I had the weirdest experience tonight, a dream which woke up a memory long forgotten. You may remember from an earlier story that I have, or used to have, quite vivid memories attached to my grandmother’s house. When I was a lad, my family and I used to visit her in Sèvres near Paris. Ubiquitous in her house was a very specific fragrance, which I found again in a soap a few years after the house had been sold, and which I have tried to find again ever since. Much to my dismay, I realised last month that I was no longer able to conjure up at will the memory of this fragrance; but I digress.
Let me first describe the house, or rather how I remember it. It would be interesting to compare these memories with the ones of my parents for example. As it is, any similarity to actual places or events may well be purely coincidental.
I liked that house very much. Possibly because going there meant a pleasant journey, being somewhere we rarely went to, sunny weather… I don’t know. As I was still very, very young when the house was sold away, and as we didn’t visit it often either, only broken memories remain. That, and dreamlike impressions. It was a very large house, surrounded by a garden. Passing the wrought iron gate, you would walk up slightly obliquely to the right towards the building’s entrance; more to the left there was a garage I’m not aware we have ever used (possibly we parked the car just in front to save the trouble of opening it — we never stayed more than a day anyway).
A few stone steps up, you could open the front door and enter a darkish corridor. Further down, on the right hand side, stairs led to the first floor. I might even have gone up there once, but basically the upper floors had always been a mystery.
Then somehow there was the Living Room, a huge room at the back of the house, with an impressive herringbone patterned floorboard. I remember a mandoline hanging on a wall too. And, more important, a large glass door opening onto the garden. Ah, the garden! While the front part was more of a gravelled alley leading to the house’s entrance and the garage, the back bit was more interesting — a wild patch, with lianas hanging from the trees, giant herbs growing in all directions and more. A most fascinating place, really. I am quite sure I have seen it well-groomed once , too.
The description wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the railway line running along the street, bringing every now and then the sound of a train passing by. Now probably grown-ups would perceive it as an annoyance, but I, as a child, liked this sound; even nowadays, the sound of a train heard from a home has a curiously soothing effect. Then again, I don’t live next to a train line, so I don’t get to hear this several times a day every day for years.
Now, isn’t there something missing from the account? Exactly: the piece between the corridor with the staircase, and the Living Room. I don’t remember how we went from one to the other (I think once we just went around the house from and entered straight from the back garden in the Living Room). Anyway, there is just this blank piece, like in dreams when you have the before and after without going through the middle (an insightful observation by Dom Cobb in the movie Inception).
Fast forward mumble mumble years to last night. I dreamt I went back to that house nowadays. The outside gate being open, I could approach the front door normally and peek inside through the glass panel. Confirming what I had heard, the house had been converted to students’ lodgings — while the structure had been kept overall, several doors had been added to separate the common corridor from the individual flats (including one door at the bottom of the stairs). The white PVC doors crash a bit with the place’s older style, but I don’t mind that much.
So, no entry from this side, as I don’t know any of the tenants and don’t want to ring at a random flat. So it seems I decide to go around the house. I end up outside the Living Room, in the now well-tended garden. The door is ajar! There are people in the room, a mother with her young child, but they leave before I reach the door (the child’s clothes got dirty and need changing, I think). Anyway, the room is now empty, so I just sneak in politely. Having these affective bonds with the house, and not being up to any mischief anyway, I feel somehow entitled to do so (plus, anyone who would catch me there would surely understand my point of view).
I am facing the other door, the one leading inside the rest of the house. Thinking about it, most of my memories of the Living Room involve looking towards the garden door, so this is quite unusual. I cross the room, and take a peek to the part of the house I don’t remember. And here it is: another piece of corridor (same as the entrance one, after a 90-degrees bend). On my left, a door leads to the kitchen. In front of me, two further doors, the left one I suspect leads to a bathroom, and the right one to, to, eeer… I forgot. A smaller lounge, I think. And then I woke up.
Curiously, this dream stayed with me very clear and distinct for quite a while after waking up, unlike most which fade away swiftly unless you try hard to fix them into your memory. And for quite a while I was positive this was really the actual layout of the house, of the part missing in my memory, which had simply been conjured up in my dream from wherever memories go when you forget. Now I am slightly less sure of it, although with the unreliability of the rest of the description it may well turn out to be the most accurate bit.
It makes me wonder a bit about the Granny House though. It seems to be my fondest and curiously most pervasive early childhood memory, revived by many little triggers (soap smells, train sounds, who knows what else?). Most intriguing.