Russian hrip & Cyprian party in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Sun, 07/10/2022 - 17:45

Describing the visit of Alonso (a Spanish architect) to Ardis, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions the Russian ‘hrip’ (Spanish flu) that Uncle Dan (the husband of Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother Marina) had caught:


A gong bronzily boomed on a terrace.

For some odd reason both children were relieved to learn that a stranger was expected to dinner. He was an Andalusian architect whom Uncle Dan wanted to plan an ‘artistic’ swimming pool for Ardis Manor. Uncle Dan had intended to come, too, with an interpreter, but had caught the Russian ‘hrip’ (Spanish flu) instead, and had phoned Marina asking her to be very nice to good old Alonso.

‘You must help me!’ Marina told the children with a worried frown.

‘I could show him a copy, perhaps,’ said Ada, turning to Van, ‘of an absolutely fantastically lovely nature morte by Juan de Labrador of Extremadura — golden grapes and a strange rose against a black background. Dan sold it to Demon, and Demon has promised to give it to me on my fifteenth birthday.’

‘We also have some Zurbarán fruit,’ said Van smugly. ‘Tangerines, I believe, and a fig of sorts, with a wasp upon it. Oh, we’ll dazzle the old boy with shop talk!’

They did not. Alonso, a tiny wizened man in a double-breasted tuxedo, spoke only Spanish, while the sum of Spanish words his hosts knew scarcely exceeded half a dozen. Van had canastilla (a little basket), and nubarrones (thunderclouds), which both came from an en regard translation of a lovely Spanish poem in one of his schoolbooks. Ada remembered, of course, mariposa, butterfly, and the names of two or three birds (listed in ornithological guides) such as paloma, pigeon, or grevol, hazel hen. Marina knew aroma and hombre, and an anatomical term with a ‘j’ hanging in the middle. In consequence, the table-talk consisted of long lumpy Spanish phrases pronounced very loud by the voluble architect who thought he was dealing with very deaf people, and of a smatter of French, intentionally but vainly italianized by his victims. Once the difficult dinner over, Alonso investigated by the light of three torches held by two footmen a possible site for an expensive pool, put the plan of the grounds back into his briefcase, and after kissing by mistake Ada’s hand in the dark, hastened away to catch the last southbound train. (1.6)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): lovely Spanish poem: really two poems — Jorge Guillén’s Descanso en jardin and his El otono: isla).


The Russian word for “flu” is gripp. Hrip means “hoarse voice.” In his epistle Davydovu (“To Davydov,” 1824) Pushkin says that he loves Davydov’s sweet hrip:


Нельзя, мой толстый Аристипп:
Хоть я люблю твои беседы,
Твой милый нрав, твой милый хрип,
Твой вкус и жирные обеды,
Но не могу с тобою плыть
К брегам полуденной Тавриды.
Прошу меня не позабыть,
Любимец Вакха и Киприды!
Когда чахоточный отец
Немного тощей Энеиды
Пускался в море наконец,
Ему Гораций, умный льстец,
Прислал торжественную оду,
Где другу Августов певец
Сулил хорошую погоду.
Но льстивых од я не пишу;
Ты не в чахотке, славу богу:
У неба я тебе прошу
Лишь аппетита на дорогу.


Pushkin calls Davydov lyubimets Vakkha i Kipridy (“a pet of Bacchus and Cypris,” i. e. Aphrodite). Describing Kim Beauharnais’s album, Van mentions a photograph of Alonso, the swimming-pool expert, and tells Ada that he met his sweet sad daughter at a Cyprian party:


 A photograph of an oval painting, considerably diminished, portrayed Princess Sophia Zemski as she was at twenty, in 1775, with her two children (Marina’s grandfather born in 1772, and Demon’s grandmother, born in 1773).

‘I don’t seem to remember it,’ said Van, ‘where did it hang?’

‘In Marina’s boudoir. And do you know who this bum in the frock coat is?’

‘Looks to me like a poor print cut out of a magazine. Who’s he?’

‘Sumerechnikov! He took sumerographs of Uncle Vanya years ago.’

‘The Twilight before the Lumières. Hey, and here’s Alonso, the swimming-pool expert. I met his sweet sad daughter at a Cyprian party — she felt and smelt and melted like you. The strong charm of coincidence.’

‘I’m not interested. Now comes a little boy.’

‘Zdraste, Ivan Dementievich,’ said Van, greeting his fourteen-year-old self, shirtless, in shorts, aiming a conical missile at the marble fore-image of a Crimean girl doomed to offer an everlasting draught of marble water to a dying marine from her bullet-chipped jar. (2.7)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Sumerechnikov: His name comes from Russ., sumerki, twilight; see also p.37.

zdraste: abbrev. form of zdravstvuyte, the ordinary Russian greeting.


