Imagine that you are lost in the fog of dementia. Your tired old brain has all but given up on the attempt to return to normalcy, and you’re not even aware that you’ve forgotten your own family and friends. But suddenly an old tune you once listened to, once loved to and grew to, cuts its way through the fog. You know all the words. You sing and dance, for a tiny moment the memory is as sharp as if it were contemporaneous. The fog lifts and suddenly remembrance floods in.
Researchers of elderly patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease have discovered that music is one key to the brain that we have yet to fully understand. Even in the deepest throes of memory loss, sometimes a song seems to touch a place that is so much deeper than our current understanding. They sing, in tune, they know all the words…they even remember the choreography (at 10:00).
I knew this already. Music always pulls the very taste of a memory from the void. Without it, I would’ve lost it long ago. Since the short 365 days of 2011 have felt to me like ten years, I cannot find the words to accurately sum up my year. But I can find the songs that take me back to the places I lived, the people I loved, and the experiences I ventured throughout this decade of a year.
Someday when I’m old and I’ve forgotten everything else, I hope that this post and this music will cut through that fog and I might feel 2011 again.
Gregory Alan Isakov- The Stable Song
Yoga on the roof of the hostel in Santiago, for a friend across the mountains. The stars were nearly blocked out by the light pollution of 8 million, but Istill feel them there. The green of the largest shooting star I’ve ever seen. And later, stars. Just stars. Everywhere. The bus between Natales and Punta Arenas on a clear night.
Missy Higgins- Forgive Me
The nightly walk home from the Costanera in Puerto Natales as I made my laps around town, trying desperately to shake the frustration at my volunteering and living situation. Ice under my boots and the haunting moan of the radio tower in the wind next to me. The air tastes like wood smoke and I steal a solitary moment.
Florence + The Machine- Rabbit Heart
Taking ten minutes to lay down and rest in between teaching all day, decorating and arranging my classroom all evening, and the dinner rush at Hostal Carlitos. A silent offering to Pachamama in the hopes that Claudia wouldn’t burn the casuela that night too.
Don Omar- Danza Kurduro
Um, everywhere? But especially dancing in front of my kids in the gym at Escuela 5 for Students’ Day in April!
Metric- Collect Call
Villa Renovald. Boarding the bus in the rain in the middle of nowhere, and running across the emptiness back to Puerto Natales.
Plan B- Si No le Contesto
Ushuaia, walking down the main street after dark in the glow of a churro shop. A happy dance over understanding Spanish (finally).
Nickel Creek- When In Rome
Realization that Puerto Natales is kind of West Virginia. Comfort for this teacher who knows that her students didn’t give two shits and that people valued books for fire fuel over learning. The crystalline winter light from the top of the hill, turning woodsmoke purple against the mountains.
First graders staring at me with wide eyes and listening so well, entranced by the song. They can’t understand the words that I’d written out on paper in English and Spanish, but they see my teary eyes and smile. “Tia, la quiero mucho!” “Tia, nos va a extrañar!” “Tia! “Tia!”
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.
Yann Tiersen – Sur le fil
My refuge, the cafe in centro. Planning for the next trip, the snow, fading light slowly dissolving the experience in Puerto Natales before my eyes.
Emancipator- First Snow
The last bus from Puerto Natales, in a snowstorm. Across the vast unempty emptiness of Patagonia one more time, my third hometown in the world fading into the condensation of forty people’s breathing.
La Roux- Bulletproof
Valparaiso, in our hostel’s kitchen. Standing with wet hair next to the only source of heat in the old house, the barely functioning stove. Can’t get the chill out of my bones after showering with the window next to me open and lukewarm water that turned icy after a minute. Seeing my breath indoors.
StroMae- Alors On Danse
Cusco Pub Quiz. The bizzare overlap of French house music in Cuzco, knowing that the next step was Annecy yet not able to imagine how I would ever escape South America. The anticipation before Machu Picchu.
DLZ- TV On the Radio
Late summer, late afternoon, a welcome back. You made it.
The Decemberists- Down By the Water
Between Silverthorne and Kremling, windows down, singing loud as possible as rain blows in lightly on my face. The intoxication of open spaces.
Wilco- One Sunday Morning
Setting sun in Annecy, the yellow light on the balcony. Rosé’s tang cutting through a block of goat cheese, and grapes. Listening to the kitties below on their nightly walk. Realization of healing process from post-South America Stress Syndrome. Sunshine, friends, food, language. These are the ingredients to heal myself, when the tougher times come in the future.
One Sunday Morning, I woke up speaking French.
Florence + The Machine- Cosmic Love
Fog over Lake Annecy, pink in the dawn. Practically running across the quay, envious of the efficient business people on their scooters whizzing past. Late for class again, but The Visitation on the hill calls to me. Church bells over Florence’s voice.
Asa- Be My Man
The slow quickness of a cab ride at 6 AM in Brussels, trees glowing in the streetlights slipping by and making me dizzy. The delight of finding a new place to fit in. Mist on my face in the corn field. Repetition of a midnight walk six months earlier in Patagonia.
The motto of 2011 was “Into the Unknown,” drawn up by me on this date last year. The song that best captures its feelings, restlessness, heart-wrenching, happiness, wild nights, quiet days, relentless change, and ultimate growth is Comptine d’un autre été : L’après-midi by Yann Tiersen.
And the first song of 2012 is: Florence + The Machine- What the Water Gave Me
I’m grasping at straws for the theme of 2012. It’s another year of going into the unknown, since I will be moving 6,000 miles away again for the third time in four years. 2012 feels a like it’s hiding behind a curtain, waiting for the right moment to spring its lessons on me. But after 2011…it can only get more interesting from here.