From the Yale Daily News
“Get another boat to put your other foot on in case the writing boat sinks,” Helprin said.
Helprin’s near-death experiences as a young man traveling through Europe were also critical to his development as a writer. When he was about 17, the New York-born Helprin was traveling in Europe. Helprin said he rode a motorcycle to Aix-en-Provence, France to impress a French girl there, even though he had never been on a motorcycle before. She rejected him, he said, and on his way back, he crashed.
“The lesson is: don’t drive a motorcycle when you’re depressed,” Helprin said.
Though badly injured, he made his way back to Marseilles, he said, and collapsed near the USS Robert A. Owens. The crew tried to treat the bloodied and feverish Helprin. “For that reason, I’ve always loved the Navy.” Nevertheless, he was still in poor physical condition. Helprin said he traveled to Switzerland to recover, where he met author Vladimir Nabokov and his wife eating breakfast on the balcony of the hotel where all three were staying.
Helprin, mispronouncing Nabokov’s name, shouted, “Nabokov! Nabokov! Isn’t that amazing, because I’m a writer too!”