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Memories – A Curse or Blessing?

Happy is he who forgets that which cannot be changed. (Glücklich ist, wer vergisst, was nicht mehr zu ändern ist.)
Johann Strauß II, Die Fledermaus

(Sept 21 – World Alzheimer’s Day)

What about you? Your memories a curse or a blessing?

While traveling I often keep journals which serve as memory boosts

While traveling I often keep journals as memory boosts (I don’t smoke but had to appreciate the Chinese construction worker out there somewhere who is manly enough to smoke cute white fluffy kitty cigarettes.)

Two books and a film on memories that you will not regret indulging in.

Khaled Hosseini explores memory as a curse and blessing in his beautifully written book, And the Mountains Echoed
The book is divided into chapters dedicated to different characters whose lives intertwine with Abdullah and Pari, a brother and sister, who are separated as young children. Their journey begins with their father telling them a bed-time story about Baba Ayub, a poor, hard-working farmer, who is forced to give away his favorite child to satisfy the demands of a div threatening his family and fellow villagers. The man greatly regrets his decision and after a short time sets off to confront the beast and save his daughter. To his surprise, the man finds his daughter happy and prospering. This time, for her sake, the man is forced to leave his daughter for good. However, the anguish this causes the man is so unbearable that the div takes pity on him and gives him a magic potion to erase all memory of his daughter. The ability to forget proves more merciful than the ability to remember.

Quote from the book: “Abdullah would find himself on a spot where Pari had once stood, her absence like a smell pushing up from the earth beneath his feet, and his legs would buckle, and his heart would collapse in on itself, and he would long for a swig of the magic potion the div had given Baba Ayub so he too could forget. But there was no forgetting Pari.

In another highly recommendable book, Still Alice, Lisa Genova tells the frightening story of a highly intelligent, successful Harvard professor who must come to terms with the reality that she has Alzheimer’s.
Quote from the book: “She wished she had cancer instead. She’d trade Alzheimer’s for cancer in a heartbeat. She felt ashamed for wishing this, and it was certainly a pointless bargaining, but she permitted the fantasy anyway. With cancer, she’d have something that she could fight. There was surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. There was the chance that she could win.

In his not-to-be-missed film, Amour (Love in English – don’t let the foreign original title and no frill basic noun English version turn you away, this is a must see film), Austrian director and screenwriter, Michael Haneke, takes an up close and very personal look at an aging (fictive) couple, Anne and George, who are forced to confront the reality of growing old and frail when Anne suffers a stroke and George insists on caring for her. The two become confined and isolated in their Parisian apartment where they dwell amongst the shadows of their common memories and struggle with the mental and physical bonds imposed on them by the past, present and future. While paging through a family album, Anne remarks with tragic matter-of-factness, “C’est beau la vie.” (Life is beautiful – also the title of a famous French song which this guy has nailed in his version of Fabien Cahen’s song even though he needs a better camera – And here the lyrics and translation of C’est beau la vie.

BTW I can’t promise the film won’t make you teary eyed – even you supposed tough guys out there. Print This Post

The timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness. And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.”
Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

Information on World Alzheimer’s Day: and the World Alzheimer’s Report.

Complete quote from Strauss‘ Die Fledermaus (translation of German by KC Blau just for you):

Flieht auch manche Illusion,
die dir einst dein Herz erfreut,
gibt der Wein dir Tröstung schon
durch Vergessenheit!
Glücklich ist, wer vergisst,
was doch nicht zu ändern ist.
Flee too many an illusion,
that once gladdened your heart,
may the wine give you comfort yet
in the power to forget!
Happy is he, who can forget,
What cannot be changed

Did you know taking pictures might impair your memory? So live life, don’t just document it.
Read more here: Meyer, Ashley, “C is for Cognition”, Psychology Today, 3 March 2014

Don’t waste time – make more good memories.

