Mopeds buzzing by, waiters dribbling their way around tables and women trapping their skirts against the wind. This is what I will remember from the time I sat at Les Deux Magots in Paris. But why do we remember only certain images, certain moments, and not others?
"I have large blanks. But I can remember some things, little things" wrote Raymond Carver in his essay called Fires. I have also large blanks.
Recently, on a flight back to Oslo, I sat next to a young couple who had to chase their young son along the aisle until the three of them collapsed, exhausted. I almost felt sleepy looking at the way the young parents dozed away, knocked right out unconscious. And when I saw father and son sleeping together, his little chest up and down, I wondered about the first time I flew. Only one image came to mind. I am three and my father is on the window seat, his chin resting on my shoulder while I, standing up between his legs, point at the plane's wing. The rest is gone.
I like to talk to people on airplanes -if they are awake- and I often get to hear the most astonishing stories. This summer, on my way to the Edinburgh book festival, I met a retired Scottish engineer who had been an expert on windmills. He told me about the first time he visited Oslo, in 1966 - way before the oil years - and how different a city it was. But what I found fascinating was the recount of his chess match in Nice, summer of '74, against the once world champion, Mikhails Tals. I had been working on a short story, inspired by Tals, after my visit to Riga but this was, to put it mildly, better than Veuve Clicquot in first class.
Listening to the way this man, already a few years into retirement, could remember the coolness of the pieces, the hushed Russian whispering and the extreme mental fatigue, made me want to write about him. To keep our brief encounter in my thoughts. And in my memory.