Lucette's blue trout in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Mon, 06/20/2022 - 17:36

At a lunch with Van in Paris Lucette (in VN’s novel Ada, 1969, Van’s and Ada’s half-sister) pokes with a fork at her blue trout which, to judge by its contorted shape and bulging eyes, had boiled alive, convulsed by awful agonies:

 

She wanted fish, he stuck to cold cuts and salad.

‘You know whom I ran into this morning? Good old Greg Erminin. It was he who told me you were around. His wife est un peu snob, what?’

‘Everybody is un peu snob,’ said Lucette. ‘Your Cordula, who is also around, cannot forgive Shura Tobak, the violinist, for being her husband’s neighbor in the telephone book. Immediately after lunch, we’ll go to my room, a numb twenty-five, my age. I have a fabulous Japanese divan and lots of orchids just supplied by one of my beaux. Ach, Bozhe moy — it has just occurred to me — I shall have to look into this — maybe they are meant for Brigitte, who is marrying after tomorrow, at three-thirty, a head waiter at the Alphonse Trois, in Auteuil. Anyway they are greenish, with orange and purple blotches, some kind of delicate Oncidium, "cypress frogs," one of those silly commercial names. I’ll stretch out upon the divan like a martyr, remember?’

‘Are you still half-a-martyr — I mean half-a-virgin?’ inquired Van.

‘A quarter,’ answered Lucette. ‘Oh, try me, Van! My divan is black with yellow cushions.’

‘You can sit for a minute in my lap.’

‘No — unless we undress and you ganch me.’

‘My dear, as I’ve often reminded you, you belong to a princely family but you talk like the loosest Lucinda imaginable. Is it a fad in your set, Lucette?’

‘I have no set, I’m a loner. Once in a while, I go out with two diplomats, a Greek and an Englishman, who are allowed to paw me and play with each other. A corny society painter is working on my portrait and he and his wife caress me when I’m in the mood. Your friend Dick Cheshire sends me presents and racing tips. It’s a dull life, Van.

‘I enjoy — oh, loads of things,’ she continued in a melancholy, musing tone of voice, as she poked with a fork at her blue trout which, to judge by its contorted shape and bulging eyes, had boiled alive, convulsed by awful agonies. ‘I love Flemish and Dutch oils, flowers, food, Flaubert, Shakespeare, shopping, sheeing, swimming, the kisses of beauties and beasts — but somehow all of it, this sauce and all the riches of Holland, form only a kind of tonen’kiy-tonen’kiy (thin little) layer, under which there is absolutely nothing, except, of course, your image, and that only adds depth and a trout’s agonies to the emptiness. I’m like Dolores — when she says she’s "only a picture painted on air."’

‘Never could finish that novel — much too pretentious.’

‘Pretentious but true. It’s exactly my sense of existing — a fragment, a wisp of color. Come and travel with me to some distant place, where there are frescoes and fountains, why can’t we travel to some distant place with ancient fountains? By ship? By sleeping car?’

‘It’s safer and faster by plane,’ said Van. ‘And for Log’s sake, speak Russian.’ (3.3)

 

In his poem Pied Beauty (1877) Hopkins mentions rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim:

 

Glory be to God for dappled things –

   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

 

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

                                Praise him.

 

On Admiral Tobakoff Lucette tells Van that she would consider herself a pied cheat if the small parts she conceals in public were not of the same color as those on show:

 

They met again in the afternoon.

To most of the Tobakoff’s first-class passengers the afternoon of June 4, 1901, in the Atlantic, on the meridian of Iceland and the latitude of Ardis, seemed little conducive to open air frolics: the fervor of its cobalt sky kept being cut by glacial gusts, and the wash of an old-fashioned swimming pool rhythmically flushed the green tiles, but Lucette was a hardy girl used to bracing winds no less than to the detestable sun. Spring in Fialta and a torrid May on Minataor, the famous artificial island, had given a nectarine hue to her limbs, which looked lacquered with it when wet, but re-evolved their natural bloom as the breeze dried her skin. With glowing cheekbones and that glint of copper showing from under her tight rubber cap on nape and forehead, she evoked the Helmeted Angel of the Yukonsk Ikon whose magic effect was said to change anemic blond maidens into konskie deti, freckled red-haired lads, children of the Sun Horse.

