Aides Memoires

Blog post
Published: 17.06.2012


I have photographs of my feet in black boots on Red Square, of my shadow cast across those stones, of my shadow stretched across the ocean beach at sunset ― mounding over footprints in the sand and rising to the foam of each wave, of my shadow zig-zagging up the stairs of my brother’s house, his beside me, of my shadow on the wall of my son’s light-filled apartment, across mounds of snow, on piles of fallen leaves, across the slats of our verandah, playing Petit across the shadow of a high-wire. Of course, I remember being there, and there, and there, and there, and yes, shadows flatten everything, even the texture of the surface on which they cast themselves so darkly; but the images solidify those memories, make them more precise, more specific to the appearance of that time and place. Perhaps, more essentially, they act as affirmations of the reality of my presence ― there, and there, and there, and there ― in what at times feels like a dream.


Memory is a fugitive faculty ― unreliable and unruly (at any age) ― coloured with hope or disappointment, with joy or sadness, with pride or shame. The fabric of memory fades, or becomes stained, mildewed, rots away, or it can be embroidered, even encrusted with jewels, as it sometimes is. Though the embellishments may be removed, though stains may be bleached, repairs attempted, marks remain where the needle has parted or pierced warp and weft. The cloth is altered irrevocably, and decays, over time. How deep was his voice? How soft her hair? What were those words? How hard was that bed? How loud that? How silver were the trunks of those birch-trees? How golden their leaves? What that the first . . . ? How deep were . . . ? Were those . . . ? Did he . . . did she . . .? Did they . . . ? Did I . . . ? Was it . . . ? Did . . . . was . . . .

When we meet, my brother and I sometimes attempt to exchange childhood memories. I say attempt, because his memories are not mine; mine are not his. But the objects that we still have from that time, and from the family home, are steadfast.

I have memories of my grandmother’s face, a dear, sweet face, with just a hint or sadness around the mouth. Was she so tiny? (I was tall) I remember her house was always fragrant with lavender and the perfume of roses my grandfather grew ― fresh-cut in summer, and in winter her potpourri made from rose petals and lavender, orris root and cinnamon, which she gently stirred with her fingers, as we entered what she called the drawing room after dinner. I remember her hands, how soft, how elegant they were. I have a few old photos, but nothing brings her back to me like the scent of roses, or the two blue boxes that sit on the chest-of-drawers in my bedroom ― one Bordeaux blue ceramic, one cloisonne. They contain some of my jewellery. I have none of her jewellery. If I had one of her rings, I could confirm my memory of her hands ― how soft they were, how small, compared with mine. In the ceramic box I have the silver bracelet my father made for my mother’s birthday. It fits my wrist exactly, and, like her, I can place it on my wrist, but need help to remove it.