The moment we stepped into the tiny Albanian bar bearing mint-green walls, I regretted having not been more studious in Italian class years earlier. The five gentlemen inside the Shkodër establishment spoke Albanian, of course, but between the two of us, Shawn and I only knew about five Albanian words. The seven of us rapidly defaulted to Italian, soon learning that we really only needed to use the universal language to communicate. Music that is.
In a black and white image, bordered in a simple silver frame on my piano, she is seated behind the wheel of a classic roadster. Coyly sporting a riding cap, cream-colored driving gloves, and her trademark smile is a woman who not only taught me arpeggios, flats and sharps, but about life, its remarkable coincidences and values that we should hold dear.
We first met in March 1987. I was nearly ten, and my piano-teacher to-be, Mrs. Erna Blonek, was 86. I remember thinking that the diminutive elderly woman, with wavy hair as white as snow, spoke with a funny accent. My mother later explained that Mrs. Blonek was originally from Czechoslovakia. Over time, I learned that she had been widowed in the 1960s and that she and her radiologist husband, František, had immigrated to the United States in the late 1930’s.