Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 3, Chapter 1 (annotations forthcoming)

He traveled, he studied, he taught.
He contemplated the pyramids of Ladorah (visited mainly
because of its name) under a full moon that silvered the sands
inlaid with pointed black shadows. He went shooting with the
449.05 British Governor of Armenia, and his niece, on Lake Van. From
a hotel balcony in Sidra his attention was drawn by the manager
to the wake of an orange sunset that turned the ripples of a
lavender sea into goldfish scales and was well worth the price
of enduring the quaintness of the small striped rooms he shared
449.10 with his secretary, young Lady Scramble. On another terrace,
overlooking another fabled bay, Eberthella Brown, the local
Shah’s pet dancer (a naive little thing who thought “baptism
of desire” meant something sexual), spilled her morning coffee
upon noticing a six-inch-long caterpillar, with fox-furred seg-
449.15 ments, qui rampait, was tramping, along the balustrade and
curled up in a swoon when picked up by Van—who for hours,
after removing the beautiful animal to a bush, kept gloomily
plucking itchy bright hairs out of his fingertips with the girl’s
449.20 He learned to appreciate the singular little thrill of following

[ 449 ]

dark byways in strange towns, knowing well that he would
discover nothing, save filth, and ennui, and discarded “merry-
cans” with “Billy” labels, and the jungle jingles of exported jazz
coming from syphilitic cafés. He often felt that the famed cities,
450.05 the museums, the ancient torture house and the suspended gar-
den, were but places on the map of his own madness.
He liked composing his works (Illegible Signatures, 1895;
Clairvoyeurism, 1903; Furnished Space, 1913; The Texture of
Time, begun 1922), in mountain refuges, and in the drawing
450.10 rooms of great expresses, and on the sun decks of white ships,
and on the stone tables of Latin public parks. He would un-
curl out of an indefinitely lengthy trance, and note with wonder
that the ship was going the other way or that the order of his
left-hand fingers was reversed, now beginning, clockwise, with
450.15 his thumb as on his right hand, or that the marble Mercury
that had been looking over his shoulder had been transformed
into an attentive arborvitae. He would realize all at once that
three, seven, thirteen years, in one cycle of separation, and then
four, eight, sixteen, in yet another, had elapsed since he had last
450.20 embraced, held, bewept Ada.
Numbers and rows and series—the nightmare and malediction
harrowing pure thought and pure time—seemed bent on
mechanizing his mind. Three elements, fire, water, and air,
destroyed, in that sequence, Marina, Lucette, and Demon. Terra
450.25 waited.
For seven years, after she had dismissed her life with her
husband, a successfully achieved corpse, as irrelevant, and retired
to her still dazzling, still magically well-staffed Côte d’Azur
villa (the one Demon had once given her), Van’s mother had
450.30 been suffering from various “obscure” illnesses, which every-
body thought she made up, or talentedly simulated, and which
she contended could be, and partly were, cured by willpower.
Van visited her less often than dutiful Lucette, whom he
glimpsed there on two or three occasions; and once, in 1899,

[ 450 ]

he saw, as he entered the arbutus-and-laurel garden of Villa
Armina, a bearded old priest of the Greek persuasion, clad in
neutral black, leaving on a motor bicycle for his Nice parish
near the tennis courts. Marina spoke to Van about religion, and
451.05 Terra, and the Theater, but never about Ada, and just as he
did not suspect she knew everything about the horror and ardor
of Ardis, none suspected what pain in her bleeding bowels she
was trying to allay by incantations, and “self-focusing” or its
opposite device, “self-dissolving.” She confessed with an enig-
451.10 matic and rather smug smile that much as she liked the rhythmic
blue puffs of incense, and the dyakon’s rich growl on the ambon,
and the oily-brown ikon coped in protective filigree to receive
the worshipper’s kiss, her soul remained irrevocably consecrated,
naperekor (in spite of) Dasha Vinelander, to the ultimate wis-
451.15 dom of Hinduism.
Early in 1900, a few days before he saw Marina, for the last
time, at the clinic in Nice (where he learned for the first time
the name of her illness), Van had a “verbal” nightmare, caused,
maybe, by the musky smell in the Miramas (Bouches Rouges-
451.20 du-Rhône) Villa Venus. Two formless fat transparent crea-
tures were engaged in some discussion, one repeating “I can’t!”
(meaning “can’t die”—a difficult procedure to carry out volun-
tarily, without the help of the dagger, the ball, or the bowl),
and the other affirming “You can, sir!” She died a fortnight
451.25 later, and her body was burnt, according to her instructions.
Van, a lucid soul, considered himself less brave morally than
physically. He was always (meaning well into the nineteen-
sixties) to recollect with reluctance, as if wishing to suppress
in his mind a petty, timorous, and stupid deed (for, actually,
451.30 who knows, the later antlers might have been set right then,
with green lamps greening green growths before the hotel
where the Vinelanders stayed) his reacting from Kingston to
Lucette’s cable from Nice (“Mother died this morning the
funeral dash cremation dash is to be held after tomorrow at

[ 451 ]

sundown”) with the request to advise him (“please advise”)
who else would be there, and upon getting her prompt reply
that Demon had already arrived with Andrey and Ada, his
cabling back: “Désolé de ne pouvoir être avec vous.
452.05 He had roamed in Kingston’s Cascadilla Park, in the active
sweet-swarming spring dusk, so much more seraphic than that
flurry of cables. The last time he had seen mummy-wizened
Marina and told her he must return to America (though actually
there was no hurry—only the smell in her hospital room that
452.10 no breeze could dislodge), she had asked, with her new, tender,
myopic, because inward, expression: “Can’t you wait till I’m
gone?”; and his reply had been “I’ll be back on the twenty-fifth.
I have to deliver an address on the Psychology of Suicide”; and
she had said, stressing, now that everything was tripitaka (safely
452.15 packed), the exact kinship: “Do tell them about your silly aunt
Aqua,” whereupon he had nodded, with a smirk, instead of
answering: “Yes, mother,” Hunched up in a last band of low
sun, on the bench where he had recently fondled and fouled a
favorite, lanky, awkward, black girl student, Van tortured him-
452.20 self with thoughts of insufficient filial affection—a long story
of unconcern, amused scorn, physical repulsion, and habitual
dismissal. He looked around, making wild amends, willing her
spirit to give him an unequivocal, and indeed all-deciding sign,
of continued being behind the veil of time, beyond the flesh of
452.25 space. But no response came, not a petal fell on his bench, not
a gnat touched his hand. He wondered what really kept him
alive on terrible Antiterra, with Terra a myth and all art a
game, when nothing mattered any more since the day he slapped
Valerio’s warm bristly cheek; and whence, from what deep
452.30 well of hope, did he still scoop up a shivering star, when every-
thing had an edge of agony and despair, when another man was
in every bedroom with Ada.

[ 452 ]

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