I’ll get to the steak in a second…
Virginia Woolf, (she is so wise!) wrote about the problem of writing memoir in her own brief biographical essay, A Sketch of the Past:
“There are several difficulties. In the first place, the enormous number of things I can remember; in the second, the number of different ways in which memoirs can be written. As a great memoir reader, I know many different ways. But if I begin to go through them and to analyze them and their merits and faults, the mornings—I cannot take more than two or three at most—will be gone.”
If someone asked me to give a brief memoir of my life how would I begin? I think I might say where I was born, where I first lived, where I lived next, and next. I would explain briefly what I did that was based in each of those places, my school, my sports, later my jobs. So, places would organize the narrative. I would tell a geographical memoir. No surprise there!
Staying in London with Sam is the experience of the most perfect geographical memoir you could imagine. He takes all guests on what he calls “the tour,” or otherwise known as, “Sam escorts you to the spots where he lived his life.” As we walked the streets of London he took me through his pre-oxford life. We went to the site of his childhood dinosaur obsession, the Natural History Museum, and walked along the river to Westminster on the same route he used to take to school. We went to the movies across the street from the pub that used to serve his friends when they were still under age. In Holland Park I saw the bridge where Sam had his first kiss. So cute! We even went into Jack Wills, obviously only because Sam used to shop there. We walked for hours throughout Sam’s London and back and forth in time.
Obviously, we also ate dinner at one of Sam’s favorite Kensingtonian haunts, The Rib Room. Under Sam’s strict instructions I ordered “anything with red meat.” It was a good suggestion. I’m also happy to report that it came with mustard that made my sinuses burn, as it should.
Honestly, despite the very good steak, I’m quite sure that without Sam’s suggestion I never would have gone to The Rib Room. I probably would have picked something less definitively Sloan Square, but this was about Sam and the Rib Room is so Sam. We sat at our table sipping wine and enjoying the feeling of being young and casually posh. There’s nothing like some occasional frivolous glamour.
It felt like we were punished for our extravagance the next day when the sky decided to open up and pour down on “the tour.” We trudged into the last pub on the tour, laughing at our state and the way the pub crowd moved away from our drenched clothing, looking more like a pair of drowned rats then the beautiful elites we had been the night before. Oh how quickly they fall. But oh how much fun the fall was! Especially once we had a pint and a warm corner of the pub to ring out our hair.
And since I’m quoting great women today (sorry to Sam and his anti-feminist sympathies) here is Gertrude Stein:
“And identity is funny being yourself is funny as you are never really yourself to yourself except as you remember yourself and then of course you do not believe yourself. That is really the trouble with autobiography you do not really believe yourself why should you, you know so well so very well that it is not yourself, it could not be yourself because you cannot remember right and if you do remember right it does not sound right and of course it does not sound right because it is not right. You of are of course never yourself.”
What a funny tongue-twisting and cryptic little statement! I think she means to say something along the lines of, “memory, like the current self, is theatrical.” I hope Sam, as an actor, will now forgive my excessive feminist quoting in his post. We didn’t leave Kensington (except for Notting Hill and a brief trip to lunch with my Aunt at St. John–the bone marrow is just so good there) but ‘ourselves’ meant a thousand different things in a radius of just a few streets. Sam was a past, present; I was spiffy, drenched… ect. So much for the perfect answer to the memoir question.