This is nothing original, but it hit me very strongly some days ago. I was in Italy, after almost six months of absence from my country.
I went to have a cup of coffee in a bar. A very ordinary thing to do, in a very ordinary Italian bar, nothing fancy really.
And the coffee, the espresso, hit me. Very concentrated, sitting in the bottom third of a very small thick and warm white cup. Extremely flavorful, with a thin layer of foam, and a smell that positively invaded my nose.
I was not expectind anything extraordinary. I have coffee often enough in Mexico, and I would certify that it is not bad coffee. I make coffee at home, and I would claim that my little espresso machine makes good coffee. But it does not.
My memory, partial and weak, had forgotten the taste and smell of good espresso, and superimposed to the image of the small cup the blander, milder coffee one can have in the Americas,
My memory had failed me. In just six months I had managed to forget and distort Italian espresso, something I used to drink more than once every day. All these thousands of little white cups, of absend minded nods to baristas in tired bars in Milan, of vital and reanimating coffees in bus stations and train stations and rainy days in Northern Italy - all this flavor had not managed to make an impression big enough that six months of bland Sanborn's and VIPS coffee could not erase it.
This is, of course, entirely trivial and uninteresting. Who gives a damn about the memory of coffee? But there is a wider import to this: taste and smell memories are supposed to be deeply impressed in our brains. They are certainly vital to survival, and they help detect spoiled food. Supposedly newborns recognize their mother by her smell.
What I am wondering is, if I perform so badly with coffee, if I can be tricked quite so easily into oblivion and confusion, what happens to feelings ?. What happens, I ask myself, with memories of what was not very clear to begin with?. How did I love five years ago? What did I feel last December?
When I was a teen, was I rebellious? I don't think so, my parents don't think so either, but we could both be wrong. My mother claims that I never made clear that I loved a certain red-haired girl. I say that I made it clear enough. Is there any way to find out, at this point?
Through coffee it was revealed to me that memory may be bankrupt: I always thought that the impressions of life were the greatest treasures, but now I realize that they may be great bundles of false currencies.
What do I really remember? I fear opening my diaries.
My former lover of five years tells me stories. I tell her other stories. Our stories diverged and we split. Maybe because I am not in love any more, I can't seriously claim that I am right and she is wrong.
an addition, some months later
Now I live in Italy, and Mexico is apparently safely stowed away somewhere in my braincase. Trouble is, people keep asking me about them.
And I have to answer them, because it is a faraway land and people always bring back tales of wonder from faraway lands. So it is only polite to answer. But the answers, these answers tailored to the Italian listener, my Italian friends, my relatives, are slowly taking the place of reality.
And I say DAMN! When I think of Mexico, I don't want to think of the social inequality that explain why I could afford having a housecleaner and travelling only by taxi. I don't want to think of the politics. I want to think of eating at a torta stand, of wandering around in the UNAM campus. Of chatting with mibarra. Of going home at 11PM, after everybody else had left, eating up the Periferico at 90 miles per hour on a green and white Volkswagen.
Maybe I will become a bit more reticent. And I will stop believing my own stories.