She returned after a brief swim to the sun terrace where Van lay and said:

‘You can’t imagine’ — (‘I can imagine anything,’ he insisted) — ‘you can imagine, okay, what oceans of lotions and streams of creams I am compelled to use — in the privacy of my balconies or in desolate sea caves — before I can exhibit myself to the elements. I always teeter on the tender border between sunburn and suntan — or between lobster and Obst as writes Herb, my beloved painter — I’m reading his diary published by his last duchess, it’s in three mixed languages and lovely, I’ll lend it to you. You see, darling, I’d consider myself a pied cheat if the small parts I conceal in public were not of the same color as those on show.’

‘You looked to me kind of sandy allover when you were inspected in 1892,’ said Van.

‘I’m a brand-new girl now,’ she whispered. ‘A happy new girl. Alone with you on an abandoned ship, with ten days at least till my next flow. I sent you a silly note to Kingston, just in case you didn’t turn up.’

They were now reclining on a poolside mat face to face, in symmetrical attitudes, he leaning his head on his right hand, she propped on her left elbow. The strap of her green breast-cups had slipped down her slender arm, disclosing drops and streaks of water at the base of one nipple. An abyss of a few inches separated the jersey he wore from her bare midriff, the black wool of his trunks from her soaked green pubic mask. The sun glazed her hipbone; a shadowed dip led to the five-year-old trace of an appendectomy. Her half-veiled gaze dwelt upon him with heavy, opaque greed, and she was right, they were really quite alone, he had possessed Marion Armborough behind her uncle’s back in much more complex circumstances, what with the motorboat jumping like a flying fish and his host keeping a shotgun near the steering wheel. Joylessly, he felt the stout snake of desire weightily unwind; grimly, he regretted not having exhausted the fiend in Villa Venus. He accepted the touch of her blind hand working its way up his thigh and cursed nature for having planted a gnarled tree bursting with vile sap within a man’s crotch. Suddenly Lucette drew away, exhaling a genteel ‘merde.’ Eden was full of people.

They were now reclining on a poolside mat face to face, in symmetrical attitudes, he leaning his head on his right hand, she propped on her left elbow. The strap of her green breast-cups had slipped down her slender arm, disclosing drops and streaks of water at the base of one nipple. An abyss of a few inches separated the jersey he wore from her bare midriff, the black wool of his trunks from her soaked green pubic mask. The sun glazed her hipbone; a shadowed dip led to the five-year-old trace of an appendectomy. Her half-veiled gaze dwelt upon him with heavy, opaque greed, and she was right, they were really quite alone, he had possessed Marion Armborough behind her uncle’s back in much more complex circumstances, what with the motorboat jumping like a flying fish and his host keeping a shotgun near the steering wheel. Joylessly, he felt the stout snake of desire weightily unwind; grimly, he regretted not having exhausted the fiend in Villa Venus. He accepted the touch of her blind hand working its way up his thigh and cursed nature for having planted a gnarled tree bursting with vile sap within a man’s crotch. Suddenly Lucette drew away, exhaling a genteel ‘merde.’ Eden was full of people.

Two half-naked children in shrill glee came running toward the pool. A Negro nurse brandished their diminutive bras in angry pursuit. Out of the water a bald head emerged by spontaneous generation and snorted. The swimming coach appeared from the dressing room. Simultaneously, a tall splendid creature with trim ankles and repulsively fleshy thighs, stalked past the Veens, all but treading on Lucette’s emerald-studded cigarette case. Except for a golden ribbon and a bleached mane, her long, ripply, beige back was bare all the way down to the tops of her slowly and lusciously rolling buttocks, which divulged, in alternate motion, their nether bulges from under the lamé loincloth. Just before disappearing behind a rounded white corner, the Titianesque Titaness half-turned her brown face and greeted Van with a loud ‘hullo!’

Lucette wanted to know: kto siya pava? (who’s that stately dame?)

‘I thought she addressed you,’ answered Van, ‘I did not distinguish her face and do not remember that bottom,’

‘She gave you a big jungle smile,’ said Lucette, readjusting her green helmet, with touchingly graceful movements of her raised wings, and touchingly flashing the russet feathering of her armpits.

‘Come with me, hm?’ she suggested, rising from the mat.

He shook his head, looking up at her: ‘You rise,’ he said, ‘like Aurora,’

‘His first compliment,’ observed Lucette with a little cock of her head as if speaking to an invisible confidant.

He put on his tinted glasses and watched her stand on the diving board, her ribs framing the hollow of her intake as she prepared to ardis into the amber. He wondered, in a mental footnote that might come handy some day, if sunglasses or any other varieties of vision, which certainly twist our concept of ‘space,’ do not also influence our style of speech. The two well-formed lassies, the nurse, the prurient merman, the natatorium master, all looked on with Van.

