January 27, 2004

January 27, 2004 04:03 AM

“A glance along the crowded booths on Spitalgasse tells the story. The shoppers walk hesitantly from one stall to the nest, discovering what each shop sell. Here is tobacco, but where is mustard seed ? Here are sugar beets, but where is cod ? Here is goat’s milk, but where is sassafras? These are not tourists in Berne on their first visit. These are the citizens of Berne. Not a man can remember that two days back he bought chocolate at a shop named Ferdinand’s, at no. 17, or beef at the Hof delicatessen, at no. 36. Each shop and its speciality must be found anew. Many walk with maps, directing the map-holders form one arcade to the next in the city they have lived in all their lives, in the street they have traveled for years. Many walk with notebooks, to record what they have learned while it is briefly in their heads. For in this world, people have no memories.

When it is time to return home at the end of the day, each person consults his address book to learn where he lives. The butcher, who has made some unattractive cuts in his one day of butchery, discovers that his home is no. 29 Nageligasse. The stockbroker, whose short term memory of the market has produced some excellent investments, reads that he now lives at no. 89 Bundesgasse. Arriving home, each man finds a woman and children waiting at the door, introduces himself, helps with the evening meal, reads stories to his children. Likewise, each woman returning from her job meets a husband, children, sofas, lamps, wallpaper, china patterns. Late at night, the wife and husband do not linger at the table to discuss the day’s activities, their children’s school, the bank account. Instead, they smile at one another, feel the warming blood, the ache between the legs as when they met the first time fifteen years ago. They find their bedroom, stumble past family photographs they do not recognize, and pass the night in lust. For it is only habit and memory the dulls the physical passion. Without memory, each night is the first night, each morning is the first morning, each kiss and touch are the first.

A world without memory is a world of the present. The past exists only in books, in documents. ” – Alan Lightman

(to be continued)