I think of memories as based in time, but they can also be based in location. Last year, I spent a lot of time on the canal in Paris. So many fond memories of the same place. Finally, standing on the canal a year after arriving there, I realized that I had few memories of moments in time on the canal. Instead, I remembered the canal as a location where many things happened.
I thought about this as I went to the cheese shop on my street, and I remembered another cheese shop, from when I was fourteen, driving across the country with my mom, my brother, and my sister. It was a grocery at the Quebec border, where travelers could stop to buy Quebecois products before crossing the border into New Brunswick. I wasn't interested in anything, but my mom told me to buy some unpasteurized cheese curds and beer as a gift for my dad. I was nervous, walking up to the counter with beer, but the clerk sold it to me, unfazed.
Three years ago, Claire and I drove across Quebec. Just before the New Brunswick border, we saw a little grocery. I wondered if it was the one I visited as a teenager, and so we pulled over. Once inside, I could see it was much smaller, though they still sold good Quebec cheese.
Stepping into the cheese shop in Paris, I wondered if that original grocery store on the border still existed. Would I recognize it, if I walked into it? Or had time warped my memory into a completely different place? Is it perhaps even possible that the two grocery stores were the same?
I'm going crazy these days as I try to identify landmarks from when I visited Europe with my brother and sister eleven years ago.
In Berlin, we stumbled across a children's book store. My sister fell in love with some beautifully-illustrated picture books, but decided they were too expensive. A few days later, we left Berlin, and she and my brother flew home from Amsterdam while I hung around in Europe for another month. I went back to Berlin a couple of weeks later and stayed in the same hostel again, this time alone. I took a day to wander the city, retracing the aimless turns I had taken weeks earlier with my siblings, to find the children's bookstore. I did, and I bought the picture books for my sister.
I don't know why I was sure that if I ever returned to Berlin, I could repeat the feat. When I did, ten years later, I was there for a year. By chance, Claire and I lived in an apartment two blocks from the hostel I'd stayed in with my siblings — and then alone. Occasionally, I would wander out and try to retrace my steps. I thought I'd managed to piece together the first half of the walk, but I could never rediscover the bookstore. Eventually I turned to the internet and scoured the neighborhood for references to a children's bookstore, but I never found it.
In Paris, I remember walking through curving cobblestone streets to a grand, leafy, sloping park, with a pond. I remember Parisians lazing idyllically on the grass. For the past year in Paris, every time I come to a new park, my hopes flutter — thinking it might be the same spot — and then falter, when it is not. "Buttes chaumont?" my sister texted me back, when I asked her if she remembered the park. "I don't think so," I responded. Nonetheless, the next time I went back, I circumambulated the entire park to see if we had approached from a different angle.
I think it was a different park. Though I don't know. Maybe it wasn't.
In the summer, I went out for a walk and deliberately got lost until I found a park. I sat down, and told myself that so long as I don't know where I am, I am not somewhere. If I'm not somewhere, I don't really exist.
All experiences — thoughts and feelings — are memories. Some are memories of the present moment.
If you don't know where you are, you can't have been there. So, you're nowhere. You don't exist. Do you want to exist?