Wednesday 24 April 2024

Past Events

Shirley Hazzard, The Bay of Noon (New York: Picador, 2011; 1970), p.2:
When I was a child I used to be filled with envy when adults recalled events of twelve or fifteen years before. I would think it must be marvellous, to issue those proclamations of experience – ‘It was at least ten years ago’, or ‘I hadn’t seen him for twenty years’. But chronological prestige is tenacious: once attained, it can’t be shed; it increases moment by moment, day by day, pressing its honours on you until you are lavishly, overly endowed with them. Until you literally sink under them. A centenarian has told me that memory protects one from this burden of experience. Whole segments of time dropped out, she said: ‘Of five or six years, say, around the turn of the century, all I can remember is the dress that someone wore, or the colour of a curtain.’ And I would be pleased, rather than otherwise, at the prospect of remembering Naples in similar terms – a lilac dress Gioconda wore one morning driving to Caserta, or the Siena-coloured curtains of the apartment in San Biagio dei Librai. But memory, at an interval of only fifteen years, is less economical and less poetic, still clouded with effects and what seemed to be their causes. The search is still under way in unlikely places – too assiduous, too attenuated; too far from home.