Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025419, Mon, 26 May 2014 19:19:15 -0300

[QUERY] Tetrastes etc. and katrakatra in ADA
While I was searching through Vivian Darkbloom’s index in ADA, exploring the
incidences of the number “four” (as in Marina’s “katrakatra”), I stopped at
this entry:
p.204. Tetrastes etc.: Latin name of the imaginary ‘Peterson’s Grouse’ from
Wind River Range, Wyo.

(I wonder why did Darkbloom stress the “imaginary” aspect of the grouse, or
its designation in Greek through Ada’s dainty pedantry. The pheasant is
first described as a “mountain grouse” #).

In the Wikipedia there’s no explanation for the Greek “tetra” (four), but we
find that Tetrastes is “a genus of birds in the grouse subfamily. It
contains the following species: Hazel Grouse, Tetrastes bonasia; Chinese
Grouse, Tetrastes sewerzowi Both species live in forests with at least some
conifers in cool regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Following Peterson,
Alan P. "Birds of the World -- current valid scientific avian names.” *

I must check in greater detail the context of Darkbloom’s comment on p.204.
in a scene that also brings up Lucette’s exclusion from foursome
Demon,Van,Ada and Marina:
‘I don’t know if you know,’ said Van, resuming his perch on the fat arm of
his father’s chair. ‘Uncle Dan will be here with the lawyer and Lucette only
after dinner.’
‘Capital,’ said Demon.
‘Marina and Ada should be down in a minute — ce sera un dîner à quatre.’
This special dinner promises several links with future events related to the
tense relationship between Demon and his two children and a recurring theme
about their shared birthmarks marks (attention is drawn to the hands but the
marks are on their r/l insteps, too), paraphrasts, sophisticated wines and
cooking, and a lot more…

Related curiosities:
1. “Presently, as Marina had promised, the two children went upstairs. ‘Why
do stairs creak so desperately, when two children go upstairs,’ she thought,
looking up at the balustrade along which two left hands progressed with
strikingly similar flips and glides like siblings taking their first dancing
lesson. ‘After all, we were twin sisters; everybody knows that.’ The same
slow heave, she in front, he behind, took them over the last two steps, and
the staircase was silent again. ‘Old-fashioned qualms,’ said Marina. I/5

2. “Somewhere, further back, much further back, safely transformed by her
screen-corrupted mind into a stale melodrama was her three-year-long period
of hectically spaced love-meetings with Demon, A Torrid Affair […tears,
treachery, terror, an insane sister’s threats, helpless, no doubt, but
leaving their tiger-marks on the drapery of dreams] And the shadow of
retribution on the backwall (with ridiculous legal innuendos). All this was
mere scenery, easily packed, labeled ‘Hell’ and freighted away; and only
very infrequently some reminder would come — say, in the trickwork close-up
of two left hands belonging to different sexes — doing what? Marina could no
longer recall (though only four years had elapsed!) — playing à quatre
mains? — no, neither took piano lessons — casting bunny-shadows on a wall? —
closer, warmer, but still wrong; measuring something? But what? Climbing a
tree? The polished trunk of a tree? But where, when? Someday, she mused,
one’s past must be put in order. Retouched, retaken. Certain ‘wipes’ and
‘inserts’ will have to be made in the picture; certain telltale abrasions in
the emulsion will have to be corrected; ‘dissolves’ in the sequence
discreetly combined with the trimming out of unwanted, embarrassing
‘footage,’ and definite guarantees obtained; yes, someday — before death
with its clap-stick close..”

3. “Her lovely strong legs had, maybe, grown longer [ ] The right instep
and the back of her left hand bore the same small not overconspicuous but
indelible and sacred birthmark, with which nature had signed his right hand
and left foot. She attempted to coat her fingernails with Scheherazade’s
Lacquer …” 1/38

4. Van took a clean handkerchief from a tidy pile in a drawer, an action he
analogized at once by plucking a leaf from a writing pad. It is wonderful
how helpful such repetitive rhythms on the part of coincidental (white,
rectangular) objects can be at such chaotic moments. He wrote a short
aerogram and returned to the parlor. There he found Lucette putting on her
fur coa[ ]‘Good Log!’ exclaimed Van, ‘I had understood we were to meet at
your uncle’s place.’[ ] Then he clattered, in Lucette’s wake, down the
cataract of the narrow staircase, katrakatra (quatre à quatre). Please,
children not katrakatra (Marina).[ ] Neither half-sibling was at her or
his best that day. 2/5

# - The roast hazel-hen (or rather its New World representative, locally
called ‘mountain grouse’) was accompanied by preserved lingonberries
(locally called ‘mountain cranberries’). An especially succulent morsel of
one of those brown little fowls yielded a globule of birdshot between
Demon’s red tongue and strong canine: ‘La fève de Diane,’ he remarked,
placing it carefully on the edge of his plate. ‘How is the car situation,

*- I wonder about the connections bt.the pheasant in ADA and in “Pale
Fire”: “Whose spurred feet have crossed/ From left to right the blank page
of the road?/ Reading from left to right in winter’s code:[ ] A pheasant’s
feet!/ Torquated beauty, sublimated grouse,/ Finding your China right
behind my house.” (PF: in PF we seem to find a “Tetrastes sewerzowi,” the
Chinese grouse and not the other, a Hazel grouse. In ADA this particular
grouse is found in Wyoming…)

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