Recognition
by Michael Allgoewer

        The stream of consciousness and its source in memory is a strange phenomenon. I don’t really care for the theories of neuro-scientists and philosophers on the workings of the human mind, because all the jargon about synapses and cognition can’t explain the mystery of strange associations and half-remembered imagery. I can’t even begin to explain my own thought processes, let alone anyone else’s.

Take raisins, for instance. When I look at these raisins in my hand, something in my head, some faint electrical impulse, triggers a mnemonic switch and I think of Robinson Crusoe. For the past forty-five years of my life, ever since reading Defoe at the age of nine, raisins have become associated with Crusoe, and the grapes he found and dried on that island in the sun. Sometimes the stream trickles out there, but more often it flows into other tangents; mostly having to do with islands and footprints, sand and water, and how to get there.

I had no intention of relating such a tenuous and banal association. It always happens, though, that when I walk past the yellow house, I remember, not raisins, but music. The yellow house is on my street and has been since I moved here thirteen years ago. It’s an ugly old place, all yellow peeling paint and mouldy blue curtains, and it has powerful associative properties.

I remember the man who lived there and how he sang opera and I remember another house on an island in the harbour in Tofino.  The house on the island is vague in my memory now, but I know it was white and it had a tower and sometimes at night the sound of a trumpet drifted over the water. There is no real connection between the houses; the experiences are twenty-five years and five thousand miles apart. Only in my brain do they coexist and intermingle, connected by music and memories.

I remember the hot summer night my daughter and I sat on the front steps of our house many years ago now. The old Italian man in the yellow dump down the street had been singing Bel Canto since noon and I enjoyed listening to him. He knew Verdi and Puccini and his voice carried, slightly drunk. Maybe he had listened to Caruso and Gigli in his youth, back in Calabria or Sicily, before he came to this god-forsaken, rust-encrusted city. I don’t really know. I never spoke to him. No one ever spoke to him.

The old man could sing though, Nesun Dorma and the toreador’s aria from Carmen, one or two others I may have recognized. He lived in the yellow house alone and when he was very drunk he harassed his Portuguese neighbours. When he sang, I always thought of the white house on the island, how years ago, in a former life, I would drift by at night in a canoe and listen for the sound of a trumpet.  It was said that the Englishman who had built the place a hundred years ago played that trumpet for a lost love, left behind in the old country. He drowned himself, years before I was born, giving the trumpet up as fruitless. People claimed they still heard his music at night, sometimes. I think I did once, but how can I even be sure anymore?

The old Italian must have had his own story. I remember my daughter and I watching as the policemen led him out of the yellow house in his white undershirt, two more following with the rifle and the shotgun. He had threatened violence once too often, not surprising perhaps, considering that he had once been one of Johnny Papalia’s gang.  I don’t know if that story was true, but when he returned from a few months in prison the arias stopped, and that year he was dead.

The yellow house has been empty for years now and I don’t know if the white house on the island is still standing. I really wish they would tear the old yellow place down, so that I wouldn’t have to listen to the trumpet attempt a duet with Verdi every time I walk by.

     [Distillate © HA&L + Michael Allgoewer  |  {from the Greek bios} -- the course of a life.]