Nabokov Events in Montreux
a personal account by Lara Delage-Toriel

The Nabokov Monument in Montreux; photo by Lara Delage-TorielI had come to Montreux for the day--not any old day of course: it was Friday, April 23rd. I began by dutifully going to visit the Nabokovs' tomb at Clarens, in a cemetery which commands a fine view of Lac Léman. I then went to the Montreux Palace Hotel, which was showing the Munich exhibition curated by Daniela Rippl entitled "Les Yeux du Papillon" (The Eyes of the Butterfly). Among the usual paraphernalia one would expect at such exhibitions--Nabokov's books, butterflies, microscope, chessboard, birth certificate, Nansen passport, diaries, photographs and an extensive chronology, all framed by an ingenious set-up of mirror-effects, shaded lighting and superimpositions--I was especially interested in a large display of index cards preparatory to Nabokov's book on butterflies in art, with the corresponding miniaturized paintings placed en regard. On the same wall, an impressive map of America retraced the famous 150,000-mile itinerary which the Nabokovs covered from 1948 to 1949, cutting through butterfly-shaded states with their Plymouth or Oldsmobile (Nabokov said Plymouth, Vera said Olds).

The second exhibition I saw was displayed in the Musée du Vieux Montreux, a charming old house a world away from the Palace and its Strauss-resounding cold elegance. The exhibition, which runs until October 31st, 1999, and which is curated by three women art history students from Lausanne, is entitled "Nabokov et Montreux: entre écriture et papillons." This exhibition had a more abundant display of butterflies, along with Nabokov's net and boots (there is a lovely photograph of him returning from a butterfly-chase, obviously hot and sweaty, resting with his net on a very boudoir-style seat against one of the Palace's stuccoed walls), and other belongings, such as his lectern and armchair, numerous photographs by Horst Tappe, a CD with recorded interviews in French, in one of which Nabokov says about Ada: "Il traite de l'amour au coucher de soleil, passioné, tempetueux, plein d'espoir, avec des hirondelles qui passent comme des flèches derrière les vitraux colorés, et de ce frémissement radieux..." (It deals with sunset love, passionate, tempestuous, full of hope, with swallows passing like arrows behind stained-glass windows, and with this radiant quiver...). In one room was shown an hour-long interview with Bernard Pivot for the French literary program "Apostrophes." It is a masterpiece of deceptive mise-en-scene, Pivot acting as manservant regularly replenishing master Nabokov's cup with whisky from a teapot (the subterfuge is revealed in an interview of Pivot exhibited in the same room), while Nabokov conceals his notes behind a totally unconvincing although elaborate construction of books--his own of course.

I then returned to the Montreux Palace to hear the speeches and the recital which were to precede the unveiling of the "Nabokov Monument." The series of speeches that followed one another to the steady accompaniment of camera flashes seemed like a vast and rather comic entreprise of monumentalization--the heftiness of the term could not be more appropriate; there was the UN representative's address trying to situate Nabokov the artist in today's world, there was the younger sculptor's visionary hymn to the soul of eternal and all-encompassing Sirin (not once did I hear him pronounce Nabokov's real name), and there was the Mayor of Moscow representative's attempts at 'nationalizing' him. In the midst of such platitudinous pontifications, Dmitri Nabokov's touching recollections of his mother sounded quite off-key.

After the recital (a young Petersburgian pianist, Margarita Chablovskaia, playing Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Wienyavsky to the accompaniment of a violonist whose name didn't make it to the program), Dmitri Nabokov unveiled the statue of his father, seeming quite satisfied with the Rukavishnikovs' (father & son) work, despite the knickerbockers.

The sculptors, Rukavishnikov father and son, and Dmitri Nabokov, with the VN monument
The sculptors, Rukavishnikov father and son, and Dmitri Nabokov, with the VN monument. (Photo by Lara Delage-Toriel)

Photographer Valentin Blank's images of the VN monument are available at

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