“I wish I had it all on tape.”
— Henry Larson in Home for the Holidays —
When I subtitled this blog a memory project, it was because I don’t have Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. If I did, I would remember everything about my days in Québec City back in 1998. As it stands, I can recall a few things here and there – I remember my Canadian friends Amber and Melanie, eating poutine at Valentine, not understanding how public transportation worked and boarding the wrong bus one afternoon for a harrowing hour and forty five minute adventure through the Québec environs, sharing a bathroom with the other forty people on my hall, and my château. Always, my château.
Amber and Melanie started calling it that because I was so completely obsessed with it – its size, scope, and architecture – the green (at the time) of its copper roof, how it looked in different light, the thousands of people who worked inside it, the stories of its guests, its history. I must have taken a hundred photographs of the Château Frontenac that summer – photos that are, no doubt, rotting away in some sticky photo album in a closet somewhere in Memphis.
But otherwise, I don’t remember much. When I moved there for the summer I didn’t even know where Québec was – I wasn’t even curious enough to look it up on a map. There was no Wikipedia. I had a six hour layover in Newark on the way up, and didn’t have a clue where Newark was … didn’t have a clue that if I’d stood on my tippy toes and looked out the window I could have seen Manhattan – could have, given the long pre-9/11 layover, gone there. Being back in QC last weekend I realized how close the university I attended is to downtown – when I lived there it seemed like it was in another time zone. I’d come from a place where I drove my car everywhere, even from Fenian’s to my apartment, as J pointed out when I mentioned it.
I do remember what a pivotal experience that summer was for me, even if I don’t remember all the details. When I got home on Tuesday I looked back at the journal I kept to see if I could catch a glimpse of the person who went to Canada for a summer language immersion program – I wanted to revisit my perspective on Québec, in particular my impressions of the city. I wanted to compare them to the new impressions I got being there this week, fourteen years later. It’s not often we get the chance to retrace our foreign steps, to reflect on them intentionally, to – really and truly – go back. But what I found in the journal instead was a frightened kid worried about making friends, obsessed with Tori Amos, delighting in the still, small triumphs of getting a haircut in a foreign language – but mostly, sniveling over a boy, a boyfriend I’d been with for nearly three years and who was away in graduate school in North Carolina. I can’t make too much fun; I was that kid, after all. The emotions were genuine at that time and in that place – the fear, the uncertainty, the loneliness (which in my journal I spelled, consistently, lonliness). I wish, looking back, I’d made more observations about the place I was living, about the language, the people, something – anything – more substantive and memorable than the long trail of pages I now have, on which I exhausted extraordinary amounts of time and energy pining away for an asshole with emotional problems.
But anyhow, it is what it is. Or, more aptly put, it was what it was – the trip, the summer, the asshole, the memories. Revisiting it all I didn’t get a real understanding for what I thought about Québec the last time I was there, when I lived there that summer. I did, however, get the unintentional hilarity of having written, in a journal entry dated July 28, 1998, “Anyway, the point is that I think it will be difficult to leave a place with culture so as to go back to Mississippi.”