The Persistence of Memory January 4, 2016Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
So I am walking my two-and-a-half mile circuit around Bayou Metairie at the south end of City Park, searching for a sentimentally precious medallion the color of a well circulated penny, a rectangle about the size of a squared-off penny press souvenir, which might or might not be somewhere among all fall’s leaf litter. I am pretty sure I lost it there from the end of my queue, which requires some sort of decorative weight to not become a ridiculous, curly pig’s tail, while walking New Year’s Eve right after the heavy rains, circling off the walk because of the puddles.
A well circulated penny among an entire season’s leaf litter: A more perfect camouflage could not be devised by the best of military or artistic minds. Add in ADHD and some cognitive issues from medication and, well, it would be easier to find a needle in a haystack. It would at least prick my finger and get my undivided attention.
It is (as it still is, not was, just somewhere other) a reproduction of Antoni Gaudi’s alpha and omega from the Sagrada Familia, the wonderfully monstrous and beloved folly of a cathedral in Barcelona, and one of my most treasured souvenirs of my 40 days and 40 nights in Europe in the summer of 2014. It was not expensive, somewhere between $15 and just over $20 US, an impulse purchase from off the check-out counter. You can see the figure it mor at the capital of a column in the picture at right.
It is amazing the things you will find in City Park, given our citizens inclination to drop bits of garbage where ever they go. I am used to seeing all sort of trash left on the ground or sometimes floating in the bayou, and I picke up some when I know am in inbound toward a garbage can. If one studies the ground carefully, all sorts of things emerge. Bits of bottle glass, the sharp edges wearing smooth enough to run one’s fingers along unharmed, rounded only by countless rains; a dropped Imodium tablet in its bright silver foil, and the caps from bottles of every sort of beverage imaginable. I even came across an old-fashioned pull-tab of the sort banned decades which has lost only a little of its persistent aluminum luster over the years.
It should go without saying we would not be so far into this if I had found the medallion. Perhaps I lost it while shopping later in the day. Monday I will run out to Majoria Drugs, and to the Cansecos and Harry’s Ace Hardware on Metairie road. I vowed to go out today when the parking lots would be clear but completely forgot. Which is consistent with the added challenge of my various cognitive disabilities in searching for it. I managed to remain calm (a struggle at the best of times when confronted with the unpleasant). Or so I tell myself. There were oaths made to St. Jude: first a full novena, promising to relearn the rosary, which quickly dissolved into a more realistic promise to publish my thanks in the newspapers as is customary for favors granted, along with a donation to the church on Rampart Street. I also invoked my maternal grandfather, a devotee of St. Jude, suggesting that abstract religious medallion was as close as I was likely to come to the Church, and perhaps my last chance at salvation. An extravagant stretch but perhaps I was not as calm as I hoped.
Then followed my entirely heathen invocation of the largest oak on my walk to aid me, for which favor I would make whatever repayment it should send me in a dream. (So much for my Christian salvation, but I was leaving no leaf unturned, so to speak). I did this with one hand and my forehead against its bark, a pose I held for several minutes which some passersby I vaguely heard found I hope more amusing than disturbing. Remarkably I ran into a man with a metal detector, who said he covered all of the park frequently, and that his device could detect any metal regardless of composition. I described it to him and gave him my email address. At which point I largely gave up, and made another circuit at speed for the exercise I had set out for on New Year’s Eve.
I had a wonderful lunch with my daughter before she returned to New York after the Christmas holidays. I had watched her precious pup, my grandpuppy I thought, while she ran errands one day. When she returned for her pup, she saw the incredible disorder into which my living quarters had fallen over the past year (a story in itself, told elsewhere in this space), and we got onto the topic of hoarding. Books are a particular weakness. I have volumes bought and read decades ago which I have not touched since. As an English major and a writer and voracious reader, they are a part of my deepest identity. For years I took the same care to choose which books are on the shelves in the front room as I do to inspect the shelves of people I visit. The last year wrecked that long-standing rule as it ruined so much else. As we talked about the hoarding of things, she asked me what I kept. Among other items from my trip to Europe (the obvious art postcards, maps with notes, purchased museum guides, etc.) I mentioned I had a towelette, a wet wipe that came with dinner on my return flight from Madrid. What memory is that associated with, she asked? I weakly offered asking to purchase a second bottle of wine to help me sleep to which the flight attendant, said, “no, no” and promptly brought me one gratis. Maps I had kept (my fondness for maps equals that of books) and might conceivably use again (one of Madrid, one from Barcelona, and another given to me by the pension I stayed at in Grenada but which bore some marginal notes, and a call out of a graffiti of Pops Armstrong of all people. The towelette, however, we came to agree was a bit over the top.