Van meets Alonso’s daughter during his first visit to Villa Venus (Eric Veen’s floramors):


I have frequented bordels since my sixteenth year, but although some of the better ones, especially in France and Ireland, rated a triple red symbol in Nugg’s guidebook, nothing about them pre-announced the luxury and mollitude of my first Villa Venus. It was the difference between a den and an Eden.

Three Egyptian squaws, dutifully keeping in profile (long ebony eye, lovely snub, braided black mane, honey-hued faro frock, thin amber arms, Negro bangles, doughnut earring of gold bisected by a pleat of the mane, Red Indian hairband, ornamental bib), lovingly borrowed by Eric Veen from a reproduction of a Theban fresco (no doubt pretty banal in 1420 B.C.), printed in Germany (Künstlerpostkarte Nr. 6034, says cynical Dr Lagosse), prepared me by means of what parched Eric called ‘exquisite manipulations of certain nerves whose position and power are known only to a few ancient sexologists,’ accompanied by the no less exquisite application of certain ointments, not too specifically mentioned in the pornolore of Eric’s Orientalia, for receiving a scared little virgin, the descendant of an Irish king, as Eric was told in his last dream in Ex, Switzerland, by a master of funerary rather than fornicatory ceremonies.

Those preparations proceeded in such sustained, unendurably delicious rhythms that Eric dying in his sleep and Van throbbing with foul life on a rococo couch (three miles south of Bedford) could not imagine how those three young ladies, now suddenly divested of their clothes (a well-known oneirotic device), could manage to draw out a prelude that kept one so long on the very lip of its resolution. I lay supine and felt twice the size I had ever been (senescent nonsense, says science!) when finally six gentle hands attempted to ease la gosse, trembling Adada, upon the terrible tool. Silly pity — a sentiment I rarely experience — caused my desire to droop, and I had her carried away to a feast of peach tarts and cream. The Egypsies looked disconcerted, but very soon perked up. I summoned all the twenty hirens of the house (including the sweet-lipped, glossy chinned darling) into my resurrected presence. After considerable examination, after much flattering of haunches and necks, I chose a golden Gretchen, a pale Andalusian, and a black belle from New Orleans. The handmaids pounced upon them like pards and, having empasmed them with not unlesbian zest, turned the three rather melancholy graces over to me. The towel given me to wipe off the sweat that filmed my face and stung my eyes could have been cleaner. I raised my voice, I had the reluctant accursed casement wrenched wide open. A lorry had got stuck in the mud of a forbidden and unfinished road, and its groans and exertions dissipated the bizarre gloom. Only one of the girls stung me right in the soul, but I went through all three of them grimly and leisurely, ‘changing mounts in midstream’ (Eric’s advice) before ending every time in the grip of the ardent Ardillusian, who said as we parted, after one last spasm (although non-erotic chitchat was against the rules), that her father had constructed the swimming pool on the estate of Demon Veen’s cousin.

It was now all over. The lorry had gone or had drowned, and Eric was a skeleton in the most expensive corner of the Ex cemetery (‘But then, all cemeteries are ex,’ remarked a jovial ‘protestant’ priest), between an anonymous alpinist and my stillborn double. (2.3)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Künstlerpostkarte: Germ., art picture postcards.

la gosse: the little girl.


Btw., Alonso (1831) is a poem by Zhukovski, a loose translation of Ludwig Uhland’s poem Durand (1815). Daniel Veen (Van’s and Ada’s Uncle Dan) is also known as Durak Walter or simply Red Veen:


On April 23, 1869, in drizzly and warm, gauzy and green Kaluga, Aqua, aged twenty-five and afflicted with her usual vernal migraine, married Walter D. Veen, a Manhattan banker of ancient Anglo-Irish ancestry who had long conducted, and was soon to resume intermittently, a passionate affair with Marina. The latter, some time in 1871, married her first lover’s first cousin, also Walter D. Veen, a quite as opulent, but much duller, chap.

The ‘D’ in the name of Aqua’s husband stood for Demon (a form of Demian or Dementius), and thus was he called by his kin. In society he was generally known as Raven Veen or simply Dark Walter to distinguish him from Marina’s husband, Durak Walter or simply Red Veen. Demon’s twofold hobby was collecting old masters and young mistresses. He also liked middle-aged puns. (1.1)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Durak: ‘fool’ in Russian.


Eric Veen (the young author of an essay entitled “Villa Venus: an Organized Dream”) and Red Veen bring to mind Erik the Red (Erik Thorvaldssonc. 950 – c. 1003), a Norse explorer who is said to have founded the first settlement in Greenland.


See also the updated version of my previous post, "splendid Hotel Mirana in Lolita."