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The great thing about forgetting

I seem to have this exceptional ability to forget books and films about fifteen minutes after I’ve read/seen them. No, really, it’s a wonderful talent to have. I can watch films over and over again and be just as surprised when the good guy turns out to be a villain, or when the husband’s been having an affair, or when the dead people turn out to be alive and the alive people turn out to be dead. It’s great!

And so, I’m now re-reading one of my favourite books and enjoying it immensely: The Magus, by John Fowles. The good thing is that I can’t remember why it’s one of my favourite books, I just happened to see it at the library and suddenly I remembered HEY! That’s one of my favourite books and I can’t remember a thing about it except that it takes place on a Greek island. I’ll take it!

The interesting thing, of course, is that as it all starts to come back to me, the stuff that was happening in my life when I read it also starts to come back to me. It was around 20 years ago [precisely, in fact – it was 1988], I’d been living in the UK for several months where I did a certificate course on Teaching English as a Foreign Language. I’d gone there from Canada because I desperately needed a change – I just wanted to take off somewhere and start a new life, preferably in Europe because I loved Europe, or at least the idea of Europe.

So I did the Cert. TEFL course and then got offered about three jobs in the UK for the summer, so I wound up staying and teaching in a school in a small seaside town called Ramsgate on the east coast of Kent. It was excellent fun, people came from all over the world to take English courses and the school had this incredibly vibrant social life – owned its own pub, for example, and every weekend there was a tour somewhere – to London, Cambridge, Oxford … to take in musicals, museums, theatre, whatever. Plus I loved almost everything about England – hard to explain; the moment I arrived there I felt like I was home. BUT alas, it was only for the summer [student numbers dropped drastically in September] so I was on the lookout for jobs in the fall.

This girl I worked with – Karen – had been living and working in Spain for about ten years and came home to the UK every summer to teach. She was heading back down to Spain and had just bought a car in the UK – a car she barely knew how to drive, since she’d just got her drivers’ licence. So she enlisted my company – suggested I drive down with her and in return for helping her parallel park en route she’d help me find a place to live in Spain and put me in contact with some potential employers. Sounded like a good deal to me.

So off we went. We drove to Portsmouth [or was it Plymouth?] and then took the ferry down to Santander. From there we drove to Valencia, where Karen lived. She had a couple of friends who were looking for a roommate – in fact one of them, who was Irish, was just about to move back to Ireland, but the other, who was British, was staying. So I moved in. It was a great flat, had four bedrooms, two bathrooms and maid service – and there were only two of us living there. Plus it was cheap.

BUT – somehow Spain didn’t really agree with me. For one thing, my new roommate turned out to be an inveterate druggie … he was perpetually stoned, all day, every day. It was completely depressing. Work didn’t work out as I had hoped [or, at least not until I’d made a decision to return to England … as soon as that happened things got moving, but by then it was too late] and it just didn’t feel right. Much as I love holidaying in the south of Europe, I’m more of a northern European soul. Plus I’d recently split up with my boyfriend and left him behind in the UK and kind of missed him and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I probably wasn’t in the best frame of mind.

Be that as it may, I spent around five weeks in Spain, and for much of that time I was immersed in the wonderful, sensual world of The Magus, which my stoner roommate had lent to me and even recommended highly. So now I associate that book with a beach in Valencia, orange groves en route to a small village in the mountains where I ended up teaching for two weeks, and a tall, lanky roommate with perpetually dilated pupils.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I plan to go curl up with Nicholas Urfe* and friends.

At least from what it’s been this summer – sunshine, day after day. Although I suppose a couple of mostly cloudy days are nothing to complain about – nor do they necessarily mean that it’s all downhill from here. But cloudy it was, plus relatively windy and we had the odd shower. At the moment we have 12°C [54F]. Sunrise 5.20 am, sunset 9.42.

* the main character



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  • Skúli Pálsson August 16, 2008, 12:23 am

    The German writer Patrick Süskind wrote an essay about forgetting the books he read. It’s called “Amnesia in Litteris”. It was very funny, although I can’t remember exactly why it was.

  • maja August 16, 2008, 2:34 am

    Wow, what awesome memories to have associated with a book. Lately I’ve been thinking about how characters in books and movies are the most interesting when they are facing adversity and bad situations, so even though you didn’t enjoy Spain all that much it probably still enriched your life to go there.

  • Mark Patterson August 16, 2008, 10:28 am

    Very funny essay Alda. My spouse, sister in Michigan, and now daughter Sarina (16) love reading your blog. We´re finally ensconced in 105 Reyk til Xmas, getting kids ready for school (MH og Sjálandsskóla). Kveðja, Mark

  • maggie August 16, 2008, 12:41 pm

    I have had similar memories with books. How else could Jane Austen always remind me of the African savannah? Music though seems to trigger stronger memories with me.

    p.s. I’ve been in hibernation so long. I like the “new” look of your blog.

  • Kate August 16, 2008, 1:08 pm

    Dear Alda, just to say The Magus happens to be my favorite piece of literature too, I first came across this book about 15 years ago… I have also truly fallen in love with Iceland and vistited the country three years ago…thers’s a kind of parallel between Iceland and the remote Phraxos. Oh I’m also sort of getting more familair with your blog these days and I must say you ‘re doing a good job!!! I LOVE IT!!!
    take care,
    Kate ( Polish form London)

  • alda August 16, 2008, 1:43 pm

    Skúli – ah, so it’s a recognized condition! 😉

    maja – no question about that. At all.

    Mark – hi, and thank you for that! Glad you’re getting settled in, hope you enjoy living here!

    maggie – I agree, music is a major memory-trigger, more so than books. Maybe because music is so prevalent.

    Kate – hi and welcome! Glad you’re enjoying the blog and thanks for the kind words. Great that you share my sentiments about The Magus, too.

  • Runa August 16, 2008, 8:24 pm

    It’s when you can’t remember where you parked the car that you really start to worry. Today, not only did I forget which area of the car park I had left the car, I even managed to return to the wrong car park!

  • Valerie August 17, 2008, 4:10 am

    Ooh, the Magus! I read it when I was about twenty, on holiday with my family and younger siblings, in a trailer park in North Wales in endless rain, when I really should have been somewhere else doing something much more exciting. It kept me sane! Or did it drive me crazy? Like you, I can’t remember anything about it now (except the Greek island bit), but I was enthralled from start to finish. I seem to remember feeling a bit disturbed and depressed by the end though. Hmmm. Can’t remember why. Let us know what you think!

  • alda August 17, 2008, 12:29 pm

    Runa – ouch!

    Valerie – yes, it’s that sort of book – the kind that keeps you enthralled (and kind of drives you crazy). I can’t remember how it ends (thankfully) but when I was looking up the Wikipedia link I accidentally took in something about the end being ‘somewhat ambiguous’ – and I seem to recall something like that being the case. Probably a bit like The French Lieutenant’s Woman. We shall see.

  • Rozanne August 26, 2008, 5:18 am

    I suffer somewhat from the same syndrome, but I can usually remember (or possibly misremember) little fragments. For example, I think my boyfriend of the time lent me his copy of The Magus about the same time you read it. He had told me it was a really good book. As I recall (and my memory may be very faulty), I was enjoying it until I got to a description about a bunch of guys who’d had their genitals cut off with pruning shears. What a horrifying image. That was it for me. And I never finished the book, but maybe it wasn’t The Magus but some other John Fowles book?

    P.S. I am soooo far behind in my blog reading–you’ve been busy-busy posting. I am going to have to try to catch up piecemeal. I’ll be really interested to read your take on the Olympics.