Of all the truly important things I brought back and kept–an empty bottle of the wine of Brunnenburg Castle where I lived for a month, a small pocket book on the Black Paintings of Goya, a small notebook covered in handmade Venetian paper, a few glass cherry peppers in the signature red glass of Murano; in particular a custom leather cover for the battered and water-marked first edition of City Lights pocket book of the Selected Poems of Garcia Lorca purchased in Granada (of course) from a seller of leather-covered notebooks, handmade papers and most of all books, who studied carefully the title page to confirm to himself it was in fact a first–among all these that small, inexpensive medal from the Sagrada Familia held a special place. My father was a modernist architect, and I could almost sense him beside me as I marveled at Gaudi’s work, could trace the wave-like the curves of the Rivergate in Gaudi’s work. I have seen Venice and I have seen the Alhambra and was overwhelmed, but the Sagrada Familia struck deep into my being. And the most tangible thing other than a few art postcards that I purchased there seems gone forever. Whatever external calm I managed during my search was a mask, it hid an absence as profound and disturbing as the faceless Veronica on the cathedral’s facade.
It was not until this morning when I awoke from a peculiar and stressful dream the subject of which was things, from which the clearest message I could decode in the dark hours before dawn, was this: things are just things. It was my birthday and I was presented with a dizzying and bizarre array of practical household goods from which to select my present. I selected a small barbeque pit thinking we could also use it as a fire pit these cold winter nights. I forget what was delivered but it was wrong: the wrong thing, which furthermore had something intrinsically and disturbingly wrong about it. They had just finished packing away their display when they delivered it to me, and I had to make a great fuss to get what I asked for. When it was given to me, it was disappointing, not at all like the one I had originally seen. It was shoddy and unsatisfying.
As I sat in the dark smoking my e-cigarette and trying desperately not to fall into the insomniac’s false dawn of Facebook, I thought of the dream and what it could possibly mean. The best I could manage was that you don’t always get the things that you ask for, and that the thing desired often is not the thing needed or wanted. Things are just things and often disappointing in and of themselves. It occurred to me like an unexpected light in the darkness. The medal was just a thing. I have countless pictures of the cathedral inside and out but I do not have to consult them to call it all up in my otherwise eccentric at best memory. Losing the medallion did not mean losing the cathedral, the sense that my father stood with me, or the curves of the roof of the school-house I recognized from The Rivergate. What I had lost was an inexpensive souvenir, an impulse purchase from the counter as I rung out my other, small purchases. What is precious, and as persistent as that pull-top I found in the park, is memory: particularly those that imprint themselves not only on our neural networks but on that transcendent array of connections that is our soul.
I had lost something, yes, and yet I had lost nothing that really mattered. To obsess over the medallion was an unhealthy attachment. I am frequently troubled by unhealthy attachments to the past, which intrude through the actions of others, and by my preoccupation with them to the point of mania. This is an unhealthy form of memory, to live in that from my past which is ugly or painful. The lesson of the medallion (which has gone to a new home, like so many other of my hair pendants) and of the dream is this: to let go of what is merely checked baggage and to keep close to my heart that which is truly precious, the indispensable things I should carry on through life. The path of maniacal attachment leads to madness, and the other to a peace my clinically anxious mind has long sought. I should return to my walk with my eyes not on the ground but on the serene trees, the quiet bayou, the view from the secret spot I call Peace Point where I sit and let my mind wander over the scene, capturing each thing I see then letting it go until I reach a state of mindfulness nature kindly offers if you let yourself be in that moment.
It is time to let go of the medallion and so much else, to put on my walking shoes and move on.