Aura (Francisco Goldman)
Yesterday morning over breakfast, as I was reading an article in the Sunday Times real estate section about soaring rents in Manhattan, the words “financial district” triggered a memory: the shiny glass and chestnut-hued vestibule of an apartment or condominium tower of the contemporary type. Strips of white tape on glass panes, I recalled that, and a vacant security desk. A brand new building, still unoccupied. Then I was in a small, bare apartment with two ridiculously small rooms and a view out the windows of lower-Manhattan, a glimpse of the harbor. When was I ever in such a building? My mind drew a blank, and then, as we were being shown the workout room, a row of stair-masters and elliptical machines and such, that blankness began to fill and swell with an invisible almost helium-like giddiness, and by the time we were in that lounge that the tenants would be free to use for social gatherings, I remembered. Next we were in an apartment furnished like an office, with platters of cupcakes with orange frosting – it was autumn – and coffee thermoses on a table and financial and rental forms stacked on another. We ate cupcakes and tried not to break out in giggles while the realtor finished her pitch. Aura turned everything into comedy. We lived in a very spacious brownstone apartment – our walk-in closet was larger than the rooms we’d just seen – with generously low rent in a trendy Brooklyn neighborhood, but Aura was always talking about moving; she liked to take me on these “open house” realtor visits to see apartments we would never consider living in. The realtor shared her vision of a building where you didn’t just pay exorbitant rent for a cramped apartment but acquired new friends too, a whole social life: work-out together, party together in the lounge, insider-stock-trading tips from your neighbors in the laundry room, and so on.
Sitting at my breakfast table yesterday, I was grinning ear to ear, grateful for this somewhat synesthetic surprise, the words “financial district” in a newspaper delivering the memory of an apartment vestibule that I, so to speak, walked into, trying to solve a riddle that posed itself in images – empty apartment, gym, cupcakes – until finding at the memory of having been there with Aura, probably about two years before her death, in the summer of 2007. After almost five years of mourning, this hardly ever happens anymore, this arrival of a vivid, new memory – one not collected in the ritualized memory corridors that I’ve been obsessively revisiting over the past five years, tracing and re-tracing my steps. I had totally forgotten about that day when we visited that silly, sterile building in the financial sector, a sort of co-ed frat-house in the sky for young Wall Street-types. Now that memory can join the rest of the collection. A special day, February 12, 2012, when I unexpectedly recovered it.
Brooklyn, Manhattan, Morningside Heights, an immense incessantly curated urban memory palace. Mexico City is another; Mexico, itself. So is Paris. Guatemala, Boston, Austin, Hong Kong, Ucross, Wyoming, California, and – these memory palaces begin to shrink to dollhouse size, but are all just as obsessively tended – Portland, Oregon, and Key West, Florida, and Provence, and Barcelona, and Murcia, all the places where Aura and I spent at least a few days during our nearly five years together. Airports: that long Christmas day in Panama City: changing planes Tokyo, where she bought the pretty little bottle of “Petite Moon” sake that still sits in our refrigerator. I have hundreds of photographs but I don’t need to look at them, I have them all memorized. Usually only dreams and nightmares surprise.
But how did I forget Cartagena, Colombia? We spent the week before Christmas there in 2006, that’s where we were flying back from that day we had the long layover in the airport in Panama. I was teaching a workshop there at the Fundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano. Two weeks ago, when I went back to Cartagena for the Hay Festival, I was bewildered to realize that I could remember almost nothing about the week Aura and I spent there. Somehow, in these years of ritualized memory, I had neglected Cartagena. Why? I guess I just forgot. At the FNPI they work you really long hours, from morning to night, so we spent out days apart, though I do recall Aura at least once joining me and my students for lunch. She must have spent at least one day in our hotel room doing me the favor of reading the manuscript of a just completed draft of my book: I remember that, because her suggestions were invaluable to me. But I couldn’t remember what hotel we’d stay in, or even what part of the city it was in. I did remember the beach we went to on December 24, the day after the workshop ended. A Christmas Eve Mass in an old church. But of that week, nothing. I walked the streets of the old Spanish Colonial port city immortalized in García Márquez’s El amor en los tiempos del cólera, and found no trace of us. I knew we must have walled on the thick stone ramparts, built in the sixteenth century against pirate attacks, that surround the walled city, but couldn’t remember us doing so. So here was what the dreaded realization of what my five years of memory rehearsals had been meant to stave off. I neglected to protect Cartagena, and now the memories were gone.
One night I was sitting with friends at an outdoor pizza restaurant in a plaza in the old city. It was a beautiful, warm night, the old walls a mellow gold in the lights, similar to the hue of the underside of the leaves in the trees over the plaza, which a gentle breeze stirred. I felt a sensation similar to the one I felt yesterday at breakfast, something invisible slowly filling, a giddiness of expectation, a memory about to be born. Aura and I had been here, the memory was about to arrive, I was sure of it… But it didn’t arrive.
What is the name for that state of expectation, that something that is invisible yet feels as ripe as a fruit about to drop from a limb, a memory that is not yet a realized visual or aural or even olfactory memory? This is forgetting when it is on the very border of memory, and it is not yet certain which side is stronger. Maybe I had never encountered it so certainly as I did that night in Cartagena. What is that state called? If there is no such word, then I would like to propose one already in use and which already possesses a number of not unrelated definitions. Because it is like an “invisible emanation,” I suppose. “The distinctive atmosphere or quality that seems to surround and be generated by a person, thing, or place” – that, and “invisible emanation,” are among the OED’s definitions for the word “aura.” People also, of course, speak of “mystical emanations.” In Spanish –which retains the word’s old Middle English definition -- an aura is also “a soft, gentle breeze.” In both languages, aura is also the medical term for “a warning sensation experienced before an attack of epilepsy,” which I imagine could manifest as giddiness in the nerves endings. The dictionary of Spanish Royal Academy also denotes aura as the name of a new world scavenging bird, such as a condor or vulture.
Pour citer cette ressource :
Francisco Goldman, "Aura (Francisco Goldman)", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), avril 2014. Consulté le 04/03/2024. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/entretiens-et-textes-inedits/aura-francisco-goldman-