Mon amour, mon étincelle
Juste un jour pour être heureux (C’est beau la vie – Cahen)


What’s on Your Life’s Playlist

Last week I wrote about Edmund de Waal’s talk at the Museum of Art History in Vienna and his views on the layering of memory through art and books.

Me in New Orleans, USA

Me in New Orleans, USA

For me, so many memories are layered through music – so much so that certain songs are now compiled in my heart and mind in a kind of playlist of my life. Songs that I never necessarily cared for when I first heard them but somewhere along the line managed to etch themselves so deeply into my brain that whenever I hear them now, I remember a specific event, place, person or time. How they managed to secure themselves a slot in the medley of my past varies. Maybe the song played as tragic news was reported, a cassette tape producer slid it in amongst desired tunes as proof of his malicious sense of humor or random speakers blared the same tune over and over again until by mind surrendered and the association of that song with that place became ingrained in me for as long as I live. Every single song on the following list has a story that goes with the memory that immediately takes me back in time to that place.

I am sure everyone has such a list. Here’s some of what’s on mine (that I’m willing to share):

Steppenwolf, Born to Be Wild – Camping and fishing in the summer with my family in PA as a child, wild and

Me getting ready to catch some trout

Me getting ready to catch some trout

crazy little kids, yep. Really wild.



Supertramp’s Take the Long Way Homemy beloved childhood dog

Any Beach Boys song – my brother – who blasted me awake every day in summer with them blaring at window rattling levels from his larger than life homemade speakers

Trio, Da Da Da – my brother’s college years and his roommate, due to a mixed tape gone horribly wrong incident

Beatles, Revolution11th grade social studies class and our social studies teacher, the long hair he loved to brush and him hopping between desks in frenzied excitement commanding “Listen to the words, Listen to the words!”

Münchener Freiheit: So lang’ man Träume noch leben kann –  Germany, my host brother loved this song and played it quite a bit. That and the Bee Gees but I am trying to keep them off my playlist

Me on Bourbon Street, New Orleans, USA

Me on Bourbon Street, New Orleans, USA

Marc Cohn, Walking in Memphis2 months camping cross country, USA. The song particularly reminds me of the days in New Orleans

Konstantin Wecker, Wenn der Sommer nicht mehr weit ist – moving to Vienna

Khoa San Road, Bangkok, Thailand

Khoa San Road, Bangkok, Thailand

Scorpions, Winds of ChangeGorki park, Moscow and having a street artist do a portrait there while this song played over and over again from somewhere in the park.  I’m not kidding. True story. Couldn’t get over it and it has stayed with me since.

Joshua Kadison, Jessie – a working stint for a few months in Boston, MA

Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand

Me in Mama’s Guesthouse on Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand

Cranberries Zombies – Khoa Son Raod, Bangkok, Thailand, blaring over and over through paper thin windows and walls all hours of the night. I remember saying sometime around 2 am “You’re in my head already. Alright?! Now quit singing and let me sleep!”

Bruce Springsteen, Streets of Philadelphia – Beijing, China and the surreal experience of going from living in

Me and my bike in China

Me and my bike in China in front of the Kempinski Hotel

Ping Guo Yuan in a two room apartment with Chinese friends to the Kempinski to babysit cats for 2 weeks

Deep Purple, Smoke on the Water – Meeting a sturdy as steel US marine on the otherwise deserted China Beach in Vietnam whose first question to me was “Where’s the Party?” as he carried a big old boom box on his shoulder blasting Deep Purple.

China Beach, Vietnam

China Beach, Vietnam

John Lennon, Imagine – 9/11

Big & Rich, Save a Horse & Barbie Girl – chaperoning middle school dances with a beloved teaching colleague (and the conversation of “Is this age appropriate? Should we be intervening?” I received a CD a week later with all the songs — I miss this colleague even if don’t miss chaperoning middle school dances)

Big Island Coast, Hawaii

Big Island Coast, Hawaii

Israel “IZ”, Somewhere over the Rainbow – beautiful trip to Hawaii

Napali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

Napali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

What’s on your life’s playlist?

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