At our school finals ceremony, the deputy headmaster gave a speech in which Socrates played the leading role. He told us that this philosopher refused to accept compromises, and we ought to follow his example. I had my own ideas about that, for just around then I had read a statement by Pascal that had made a great impression on me. ‘Truth on this side of the Pyrenees, error on the other.’ (Vérité en-deçà des Pyrénées, erreur au-delà). I concluded that the truth cannot be universal and that you must be careful about having inviolable conceptions about things. At the reception, at which my parents were also present, I planned bringing the Socrates/Pascal problem to the attention of the deputy headmaster. I abandoned the idea when I realised that I had once had a major conflict with him when I had taken my dog, a Weimaraner, to school with me. He ordered me to take the dog back home at once. The curious thing was that he brought his own dog to the school every day. When I brought this to his notice, he immediately – and this should not come as a surprise to anyone – came up with a reply in Latin: Quod licet Iovi non licet bovi (What is permitted Jupiter is not permitted cattle). I answered that he wasn’t Jupiter and I wasn’t cattle. After this brutal reply he fetched the janitor, who took my dog outside and bound him to a lamp-post, which signalled that I had lost the conflict.
Years later, I travel to a friend in the South of France, where he is painting for a year in the area where Vincent van Gogh once lived. One evening we are sitting outside his house listening to violin music coming from his kitchen. I know that he lives alone, but he does not react. He says that he quite often hears violin music in the house, it always comes from the fridge. At first he always went and took a look, without any result, the violin player never showed himself. I once suggested we should take a walk in the immediate vicinity. There was no one in the street, but we could still hear snatches of the music.
In a large, deserted parking area there stood a huge German tourist coach, empty. At the back of it a young girl stood playing the violin. She was studying at the back of camper behind a music stand, lit by a single small lamp. On the ground at her feet lay a small dog that looked attentively but unconcernedly at us. Not even when my friend went inside the camper to ask the girl the ins and outs of the matter. She said that the entire youth orchestra was staying at the local camping site, but that she had retired to the tourist coach at the parking area. She wanted to study – it was nice and quiet here.
We walked through the camping site, where forty or so young musicians were wandering around, happy and noisy, German students at the music academy. They slept in robust, brown two-person tents. There was also a large tent that could accommodate all of them. Out of it can the same violin music as in the tourist coach. The violinist was the same girl as in the tourist coach, my friend remarked. I did not believe him, he lived on the edge of his own world, he heard violin music in the fridge and lay down beside it.