NICE, Monday in Holy Week, April, 1891.
We are staying in Nice, on the sea-front. The sun is shining, it is warm, green and fragrant, but windy. An hour’s journey from Nice is the famous Monaco. There is Monte Carlo, where roulette is played. Imagine the rooms of the Hall of Nobility but handsomer, loftier and larger. There are big tables, and on the tables roulette — which I will describe to you when I get home. The day before yesterday I went over there, played and lost. The game is fearfully fascinating. After losing, Suvorin fils and I fell to thinking it over, and thought out a system which would ensure one’s winning. We went yesterday, taking five hundred francs each; at the first staking I won two gold pieces, then again and again; my waistcoat pockets bulged with gold. I had in hand French money even of the year 1808, as well as Belgian, Italian, Greek, and Austrian coins. . . . I have never before seen so much gold and silver. I began playing at five o’clock and by ten I had not a single franc in my pocket, and the only thing left me was the satisfaction of knowing that I had my return ticket to Nice. So there it is, my friends! You will say, of course: “What a mean thing to do! We are so poor, while he out there plays roulette.” Perfectly just, and I give you permission to slay me. But I personally am much pleased with myself. Anyway, now I can tell my grandchildren that I have played roulette, and know the feeling which is excited by gambling.
Beside the Casino where roulette is played there is another swindle — the restaurants. They fleece one frightfully and feed one magnificently. Every dish is a regular work of art, before which one is expected to bow one’s knee in homage and to be too awe-stricken to eat it. Every morsel is rigged out with lots of artichokes, truffles, and nightingales’ tongues of all sorts. And, good Lord! how contemptible and loathsome this life is with its artichokes, its palms, and its smell of orange blossoms! I love wealth and luxury, but the luxury here, the luxury of the gambling saloon, reminds one of a luxurious water-closet. There is something in the atmosphere that offends one’s sense of decency and vulgarizes the scenery, the sound of the sea, the moon.
Yesterday — Sunday — I went to the Russian church here. What was peculiar was the use of palm-branches instead of willows; and instead of boy choristers a choir of ladies, which gives the singing an operatic effect. They put foreign money in the plate; the verger and beadle speak French, and so on. . . .
Of all the places I have been in hitherto Venice has left me the loveliest memories. Rome on the whole is rather like Harkov, and Naples is filthy. And the sea does not attract me, as I got tired of it last November and December.
I feel as though I have been travelling for a whole year. I had scarcely got back from Sahalin when I went to Petersburg, and then to Petersburg again, and to Italy. . . .
If I don’t manage to get home by Easter, when you break the fast, remember me in your prayers, and receive my congratulations from a distance, and my assurance that I shall miss you all horribly on Easter night.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07