Vladimir Nabokov

A Little Latin From Manhattan

by Peter Lubin

Ada, by Vladimir Nabokov, was much reviewed when it first came out. Some influence-peddling reviewers spoke of the thematic or stylistic links to Proust, to Joyce, to Gogol. They were not wrong. He, too, built on a droplet and a crumb the edifice of memory. Longtemps, il s’est promené avec Marcel sur l’alloinde. He had jaunted and jarveyed with Jimmy Joyce. Like Gogol, he has always respected flowers that grow by themselves on a grave. In later life, he began to pay more attention to the flowers he found while lepping in Montreux, Quivira, and Estotiland. So should we.

Cattleya proustii is but one curious orchid found along the chivalrous rivages of that French author’s romany fleuve. Another, the “hazy orchid,” Disa nattochdagii von Rehausen -- a  favorite flower of cardplaying Russian poets, found only at Engelbrekt Point on the Swedish island of Goksholm, distributes its petals and sepals in Pale Fire.

Ada is a plush garden of Oncidium, Ophrys, and its namesake genus. Of balanic interest to the reader is a newly-identified species. "Don’t you remember (ne pomnish' li ty) that Night of the Burning Pintle, when nous y faisions vanda and your cross was my drain?” as Van might have recalled a most effable tower. Vanda nabokovii, congeneric with Vanda fulva R.Br. (no relation, I’m afraid, to the author of the great St. Petersburg poem “Porphyria’s Lover”) is supplied with a trilingual description of several hundred pages in English, French, and Russian. The reader now expects the requisite Latin diagnosis. Take it quick!

Vanda nabokovii sp. nov.

Flores saepissime bini, aliquando ternis organis femineis duplicibus, arcte implicati, appressi, sub starto foliorum toraliformi celati. Extremitates superiores: duo petala omni non longiore quam ulna, aliquantulum implicata, necnon inter utrumque par protuberatio centralis capitata oriens, supra capillifera, pilis nitidis levibus coracinusque, infra eburnea. Extremitates inferiores: duo sepala omni in flore, trium pedum plus minusve attingens, omnibus quattuor sepalis arcte contortuplicatis, sine spatio crassitudinis pennae cygneae. Sepala petalaque aestate fulva, hieme eburnea, venis omnino caeruleis. Labia unius flora aperta, rosea, rugosa, ca. duo uncialia longitudine; intus alterum per labiorum minus; stigma rosea; intra par interius labiorum, dimidia uncia ab extremitate superiore projectio rotunda balaniformis carnosa necnon rosea, 3/8 unciae diametro, 1/4 unciae longitudine. Utraque superficies labii exterior piliformis ad marginem. Flos alter: columna carnosa glabraque, balaniformis una in extremitate; basim versus leniter dilatate, venis caeruleis procata , flaccida carnea;  longitudine usque ad 7 uncias; frequenter erecta, ad purpuream colore tendens. Haec columna unius floris intra labia alterius profunde inserta; anthera columnae intromittentis stigma alterius contingens. Volubilis nunc dextrorsum, nunc sinistrorum. (Interdum planta femineas duplices, plus minusve easdem, nisi capillus alterius niger, alterius rutilans habet.) Fructus, conditione supra dicta contempta, ob sterilitatem partis masculi non effectus.

Habitatio: antiterrestriali, domestica feraque, in montibus vallibusque, in desertis atque prope maribus, breviter, ubique; praecipue, autem, ad quercum magnam, super collem, prope castellum, juxta flumen Ladore dictum.