Thirty years ago, when I was a senior in high school, my violin teacher suddenly died. His name was Henryk Kowalski, and you can read about him here. I had been studying with him for four or five years; and I believe I was his last student, his only student, at the time of his death.
He terrified me, he coddled me, he sold me the violin I still play, he told me I should marry his son, he claimed I was wasting my talent.
In Europe and Israel he had been famous, the equal of David Oistrakh, or so other musicians told me. In Providence, Rhode Island, he was a sick old man who wore shorts, brown socks, and plastic sandals and drank hot tea out of a glass. The window shades were always down.
When his wife called our house to say that he had died, I was shocked, I cried, but I was relieved, intensely relieved. He had so many wrong ideas about me. Studying with him was like stepping backward into an archaic Europe populated with with shabby emigre intellectuals, musicians, chess players, cognac drinkers. It was like living in one of Nabokov's Berlin novels. But I didn't know that until later, after I'd read those Berlin novels.