To Véra

FAMILY TREE (click image below to enlarge; this link will open the larger image in a new browser window)

With the exception of Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Oranger,
a few incidental figures,
and some non-American citizens, all the persons
mentioned by name in this book are dead.


1 (view annotations)

"All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy
ones are more or less alike," says a great Russian writer in the
beginning of a famous novel (Anna Arkadievitch Karenina,
transfigured into English by R.G. Stonelower, Mount Tabor
3.05 Ltd., 1880). That pronouncement has little if any relation to
the story to be unfolded now, a family chronicle, the first part
of which is, perhaps, closer to another Tolstoy work, Detstvo i
Otrochestvo (Childhood and Fatherland, Pontius Press, 1858).
Van's maternal grandmother Daria ("Dolly") Durmanov
3.10 was the daughter of Prince Peter Zemski, Governor of Bras
d'Or, an American province in the Northeast of our great and
variegated country, who had married, in 1824, Mary O'Reilly,
an Irish woman of fashion. Dolly, an only child, born in Bras,
married in 1840, at the tender and wayward age of fifteen,
3.15 General Ivan Durmanov, Commander of Yukon Fortress and
peaceful country gentleman, with lands in the Severn Tories
(Severnïya Territorii), that tesselated protectorate still lovingly
called "Russian" Estoty, which commingles, granoblastically
and organically, with "Russian" Canady, otherwise "French"
3.20 Estoty, where not only French, but Macedonian and Bavarian
settlers enjoy a halcyon climate under our Stars and Stripes.

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The Durmanovs' favorite domain, however, was Raduga near
the burg of that name, beyond Estotiland proper, in the Atlantic
panel of the continent between elegant Kaluga, New Cheshire,
U.S.A., and no less elegant Ladoga, Mayne, where they had
4.05 their town house and where their three children were born:
a son, who died young and famous, and a pair of difficult female
twins. Dolly had inherited her mother's beauty and temper but
also an older ancestral strain of whimsical, and not seldom de-
plorable, taste, well reflected, for instance, in the names she
4.10 gave her daughters: Aqua and Marina ("Why not Tofana?"
wondered the good and sur-royally antlered general with a
controlled belly laugh, followed by a small closing cough of
feigned detachment—he dreaded his wife's flares).
On April 23, 1869, in drizzly and warm, gauzy and green
4.15 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
4.20 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
4.25 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.
Daniel Veen's mother was a Trumbell, and he was prone to
4.30 explain at great length—unless sidetracked by a bore-baiter—
how in the course of American history an English "bull" had
become a New England "bell." Somehow or other he had
"gone into business" in his twenties and had rather rankly
grown into a Manhattan art dealer. He did not have—initially

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at least—any particular liking for paintings, had no aptitude for
any kind of salesmanship, and no need whatever to jolt with
the ups and down of a 'job' the solid fortune inherited from
a series of far more proficient and venturesome Veens. Con-
5.05 fessing that he did not much care for the countryside, he spent
only a few carefully shaded summer weekends at Ardis, his
magnificent manor near Ladore. He had revisited only a few
times since his boyhood another estate he had, up north on
Lake Kitezh, near Luga, comprising, and practically consisting
5.10 of, that large, oddly rectangular though quite natural body of
water which a perch he had once clocked took half an hour to
cross diagonally and which he owned jointly with his cousin,
a great fisherman in his youth.
Poor Dan's erotic life was neither complicated nor beautiful,
5.15 but somehow or other (he soon forgot the exact circumstances
as one forgets the measurements and price of a fondly made
topcoat worn on and off for at least a couple of seasons) he fell
comfortably in love with Marina, whose family he had known
when they still had their Raduga place (later sold to Mr. Eliot,
5.20 a Jewish businessman). One afternoon in the spring of 1871,
he proposed to Marina in the Up elevator of Manhattan's first
ten-floor building, was indignantly rejected at the seventh stop
(Toys), came down alone and, to air his feelings, set off in a
counter-Fogg direction on a triple trip round the globe, adopt-
5.25 ing, like an animated parallel, the same itinerary every time. In
November 1871, as he was in the act of making his evening
plans with the same smelly but nice cicerone in a café-au-lait
suit whom he had hired already twice at the same Genoese
hotel, an aerocable from Marina (forwarded with a whole
5.30 week's delay via his Manhattan office which had filed it away
through a new girl's oversight in a dove hole marked RE AMOR)
arrived on a silver salver telling him she would marry him upon
his return to America.
According to the Sunday supplement of a newspaper that

