It has been widely agreed that travel heightens the senses. The reason for the increased concentration must surely be that new people and places demand attention by virtue of their difference. Novel smells, tastes and sights stand up and shout in a crowd, tempered and rinsed in familiarity, that remains seated. The spectrum of benefits that can be sponged from travel interest me across the board but for now, I wish to focus on just one: the gift of our memories.
This piece of writing is inspired by a single moment. In a dimly lit Koh Phangan bar, a man placed a glass jar in front of me. It was filled with silver oval openers, bent and amputated from the top of soda cans. The sight transported me to primary school. Four friends spent the hour before school rummaging through hundreds of cans at the rear of the school car park. We were searching for aluminum pop tabs. The incentive was a wheelchair for a stranger that desperately needed it. This fact is not intended to distract from the story’s intention, which is expose the triggers that instanteously project us into our past. Glistening with aluminum, the jar transported me back to my twelve year old self. The link between it and those days is obvious and indivisible but on occasion the memory has been lassoed by a subtler switch. It would be ill conceived to attribute a universal smell to garbage. There a plethora of scents that rubbish can ooze and among the hundreds, is the exact decomposition of that school dump. Unknowingly brushing past it, the distinct scent has registered in my olfactory system at least twice since I have matriculated. With it breaks a wave of nostalgia as I remember the silhouetted dull green uniforms of my three friends, in a race against the first bell, twisting silver in the early light. And so, throughout my life, that specific odour, ordinarily associated with repulsion, will bring back four young girls who promised, with the vast majority of their years before them, that they would be best friends forever. That our friendship did not map out exactly as we pinned it, brings no sadness. For I understand that a bond can unravel and somehow, simultaneously remain. That acceptance would be invisible to the eye were it not for the faint smile that briefly crosses my lips.
The memory and its catalyst made me think that perhaps, as we age, memories pair off with tastes and scents until everything we do holds some greater significance to our past. In everything ordinary there will lie some perfect happiness, someone we once loved, a sadness that has mellowed, a hurt that has healed, a laugh that we nearly forgot. In our old age, we will continue to live but we shall also relive. Creatures of habit, there may come a time where there are not enough scents and smells for the memories. Coca-cola on ice will always belong to my grandmother. There are glasses where I can almost taste the metal of the multicolored cups she poured it into. And so, that sweetness is taken. Memories that follow and center around the caramel liquid will have to travel alone, their repetition dependent on conscious recall. The beauty of travel is that our memories have free roam to attach to the multitude of stimulants that waft through our journey. Each special moment will lay sovergien claim to its own, for there is no shortage, nor competition in countries that drip with such vivd, foreign richness.
Along with the pay cheques, the cars, the houses, the husbands, the lovers, the trophies and medals, we are all collecting, gathering and pairing off, memories. It is merely a preference, and a privilege, to intertwine those recollections with foreign countries and people. “Twenty years from now,” walking down some familiar street in a city I have grown up in, and remain in, incense from a shop nearby will infiltrate the air and, reaching me, in the middle of everything I have already seen and known, India will encircle me. For a few seconds, felt only by myself, the chaos and colour and vibrance of the incredible country will envelope me. Shyer, Vietnam will surely show itself in unexpected corners. In rice paper spring rolls and tempura prawns its presence is guaranteed. In crushed peanuts and perfect turquoise water, Thailand will always announce itself and traces of Sri Lanka will drift towards me in the steam of tea strong enough to produce the scent of smoke. And these are only the identified triggers I am fortunate enough to look forward to. Most will lie dormant, hidden gems lodged so deep in my brain that I am unaware of their existence. Revealing themselves, as presents from my past, in years to come. That possibility appeals to me.
Layering memory upon memory in one place makes it sacred. That sanctuary is more often than not called home, or some offshoot of home. There is splendor of a different sort in memories that hold exclusivity. When I look back, I want my life, and the memories that combine to make it what it is, to spread before me like a buffet, some rising from silver platters as impossibly high tiered cakes, while others, like pancakes, lie flat and delicately thin, covering the plate so closely that the two appear one and the same.