Little Memory Box

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I remember those little country roads, those paths where progress is slow, like the passage from childhood to adulthood. The mineral smell of the low dry stone moss-covered walls, snaking beyond the farms to get us deliciously lost in that still intact countryside.

Rising up behind the wall, the undisciplined branches of the wild plum tree, the mirabelle plum, with its little yellow fruit gleaming with bloom, which you rubbed on your shirt, then bit into, feeling the juice run down your chin. Further on, the blackberry bushes stained your fingers like blood and ink. And we would have fun using our imaginary, painless injuries as an excuse to suck them thoroughly.

In front of the family homestead was the fruit and vegetable garden. Green beans and potatoes to accompany the Sunday roast chicken, juicy raspberries and strawberries for tarts and jam, as well as gooseberries, those little hairy translucent balls whose slightly acid flesh you gulped down noisily. Then the tangled branches of the currant bushes, white currants and redcurrants, which my great-uncle made into jellies, pressing the fruit through a cloth so hot it could burn your fingers, he didn’t care, he was used to it! And I would wait quietly beside the old wood-burner where the mixture sputtered as it boiled, bringing up the ‘muck’. We would spread this incredibly sweet treat on a crust of that real country bread that the baker’s van delivered along with candy whistles… In that Burgundy hamlet there was only our family home, three farms, and the vastness of the fields, the vastness of childhood! Everything becomes smaller, unfortunately, when you grow up…

While the cream puffs were rising in the wood oven, we used to go and fetch the milk, squabbling over who would carry the metal milk jug, afraid of having to hold the bag containing the hen with its throat cut and its glass of blood that was essential for making the chicken black pudding, or the jointed rabbit, with its innards removed and its horrible, blood-covered face!

Oh, how I loved breathing in great gulps of the pungent effluvium of cow dung mixed with straw! The acidity of curdled milk when the cheeses were weeping in their strainers! Exhalations of damp earth turned over in the rumpled bed of the vines, where you could still find fossilized snails, the timeless perfume of the freshly-dampened soil.

Our memories are filtered by time, retaining scents which are often sweet - they call it ‘hedonic tropism’ - generally associated with particular moments of one’s life, which come up to the surface of our present like the froth on the jam. They will be enjoyed without nostalgia (nostalgia is a pointless regret!) but with affection and emotion. They will be forgiven, at that precise instant when they come and tickle our senses, if they bear the imprint of a less joyful bitterness.

One wraps the past up in little parcels of memories and sometimes unties the ribbons, dreamy blue, violent red, luminous yellow, or tender green.

Then they are tied up to be put away again in the attics of our memory, to continue living the present moment, while continually filling up our little memory boxes...

Translated by Wendy Cross


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