When we first declared July to be Archaeology month I was at a loss for the way it connected to everyday life. Even more perversely, every time I came up with a good idea for a post, I realized I had accidentally substituted ‘architecture’ for ‘archeology’ somehow. Oops.
Finally, I had to admit the truth to my co-bloggers – I was stumped for connections. Discussing this with Marta she told me, “It’s just all about digging and layers.” As she astutely pointed out in the editorial for the month, that is a poetic concept. The idea that everything we do is built on a previous bed of choices, ideas, and action is truly romantic.
However, I still needed help coming up with more ideas, so I googled ‘best archaeology fiction’ and , ‘best archeology movies.’ Both times, the drama The English Patient turned up on the list, so I sojourned to the library in sweltering 90 degree heat to check it out. Taking the trip in that heat prepared me to launch into the two settings of the movie, The Sahara Desert, and Southern Italy where the lack of rain is part of the character development in the movie.
The English Patient is a badly burned, mysterious man being cared for at the close of World War II by a hospital traveling across Italy. He is very weak, and his young nurse, Hana, requests that they be left in an abandoned monastery the caravan passes. Hana is left with the patient, anticipating his death will arrive soon. While at the monastery the film explores the memories of the English Patient (in reality a Hungarian explorer and mapmaker named Count Laszlo de Almasy) following the events that led him to this situation. His love for a married woman, their affair, and the romantic backdrop of the northern Sahara all contribute to this tender and moving drama.
Even though it turned up on archeology lists – conventional archeology images are fairly sparse throughout the movie. The cave paintings and archeology references are minimal, eclipsed by the unfolding romance between Almasy and Katharine Clifton, the married woman. Had I not been alerted to the archeological framework from the lists, I might have completely glossed over it’s importance in the film.
However, when I applied the paradigm “layers and digging” I found that a pretty apt metaphor for the expedition through Almasy’s memories and recollections. The movie is told through flashbacks triggered by conversations, images, and his surviving possessions – the artifacts of his life. From here, it was an easy step to turn to contemplate the artifacts and memories of my own relationship.
I found myself culling my own memory for vivid events in the formation of my romantic relationship and looking at past facebook pictures (an easy source of material these days)
I also got curious about how memories are made so I read this article in Smithsonian magazine from last year. It turns out memory too, is a lot like archeology. It preserves haphazardly and sometimes with little regard for chronology. Newer memories can be almost forgotten, and sometimes those that are older are better preserved than the more contemporary depending on their significance.
For example, I remember with some accuracy the moment I met my husband and of course, have told this story quite a number of times. Following that there are so many other recalled moments of our unfolding love as well – idyllic summer reading picnics, summer traffic jams on I-84, long walks in the woods seeing our clouded breath in late autumn. These memories awaken intense feelings, but the science behind them seems to suggest that I’m remembering some details incorrectly. The memories are malleable, and specific incidents have become jumbled together with other details from other trips, picnics, and walks. Luckily, recollection doesn’t haven’t to be completely accurate to produce feelings of love.
Digging deeper into memories of friendship, love, and childhood is a great way to experience your own archeology expedition without leaving the couch (especially on these hot summer days.)
What memories do you find yourself returning to again and again?