The Montreux Palace Hotel was built in an age when it was thought that things would last. It is on the very shores of Switzerland's Lake Geneva, its balconies and iron railings look across the water, its yellow-ocher awnings are a touch of color in the winter light. It is like a great sanitarium or museum. There are Bechstein pianos in the public rooms, a private silver collection, a Salon de Bridge. This is the hotel where the novelist Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov and his wife, Véra, live. They have been here for 14 years. One imagines his large and brooding reflection in the polished glass of bookcases near the reception desk where there are bound volumes of the Illustrated London News from the year 1849 to 1887, copies of Great Expectations, The Chess Games of Greco and a book called Things Past, by the Duchess of Sermoneta.
Though old, the hotel is marvelously kept up and, in certain portions, even modernized. Its business now is mainly conventions and, in the summer, tours, but there is still a thin migration of old clients, ancient couples and remnants of families who ask for certain rooms when they come and sometimes certain maids. For Nabokov, a man who rode as a child on the great European express trains, who had private tutors, estates, and inherited millions which disappeared in the Russian revolution, this is a return to his sources. It is a place to retire to, with Visconti's Mahler and the long-dead figures of La Belle Epoque, Edward VII, d'Annunzio, the munitions kings, where all stroll by the lake and play miniature golf, home at last.