Memory: Weirdly Boring

Here’s a question that I almost brought up in the last post:

Think about something you’ve done in the past— it can be anything, so long as it didn’t have a specific moment of conclusion or resolution (not climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, for example). Maybe use the last time you visited your parents (I guess this only works if you don’t live with your parents. And if at least one is alive— otherwise, pick something comparably mundane). Now…

What’s the first mental image that comes to mind? Not your conceptualized account of what happened and what you did… I’m talking about the very initial snapshot that your mind conjures up. When I use the ‘visiting parents’ example, the first picture I get is a meaningless moment of sitting in an armchair in my mom’s living room with the cat in my peripheral vision on the sofa across for me.

My question is: did this moment actually happen? Or is it an amalgamation— the brain serving up a compound-memory of various things it knows were present (armchair, sofa, cat, etc)? If it did actually happen, why this moment? Why not an instant later? And if it is an amalgamation, why not choose a more meaningful composite of images than this one?


I’d forgotten that, the day after playing squash, if you haven’t played in a long while, you will wake up the next day with acute soreness in both palms and in both butt cheeks. It’s as though you were at a vigorous spanking party the night before where you were both ‘top’ and ‘bottom’.

I’m trying to imagine anatomical pairs that would be harder to account for in terms of waking up with pain: tip of nose / both big toes (possible explanations: self-kicking; nicked at extremities by passing subway car), etc.

It’s a good thing that short term memory serves up a memory of playing squash…

(Being in the sterile white box… wondering if this would be a fun atmosphere in which to take drugs… would it be conducive to mime-like shenanigans, or would the anti-spectic environment become discouraging? …. and should we replicate our high school rules where each player has to hold their racquet up, look at the tip and spin around for 30 seconds until stumblingly dizzy before each serve, or just play it straight?)

… or I would be be as disoriented to explain my previous day’s activities as the Saddam Hussein lookalike who evaded capture by a mafia porn ring.

Das Moveable Feast

Two recent sightings from opposite poles of Berlin’s cultural zeitgeist:

1. Not-So-Little Cleveland Indian

Last week, I was biking home from a basketball game in early evening and ran into this, looming over Alexanderplatz:

What? Aha, it turns out that this is art— an installation by French media artist Cyprien Gaillard, exploring the legacy and exploitation of arcane, tribal imagery in contemporary advertising culture. As icing on the cake, the installation sits on a soon-to-be-demolished former Stasi building, das Haus der Statistik. Not that Gaillard is blaming the Stasi for the exploitation of Native Americans. At least, I don’t think he is.

2. Homespun Family Circus

A few days later, we took our son to a circus in a remote place called Falkensee, which lies just outside the super-uncool, westernmost part of Berlin, Spandau. Once you get outside of Berlin’s hipness sphere-of-influence, things instantly revert to the basic hapless, redneck-y mundanity that links together all of Central Europe. Indeed, this circus experience wound up being much more of a sobering tale of family values and heartland tenacity than I had been expecting.

First, consider the poster:

It turns out that, if you run a circus and you make a poster featuring elephants and giraffes, you are not implicitly promising that there are elephants and giraffes at your circus— you are simply invoking the pleasures of the circus atmosphere in a general, non-specfic sense. In this case, there were no such exotic animals on site, and it was apparent at first glance that the whole event was going to be somewhat more small-scale than advertised:

We quickly learned that the Circus Piccolino is a family circus whose patriarch used to perform in the major, large circuses that travel around Europe but then decided to stop once he had kids. Instead, to spare his family the rigors of constant travel, he started his own weeny circus with only the members of his family, a few road-hands and one vulgarian clown whom I took to be a hired mercenary (but might possibly be a cousin). The Circus Piccolino performs only in Germany, thus allowing his daughters to keep up with school and live fairly normal lives when they are not manipulating hula-hoops for the benefit of a tent full of strangers:

The backstory of the Circus Piccolino was legitimately interesting and inspirational as a tale of adaptation to the realities of family life. Yet it also seemed to be invoked a little too often throughout the show, as an excuse for every dropped hula hoop, every repetitious act involving a lesser family member, every tawdry cut corner (‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen goats performing at a circus before,’ my wife whispered as we watched various barnyard animals jump from table to table). In the end, it started to feel like an over-share that diminished the normal suspension-of-reality that one hopes to achieve while at a circus.

The ultimate buzz-kill moment happened once the performance ended: as we filed out of the big top, you could immediately see the Family Piccolino heading towards their trailer home that was parked right next to the tent, everyone curiously out of character and already half-disrobed from their outfits. While the whole afternoon provided an education glimpse into the realities of the family circus scene, I still would have appreciated if, at the end, the principals could have humored us by dematerializing into a cloud of smoke, or exiting in some comparably romantic manner.

‘Miruna’ Image Dump

I’m working on a new book cover project for Twisted Spoon— this one is a story called Miruna, A Tale by the Romanian author Bogdan Suceavă. It’s a lovely text that reminds me of the ‘magical realism’ genre in its better moments: a manner of storytelling in which very strange things are made commonplace, and mundane things made strange.

Since I haven’t done one of these visual posts in a while, I thought I’d show some the images that I’ve come across while doing research for this project, along with some totally random finds thrown in just for variety’s sake…