I recently looked at Walter Isaacson’s biography of Einstein to see if there was anything about a connection with Proust. Sure enough there was a letter I had never heard of that Proust wrote to a physicist friend in 1921: ‘How I would love to speak to you about Einstein. I do not understand a single word of this theories, not knowing algebra. [Nevertheless] it seems to me we have an analogous ways of deforming Time.’ In understanding Einstein, algebra is the least of it.
I am rereading Proust. If anyone asks why, I tell them the story of Franklin Roosevelt and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Roosevelt paid a visit to the aged Holmes to find him reading Plato in Greek. He asked him why and Holmes replied: ‘To improve my mind, Mr President.’
In one of his recently published letters to his wife, Véra, Nabokov gives yet another version of the legendary encounter between Joyce and Proust in 1922. The various accounts of the meeting (many of them collected in Richard Ellmann’s Life of Joyce) disagree on almost everything, though it probably happened at a party given by the writer Sydney Schiff to celebrate the opening of Stravinsky’s Renard in Paris on 18 May. According to one version of the story, Joyce arrived drunk and poorly dressed; Proust, draped in furs, opened the door.
Doubting my ability to read the words on a box of Russian chocolates the other day – quite unfairly: my Russian may be close to non-existent but you don't need more than a rudimentary grasp of the Cyrillic alphabet to decipher such loanwords as 'coffee', 'chocolate' and 'praline' – the people I was with decided to trust instead to Google's translation service, only to be immediately stumped by the problem of how to type the Russian words. The alphabet question aside, Google Translate is quite a nifty tool. Not only can it work out for itself which language the phrase you'd like to translate is in – I suppose because you may well not know that yourself – but it translates it as you type.