‘Second compliment ready,’ he said as she returned to his side. ‘You’re a divine diver. go in with a messy plop.’

‘But you swim faster,’ she complained, slipping off her shoulder straps and turning into a prone position; ‘Mezhdu prochim (by the way), is it true that a sailor in Tobakoff’s day was not taught to swim so he wouldn’t die a nervous wreck if the ship went down?’

‘A common sailor, perhaps,’ said Van. ‘When michman Tobakoff himself got shipwrecked off Gavaille, he swam around comfortably for hours, frightening away sharks with snatches of old songs and that sort of thing, until a fishing boat rescued him — one of those miracles that require a minimum of cooperation from all concerned, I imagine,’

Demon, she said, had told her, last year at the funeral, that he was buying an island in the Gavailles (‘incorrigible dreamer,’ drawled Van). He had ‘wept like a fountain’ in Nice, but had cried with even more abandon in Valentina, at an earlier ceremony, which poor Marina did not attend either. The wedding — in the Greek-faith style, if you please — looked like a badly faked episode in an ‘old movie, the priest was gaga and the dyakon drunk, and — perhaps, fortunately — Ada’s thick white veil was as impervious to light as a widow’s weeds. Van said he would not listen to that.

‘Oh, you must,’ she rejoined, ‘hotya bï potomu (if only because) one of her shafer’s (bachelors who take turns holding the wedding crown over the bride’s head) looked momentarily, in impassive profile and impertinent attitude (he kept raising the heavy metallic venets too high, too athletically high as if trying on purpose to keep it as far as possible from her head), exactly like you, like a pale, ill-shaven twin, delegated by you from wherever you were,’

At a place nicely called Agony, in Terra del Fuego. He felt an uncanny tingle as he recalled that when he received there the invitation to the wedding (airmailed by the groom’s sinister sister) he was haunted for several nights by dream after dream, growing fainter each time (much as her movie he was to pursue from flick-house to flick-house at a later stage of his life) of his holding that crown over her.

‘Your father,’ added Lucette, ‘paid a man from Belladonna to take pictures — but of course, real fame begins only when one’s name appears in that cine-magazine’s crossword puzzle. We all know it will never happen, never! Do you hate me now?’

‘I don’t,’ he said, passing his hand over her sun-hot back and rubbing her coccyx to make pussy purr. ‘Alas, I don’t! I love you with a brother’s love and maybe still more tenderly. Would you like me to order drinks?’

‘I’d like you to go on and on,’ she muttered, her nose buried in the rubber pillow.

‘There’s that waiter coming. What shall we have — Honoloolers?’

‘You’ll have them with Miss Condor’ (nasalizing the first syllable) ‘when I go to dress. For the moment I want only tea. Mustn’t mix drugs and drinks. Have to take the famous Robinson pill sometime tonight. Sometime tonight.’

‘Two teas, please.’

‘And lots of sandwiches, George. Foie gras, ham, anything.’

‘It’s very bad manners,’ remarked Van, ‘to invent a name for a poor chap who can’t answer: "Yes, Mademoiselle Condor." Best Franco-English pun I’ve ever heard, incidentally.’

‘But his name is George. He was awfully kind to me yesterday when I threw up in the middle of the tearoom.’

‘For the sweet all is sweet,’ murmured Van.

‘And so were the old Robinsons,’ she rambled on. ‘Not much chance, is there, they might turn up here? They’ve been sort of padding after me, rather pathetically, ever since we happened to have lunch at the same table on the boat-train, and I realized who they were but was sure they would not recognize the little fat girl seen in eighteen eighty-five or -six, but they are hypnotically talkative — at first we thought you were French, this salmon is really delicious, what’s your home town? — and I’m a weak fool, and one thing led to another. Young people are less misled by the passage of time than the established old who have not much changed lately and are not used to the long-unseen young changing.'

‘That’s very clever, darling,’ said Van ‘— except that time itself is motionless and changeless.’

‘Yes, it’s always in your lap and the receding road. Roads move?’

‘Roads move.’ (3.5)

 

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Obst: Germ., fruit.

I love you with a brother’s love etc.: see Eugene Onegin, Four: XVI: 3-4.

 

One of Gerard Manley Hopkins' uncles was Charles Gordon Hopkins, a politician of the Hawaiian Kingdom.