In my long friendship with Gene we shared various Nabokovian pleasures, the most spine-tingling of which occurred on the Connecticut shore in the 1980s. Gene had come to speak to my seminar at Wesleyan in early March. The next day we went for a long walk along the deserted beach--my husband was leading us to a distant promontory. Along the way Gene picked up one half of a conch shell and I the other; he said: this is the Greek etymology of “symbol” (to throw together), leading me to ask if he’d traced the shell motif through Nabokov’s novels. He hadn’t. I started my catalogue with Speak Memory, where Colette injures her foot on a mussel shell. We reached the promontory and sat on the cliffs for a while, before turning back the way we came. Bill was walking behind us. Gene suddenly stopped me and pointed: someone had just written COLETTE + ? in the wet sand.
We could see a foursome of teenagers in the distance ahead, one of whom must have been the agent of the inscription, which only enhanced the mystical thrill of finding that unusual name with her unspecified beloved in the very place I had mentioned it an hour earlier. I would have missed it if not for Gene’s sharp eye.