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had just begun to feature on its funnies page the now long
defunct Goodnight Kids, Nicky and Pimpernella (sweet sib-
lings who shared a narrow bed), and that had survived with
other old papers in the cockloft of Ardis Hall, the Veen-
6.05 Durmanov wedding took place on St Adelaida's Day, 1871.
Twelve years and some eight months later, two naked children,
one dark-haired and tanned, the other dark-haired and milk-
white, bending in a shaft of hot sunlight that slanted through
the dormer window under which the dusty cartons stood, hap-
6.10 pened to collate that date (December 16, 1871) with another
(August 16, same year) anachronistically scrawled in Marina's
hand across the corner of a professional photograph (in a
raspberry-plush frame on her husband's kneehole library table)
identical in every detail—including the commonplace sweep of
6.15 a bride's ectoplasmic veil, partly blown by a parvis breeze
athwart the groom's trousers—to the newspaper reproduction.
A girl was born on July 21, 1872, at Ardis, her putative father's
seat in Ladore County, and for some obscure mnemonic reason
was registered as Adelaida. Another daughter, this time Dan's
6.20 very own, followed on January 3, 1876.
Besides that old illustrated section of the still existing but
rather gaga Kaluga Gazette, our frolicsome Pimpernel and
Nicolette found in the same attic a reel box containing what
turned out to be (according to Kim, the kitchen boy, as will
6.25 be understood later) a tremendous stretch of microfilm taken
by the globetrotter, with many of its quaint bazaars, painted
cherubs and pissing urchins reappearing three times at different
points, in different shades of heliocolor. Naturally, at a time
one was starting to build a family one could not display very
6.30 well certain intérieurs (such as the group scenes in Damascus
starring him and the steadily-smoking archeologist from
Arkansas with the fascinating scar on his liver side, and the
three fat whores, and old Archie's premature squitteroo, as the
third male member of the party, a real British brick, drolly

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called it); yet most of the film, accompanied by purely factual
notes, not always easy to locate—because of the elusive or mis-
leading bookmarks in the several guidebooks scattered around—
was run by Dan many times for his bride during their instructive
7.05 honeymoon in Manhattan.
The two kids' best find, however, came from another carton
in a lower layer of the past. This was a small green album with
neatly glued flowers that Marina had picked or otherwise ob-
tained at Ex, a mountain resort, not far from Brig, Switzerland,
7.10 where she had sojourned before her marriage, mostly in a
rented chalet. The first twenty pages were adorned with a
number of little plants collected at random, in August, 1869,
on the grassy slopes above the chalet, or in the park of the
Hotel Florey, or in the garden of the sanatorium near it ("my
7.15 nusshaus," as poor Aqua dubbed it, or "the Home," as Marina
more demurely identified it in her locality notes). Those intro-
ductory pages did not present much botanical or psychological
interest; and the fifty last pages or so remained blank; but the
middle part, with a conspicuous decrease in number of speci-
7.20 mens, proved to be a regular little melodrama acted out by the
ghosts of dead flowers. The specimens were on one side of the
folio, with Marina Dourmanoff (sic)'s notes en regard.
Ancolie Bleue des Alpes, Ex en Valais, i.IX.69. From English-
man in hotel. "Alpine Columbine, color of your eyes."
7.25 Epervière auricule. 25.X.69, Ex, ex Dr. Lapiner's walled alpine
Golden [ginkgo] leaf: fallen out of a book "The Truth about
Terra" which Aqua gave me before going back to her Home.
7.30 Artificial edelweiss brought by my new nurse with a note
from Aqua saying it came from a "mizernoe and bizarre"
Christmas Tree at the Home. 25.XII.69.
Petal of orchid, one of 99 orchids, if you please, mailed to

