Amarcord: I Remember
Federico Fellini’s romping carnival of a movie, Amarcord, recalls his youth in a little Italian town during the 1930s. Before he made films, Fellini was a cartoonist, and his characters are vivid and eccentric: the mysterious guy who periodically races across the main square on his motorcycle; the town’s femme fatale, who breaks all the (hetero) masculine hearts when she marries on a warm day in spring. Dandelion or cottonwood fuzz blows though the air over the guests seated at long tables rendering everything hazy, already the stuff of memories.
On this cool September day in St. Paul, Minnesota, 2012, I am peopled with memories and images as strong as Fellini’s that run from childhood through 1987. I have been excavating my past—the result of cleaning out old boxes of letters and photos from old friends, my mother, past lovers. Several are dead; some have disappeared; others shine on in my life. Here is a combination travelogue/love letter from Cuba in 1987. Here is a French birthday card, summer of 1972, from my Mexican boyfriend who had just moved there and wanted me to join him (I chose Mexico City). Here is the missive from my mother, wishing me a happy 21st birthday in 1971 and waving me off to adulthood.
You are old enough to vote, she wrote, but so are the 18-year-olds now…You have reached what is quaintly called “your majority”….
How did it all pass so rapidly, and what do I do with all these memories? French gives us the verb souvenir, “to remember.” Je me souviens say the license plates from Quebec, already establishing nostalgia familiar and bittersweet as the scent of burning leaves. The first cold winds of September do not bring me relief from summer’s heat (after all, I was born in August, under a hot Leo sun). They carry sadness, loss and melancholy. My father died in November. So did my beloved Grandma Anna, with her old-country long skirts, aprons and hair to her ankles. The first anniversary of Juanita’s death is coming up, just before Days of the Dead.
There is a reason boxes of old letters stay closed. To open the tissue-thin blue envelopes that served as stationery for international missives, the faded cards, yellowed news clippings, photographs is to begin an archaeological dig through emotion layered like sediment. Happiness collapses to grief which becomes laughter which leads to longing. Then the minefield of the paths not taken. What if you had stayed on in Mexico City, smog be damned? What if you had taken the translating job in Cuba? Married your Peace Corps boyfriend, now—God help us—a Republican?
Since I am a writer, not a filmmaker, my memories will find their way into my stories, blazing like midnight fires or in soft focus, like the beach of Fellini’s wedding party. Always just out of reach.