Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Inner Maps

On Sunday I flew down to Key West (where it is the coldest is has been since 1919). I've been here many times for short stays - maybe six or seven. I was down last year as well. The first thing I do when I land in Key West is rent a bicycle and I spend my days, when I am not writing, peddling around.

But when I arrived on Sunday, it was as if I'd never been here. It was a very strange feeling. I couldn't remember the roads, the houses, the restaurants. I couldn't remember anything. But slowly a kind of internal geography took over. I remembered that the bike shop I like to rent from is at the intersection of Simonton and something.

As I walked in that direction, I felt this inner map forming inside my mind. I started to know where things were. The bike shop was at Simonton and Truman. The butterfly conservatory at the end of Duval. Hemingways house on Whitehead. Then peddling along the ocean I saw a sign for Vernon Street and took it because I knew I'd lived at the base of it when I came to KW one year. And right beside it was Louis' Backyard, a restaurant that brought back memories of one very wine-sotted night. After an hour or so a place that had at first seemed unfamiliar returned. It had taken shape in my mind and I remembered where everything was.

It is the same with faces, isn't it. We walk into a restaurant and someone looks familiar. A face takes shape in our minds. We recall five, ten years ago. This person was a neighbor, the boyfriend of a friend. And suddenly a world of memories comes up around this face. You recall everything (a meal shared, an argument never resolved) and you decide to say hello. Or look away. With places I like to say hello. Slowly it seemed.

At home behind a couch we have a large plastic bin and in it is every map for every place I think I've ever been. I keep them all here and when we are heading somewhere, anywhere, I go through that bin. Prague, Montreal, Palermo, Guanajuato. My mother used to joke when she'd see me looking at maps. "Oh, oh," she'd say, "she's going to travel again." And she was usually right. I'd get restless. My legs would start to roam.

Today in Key West it is very cold, but I'm going to bike around all day. There's an old fort I like and I want to go through the old Bahama part of town. Maybe stop for lunch at Blue Heaven if it's not too cold to eat outside (which it probably is). I'm not taking a map with me. I don't have to. It's all inside.

1 comment:

  1. Mary, I had a similar experience when I returned home for the holidays, driving near where I used to work during the summers of my undergrad years. I tried to remember the building and the grounds (all the signage had changed), but had such a difficult time with the geography. The memories of my working there came back to me, but the parking lot, where many times I was dropped off by a family member, I could not place. I tried to look for the tree I used to sit under during my lunch break, but was unable to find it. Perhaps the tree was cut down, and I shouldn't blame it on my memory, but it was twenty-four years ago, afterall.

    Best, Paul