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me yesterday, Special Delivery, c'est bien le cas de le dire, from
Villa Armina, Alpes Maritimes. Have laid aside ten for Aqua to
be taken to her at her Home. Ex en Valais, Switzerland. "Snow-
ing in Fate's crystal ball," as he used to say. (Date erased.)
8.05 Gentiane de Koch, rare, brought by lapochka [darling] La-
piner from his "mute gentiarium" 5.I.1870.
[blue-ink blot shaped accidentally like a flower, or improved
felt-pen deletion] (Compliquaria compliquata var. aquamarina.
Ex, 15.I.70.
8.10 Fancy flower of paper, found in Aqua's purse. Ex, 16.II.1870,
made by a fellow patient, at the Home, which is no longer hers.
Gentiana verna (printanière). Ex, 28.III.1870, on the lawn of
my nurse's cottage. Last day here.
The two young discoverers of that strange and sickening
8.15 treasure commented upon it as follows:
"I deduce," said the boy, "three main facts: that not yet
married Marina and her married sister hibernated in my lieu de
naissance; that Marina had her own Dr. Krolik, pour ainsi dire;
and that the orchids came from Demon who preferred to stay
8.20 by the sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother."
"I can add," said the girl, "that the petal belongs to the com-
mon Butterfly Orchis; that my mother was even crazier than
her sister; and that the paper flower so cavalierly dismissed is a
perfectly recognizable reproduction of an early-spring sanicle
8.25 that I saw in profusion on hills in coastal California last Feb-
ruary. Dr. Krolik, our local naturalist, to whom you, Van,
have referred, as Jane Austen might have phrased it, for the
sake of rapid narrative information (you recall Brown, don't
you, Smith?), has determined the example I brought back from
8.30 Sacramento to Ardis, as the Bear-Foot, B,E,A,R, my love, not
my foot or yours, or the Stabian flower girl'san allusion,
which your father, who, according to Blanche, is also mine,
would understand like this" (American finger-snap). "You will

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be grateful," she continued, embracing him, "for my not men-
tioning its scientific name. Incidentally the other foot—the Pied
de Lion from that poor little Christmas larch, is by the same
hand—possibly belonging to a very sick Chinese boy who came
9.05 all the way from Barkley College."
"Good for you, Pompeianella (whom you saw scattering her
flowers in one of Uncle Dan's picture books, but whom I ad-
mired last summer in a Naples museum). Now don't you think
we should resume our shorts and shirts and go down, and bury
9.10 or burn this album at once, girl. Right?
"Right," answered Ada. "Destroy and forget. But we still
have an hour before tea."
Re the "dark-blue" allusion, left hanging:
A former viceroy of Estoty, Prince Ivan Temnosiniy, father
9.15 of the children's great-great-grandmother, Princess Sofia Zemski
(1755-1809), and a direct descendant of the Yaroslav rulers of
pre-Tartar times, had a millennium-old name that meant in Rus-
sian 'dark blue.' While happening to be immune to the sumptu-
ous thrills of genealogic awareness, and indifferent to the fact
9.20 that oafs attribute both the aloofness and the fervor to snob-
bishness, Van could not help feeling esthetically moved by the
velvet background he was always able to distinguish as a com-
forting, omnipresent summer sky through the black foliage of
the family tree. In later years he had never been able to reread
9.25 Proust (as he had never been able to enjoy again the perfumed
gum of Turkish paste) without a roll-wave of surfeit and a
rasp of gravelly heartburn; yet his favorite purple passage re-
mained the one concerning the name "Guermantes," with whose
hue his adjacent ultramarine merged in the prism of his mind,
9.30 pleasantly teasing Van's artistic vanity.
Hue or who? Awkward. Reword! (marginal note in Ada
Veen's late hand).

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(forward to Part One, Chapter 2)

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