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A lunch with Nabokov

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 16:01 UK time, Thursday, 24 February 2011

Nabokov gave a group of Kazakhs a book and they went off to the seashore.

He leaned over to another pile of books and pulled out a perfectly splendid copy of his Selected Works. It had just been published in Russia.

The book was printed on the best quality glossy paper and the page edges had been artificially burnt off.

I flipped through the book, and told him "I have all these novels in my library".

He handed me another of his books: his saddest: "Take this one then. This is the last thing I wrote". He passes the book onto me, and leaves the room.

At that moment, we are served all sorts of dishes. "Taste the strawberries ..." he says.

Still sitting among the piles of books, my wife and I try the fruit without ceremony.

Nabokov returns and sits at the head of the table.

He pulls a bottle of ruby-red wine out of an ice bucket - not a bottle of Champagne - and begins to eat. How the wine suits him!

A dream headline

You may be thinking what a lucky man this Hamid Ismailov must be if he met the author of the novel Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov.

Alas, I haven't met him, but everything above is true.

I dreamt it.

Once I dreamt that TS Elliot was reciting from his epic poem The Waste Land: "Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves Waited for rain..." .

The sacred river Ganges was sunken and drained? I took the dream to be prophetic. Eliot was trying to tell me that something disturbing was happening in India.

When I woke up, I learnt that Indira Ghandi had been assassinated that day.

I guess dreams play the same role for many of us - we are preoccupied with our daily events.

This is certainly so for me. By day I am a journalist, in the evenings I am a poet and an author and at night my mind combines the two.

For a long time I've thought about compiling a 'Nightly Express': a one-off newspaper that captures the hopes, concerns and anxieties of people which sit deep inside the soul.

And so I asked you to send me your dreams from all over the world.

Dreams... dreams... dreams...

You can see The Nightly Express for yourself: a compilation of dreams from around the world.

I've slotted the dreams into real newspaper layouts from the 1960s.

Looking through what you have sent me, I can see that the themes of the dreams may be different, but there's something which unites all of them - a sense of surprise.

In a dream it's as if we see ourselves and our surrounding in a different, unexpected light.

Not so much as a journalist but as a poet I'm struck by the entertainment value of dreams.

Among the dreams I have received, I have been able to see the fanciful pictures inside people's heads.

The contributions contain vivid mental images that use language that is grammatically correct, but makes no sense "The earth is covered in half-digested tomatoes" or "I gave him my easel to hold up his body".

It's like a bizarre game of consequences where events begin normally and then take a giant leap off on a tangent somewhere unpredictable.

As a poet, I can see some great, if surreal, literary ideas.

There are wonderful protagonists: babies with old faces, an old lady speaking a language you can't understand.

The plot triggers I can see are mostly about inaction - prevarication, helplessness, and misplaced clothes.

Locations are also fluid - one dream takes place in another dimension where there are only smells in another the scene is set in a chaos-cosmic merry go round.

I'm satisfied on the journalistic level too.

It's interesting that among the contributions hardly anyone has offered interpretations - all have just reported "facts" - there's very little analysis.

But one of the contributors did say "not unlike going on holiday, no-one wants to hear your travelogues".

Except that the dreams that I have received are more interesting than travelogues.

And more than just dreams

Nightly Express has also connected people with each other.

One contributor wrote to me:

A friend posted a link to your BBC article on Facebook.

As a result of reading your article, I spoke about it with friends and acquaintances in Berlin.

What resulted was a wonderful exchange - personal stories - people talking about their dreams, and their intuitions and reactions to current local events with each other.

Although most of my friends and acquaintances remain sceptical about the internet, and even articles such as yours (ie, what can you trust on the internet these days?), the result was a multiplication of shared experience "on the ground" between people.

This, to me, is worth more than gold.

It is the stuff of life.

And we must preserve this ability to talk to one another on a personal level.

This is SO important, especially when living "in exile", as I do, as many immigrants do.

Thank you so much for your intuitive initiative.

I wish you well with your project.

So Nabokov's table invites everyone...

Words from a newspaper

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