Nabokov on Sunset Blvd.
The subject of an Oscar winning film noir, Sunset Boulevard, is like some majestic river originating in the Downtown Los Angeles, carving a 35 kilometer ribbon through the metropolis, as it flows into the Pacific Ocean. From its banks arise such great civilizations as Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades.
If you are, like many, whose aunts and uncles have come to visit sunny LA from the frosty Midwest, contemplating the best way to show off LA landmarks, an excursion down the famous street, a landmark in and of itself, will not only warm their bones, but their hearts as well. In fact there is enough there to feast ones’ eyes for ten Milwaukees.
The Benjamin Eye Institute has dispatched its local correspondent and paparazzo on yet another exploratory mission down Sunset Boulevard. One such rediscovered jewel was long ago inscribed into the annals of the Sunset Boulevard with golden letters, and it speaks Russian. It’s a bookstore named “Kovcheg”.
Most of us, who long ago have upgraded to the ubiquitous e-readers in the quest to save the planet and its forests, will be surprised to discover a plethora of paper produce both bought and sold. Everywhere we look there is a potpourri of paper souvenirs, reminding us of high culture of yesteryear. Much like Noah’s Ark served as the last refuge for the world’s inhabitants in the Great Flood (a metaphor for emigration?) and made land fall on Mount Ararat, The Kovcheg (Russian for Noah’s Ark) is the last refuge of the now seemingly ancient and great civilization of paper tomes, now guarded by an Armenian proprietor.
In the mid 90’s when yours truly first arrived in Los Angeles, one of his first stops was, of course, the epicenter of Russian culture, Kovcheg the Russian bookstore. There, in a dimly lit corner sat an elderly Armenian proprietor sporting the typical aerodrome-shaped flat cap pulled over his forehead.
– Got anything by Nabokov? I asked.
After inspecting me from head to toe he produced a thoughtful answer:
– Nabokov? No! But, I do have some sheet music of Mozart.
My near-sighted eyes could barely make out a poster over the door behind him: “Russian Pelmeni here!“. Today, after the latest LASIK upgrade, it would be no problem.
Alas, there is no poster anymore. A new era, a new owner, and not even a hint of smell of ravioli in the bookstore. Although, one could find them in a nearby shop, we won’t be going there today.
Text: Arthur Benjamin
Photographer: Sebastian Varo
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