About 25 years ago, when I was in my late 40s, my wife and I spent a week in Venice. Reflecting back on that trip, though, I only have a handful of memories…certainly not a week’s worth. Which makes me wonder: How much of our just-completed 12-day journey will I remember 25 years from now, when I’m 96?
I slept well every night with a lot of dreaming both on the trip and the week after, and I didn’t experience any anxiety or depression, so my brain has no excuse for not consolidating a lot of memories.
I’m pretty sure I’ll remember that we visited Greece, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy, but the names of the ports are already eluding me. Without looking at the itinerary, I can name Athens, Santorini, Corfu, Dubrovnik, Zadar, Koper and Venice, but I already need help to fill in Katakolon and Kotor. I’ll be happy if I can recall 5 out of 9 a few years down the road.
One thing I know that I am certain to remember is tasting the fruit of a cactus that was growing alongside a cobblestone street. I picked one pod from a cluster and split it open with my thumbs to reveal its juicy, bright purple meat. It tasted bitter so one taste was enough. After dropping it on the ground, though, I noticed a smear of juice on my hand and so I licked it.
Immediately, I felt the prick of a hundred tiny needles all around my tongue and the inside of my mouth. Unseen by me, the fruit was protected by a legion of tiny spikes that had come off in my hand when I opened it. That one lick transferred most of them to my tongue. Lesson learned…and never to be forgotten! (On the walk back to the bus, our tour guide identified the plant. It was an aptly-named prickly pear cactus!)
On the other hand, I already can’t remember on which excursion it happened.
I probably won’t forget the olive trees, which I had never seen before, that were as ubiquitous in Greece and Croatia as are vineyards in France and corn fields in rural Pennsylvania.
I tried to replay in my mind our tour of Lubljana, Slovenia, and did pretty well. Sally was impressed with the detail of my recollection. But I’m unable to recall the other excursions with as much certainty. A few images pop up, but I know that there is a lot I’m forgetting, and I have trouble connecting the images to the locations. Reminiscing with Sally should help remedy some of that.
Telling friends about our adventure should foster preservation of some memories. It will be interesting to see which experiences emerge as important enough to share.
The pictures we took will also help, but only if we look at them from time to time. The photos I’ve posted to the blog’s web site are the one’s I’m most likely to recall in the future because of their association with the blog in addition to the visit itself.
I’ll remember that the former Yugoslavia broke into 6 nations: Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. All 4 of the tour guides we had in the first 3 of those countries mentioned it and I realized that I was completely ignorant of that recent history, so I made an effort to commit it to memory.
I sat agape watching people walk by at the port in Kotor, Montenegro, stunned at their height. It turns out that they have the 3rd tallest population in the world. I felt like Gulliver in Brobdingnag…which should be unforgettable.
I’ll remember the rubbing alcohol taste and spreading warmth throughout my chest from drinking grappa. I won’t remember any of the paired wines from our gourmet on-board dinner.
I’m pretty sure I’ll recall the glass-making demonstration in Murano. We bought an art glass paperweight that is sure to remind us.
In all likelihood, though, I’ll forget the vast majority of the experience. Like my Venice trip a quarter of a century ago, there will probably be fragments, but not enough to conjure up the full 12-day trip.
Already—just a week since our return—much has faded. Memories are mischievously mingling and blending with one another, so I have difficulty sorting out what happened when and where.
But I’m going to try my level best to preserve the humbling awe I felt as I beheld the elegant majesty of the Parthenon, and the quiet thrill that surged through me as I stood on the starting line for the foot races at the original Olympic stadium where the games were held for more than a thousand years.
I believe in the maxim that it’s not the destination, but the journey that matters. I’d like to augment that sentiment by suggesting that it’s not the memories (which can fade) but the experience (knowing that you did it) that really matters. And so I’m hopeful that a quiet warmth will still well up within me when I’m 96 and someone mentions Montenegro—even if I can no longer picture it in my mind’s eye—and I’ll smile.