspicion with which Ada and Lucette watched, unsmilingly, his facial reactions to the demure look of professional recognition on the part of the passing and repassing blyadushka (cute whorelet), as our young misses referred to (very expensive and altogether delightful) Flora with ill-feigned indifference. Presently, the long sobs of the violins began to affect and almost choke Van and Ada: a juvenile conditioning of romantic appeal, which at one moment forced tearful Ada to go and ‘powder her nose’ while Van stood up with a spasmodic sob, which he cursed but could not control. He went back to whatever he was eating, and cruelly stroked Lucette’s apricot-bloomed forearm, and she said in Russian ‘I’m drunk, and all that, but I adore (obozhayu), I adore, I adore, I adore more than life you, you (tebya, tebya), I ache for you unbearably (ya toskuyu po tebe nevïnosimo), and, please, don’t let me swill (hlestat’) champagne any more, not only because I will jump into Goodson River if I can’t hope to have you, and not only because of the physical red thing — your heart was almost ripped out, my poor dushen’ka (‘darling,’ more than ‘darling’), it looked to me at least eight inches long —’
‘Seven and a half,’ murmured modest Van, whose hearing the music impaired.
‘— but because you are Van, all Van, and nothing but Van, skin and scar, the only truth of our only life, of my accursed life, Van, Van, Van.’ (2.8)
Detachedly, merely tactually, as if he had met those two slow-moving, hip-swaying graces only that night, Van, while steering them through a doorway (to meet the sinchilla mantillas that were being rushed toward them by numerous, new, eager, unfairly, inexplicably impecunious, humans), place one palm, the left, on Ada’s long bare back and the other on Lucette’s spine, quite as naked and long (had she meant the lad or the ladder? Lapse of the lisping lips?). Detachedly, he sifted and tasted this sensation, then that. His girl’s ensellure was hot ivory; Lucette’s was downy and damp. He too had had just about his ‘last straw’ of champagne, namely four out of half a dozen bottles minus a rizzom (as we said at old Chose) and now, as he followed their bluish furs, he inhaled like a fool his right hand before gloving it.
‘I say, Veen,’ whinnied a voice near him (there were lots of lechers around), ‘you don’t rally need two, d’you?’
Van veered, ready to cuff the gross speaker — but it was only Flora, a frightful tease and admirable mimic. He tried to give her a banknote, but she fled, bracelets and breast stars flashing a fond farewell. (ibid.)
On the other hand, Colonel Slivinski's villa Flora mira brings to mind Eric Veen's floramors (also known as Villa Venus).