Monday, June 11, 2007

intrinsic memory

On my walk to work in the morning I pass by many brick buildings. At one particular moment I pass by a large brick building with a covered walkway, and I catch the strong scent of brick. I'm immediately reminded of standing outside the entrance to the church at my elementary school, the strong smell of brick and the feeling of reverence, and a little fear perhaps. The enveloping silence. In the city where I grew up there weren't many brick structures. My elementary school and the church on the same grounds must have been my first experience with brick. I think this is what we call intrinsic memory, that immediate association of a smell to a memory. The smell is a little damp, dusty, but has this pungent quality. Whenever I smell it now I think I must be in a holy place.

The church we went to as a family was stone, our house was wood, and all of our walkways, sidewalks, and garden paths were slate. In later years I had many more experiences with brick. One summer the city dug up our street, down through layers of asphalt, down to the original brick. My sisters and I spent the summer harvesting bricks from the street for our father's grand backyard schemes. These bricks were twice the size of normal bricks, and we had wide stacks four feet high when the summer was over.

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