Although the Maestro, and this Maestro in particular, would have been incensed by a glimpse of an unshod musician, I was
able, standing in the back with the four other basses, to perform in stocking feet by slipping off my shoes, the laces having
been only loosely tied, while we tuned. I liked to feel my feet in contact with the floor. The resonance was better, and the sound, like a rising column of warm liquid, seemed to travel up through the plants of my feet through the chakras: root, orange, solar plexus, heart, throat, brow, crown, the height of its attainment dependent upon the music (Brahms--low, Bach--high) and the quality of the performance. Besides the obvious risk of my shoelessness being noticed, there was the subtler danger of splinters, especially before the advent of stops, when the double-bassists and cellists would take great pains in sharpening their endpins and seating them firmly in the wood at their feet. (This surreptitiously, prior to the concert, and despite the threat of fines from the theater manager and punishment from the orchestra director.) Most such holes were small and harmless. Larger ones, made by the bassists (one of my teachers used to carry a small penknife so as to gouge a socket for his endpin) were treacherous punctures rimmed by starbursts of splinters. A corollary difficulty was posed by floors too recently refinished or waxed. One stage in Munich (fastidious Teutons!) had been cleaned with furniture polish and was so slick in spots that I found myself, during a particularly vigorous arco section of Schubert's third symphony, sliding away from the instrument in front of me, while the eyes of the person next to me, principal Manfred Fredmann, got bigger and bigger, as if I were performing some stunning act of horizontal levitation, if that makes any sense.
During April of 1978 we were touring Switzerland, with a stop at Montreux on the 23rd. I liked the town, the view of the Alps across the lake, the plash of the small waves against the rocks below the promenade, the old ladies with their diamonds and toy dogs. The acoustics of Stravinski Hall, however, were unspectacular, and I left early while the soloists continued to rehearse for the evening's performance. Crossing the Grand Rue, I realized with a blend of surprise and amusement that I was still barefoot, and remarked with pleasure the warmth of the tarmac against my tired feet. Still staring with wonderment earthward, I narrowly avoided being struck by a small red car, its insect engine whining officiously, as it sped too quickly past. The sky was a celestial blue studded with indigo clouds, the sounds around me were clarion clear, looking heavenward I feel momentarily and deliciously woozy, like awaking from anesthesia into the gauzy glare of the dentist's office. A sudden flurry of voices around me interested me as little as did the jewelry store windows lining the street, and I walked on, toward a newsstand, hoping to find an English-language newspaper or book.
Waiting his turn to pay was a tall older gentleman sporting a well-tailored gray hound's-tooth sport coat and a hat that looked too small perched crookedly, as if it had been added at the last minute to the attire not by its wearer but by a loving wife concerned about sunstroke or skin cancer, atop his (probably tanned and dappled, judging by the texture and hue of his hands) head. Of the three or four newspapers he held stacked between his hands the top one, the one I could see from my position, was Russian, Russkaya mysl' I think. Someone passing by on the sidewalk stopped a few paces from the gentleman, made a slight bow, and intoned a bright "Bonjour, Monsieur Nabokov!" before resuming his afternoon stroll. The Russian gentleman raised his head to smile a distracted smile and it was only then that I recognized the man I had seen glowering on his book jackets. I had never read his work, but there was a copy of one of his novels (Mary? Ada?) I think, in a hotel room I had stayed in while on tour, and I recall that stark portrait, which stared at me from its lonely position on an otherwise empty shelf, with preternatural clarity.
It was strange. As the man took a step forward toward the counter, his figure seemed to shimmer, like heat convection over a desert road, and I distinctly thought I saw his hand pass through a stack of magazines as effortlessly as one's reflection in a shop window passes through the necklaces and shirts and watches grandly laid out on the carefully composed red velveteen within. My vision seemed to grow dim. I glimpsed, as if from above, a shoeless man in a tuxedo lying supine amongst a ring of black stooped backs. Then Mr. Nabokov, having paid for his newspapers, turned and moved away, nodding to me knowingly as he passed. A blurred, inexplicably cryptic thought presented itself to my consciousness like a telegram from points unknown: Had anyone previously perceived yellows, blues, indigos, reds, thoroughly halcyon days and yesterdays, more radiantly, neverendingly, apostrophized butterflies overflying kingdoms or voids?
And that was all.