Dispatches at The Prospect are brief reflections from our writers that focus on their experiences during the summer.
A bottle of cheap wine in one hand and a ham and cheese baguette in the other, I followed my friends up and down the alleyways of Marseille as we translated messages graffitied on pink and orange walls. One of them read, “Qui aura la dernière part du ghetto?” and a friend explained it was a play on the word, ‘gâteau,’ meaning ‘cake.’ In other words, it was a critique of gentrification in the ghettos of Marseille, asking “Who will have the last piece of the ghetto/cake?”
I thought to myself that the paint would fade away sooner or later, just as my perception of this foreign space would collect dust somewhere in the miscellaneous corners of my memory. I wondered if, in five or ten years, I would remember this exact moment with my friends on a street whose name I’d already forgotten — or if I would remember the day as a “weekend trip to Marseille, June, 2023.”
Later that night, the port town transformed into a different city. As my friends and I walked back from our concert, the same streets that we had taken to the venue had been burned down. Retail store windows and bus stop advertisement stands were shattered in, and café terraces were turned upside down. Down the main road, police cars and ambulances surrounded something, but we made a turn before I could catch a second glance at the scene.
Coming down from the concert’s high, the ten minute stroll back to the Airbnb seemed to last ages. We barely spoke a word to each other, but we were able to tell that each of us felt the wave of disillusionment washing over our heads. We were young tourists naively gallivanting through a foreign city, having mistaken that we could leave conflict elsewhere. Would I remember this faint ambience of guilt or Juliette Armanet’s live performance?
These days, I’m wondering if I’m choosing the wrong memories to keep.
Whether in London, Marseille, or Paris, I took as many pictures as I could, despite knowing I might never back them up to my iCloud storage. Places turned into ideas, people into images, and I felt the months pass by me as if I’d fallen asleep during a movie only to wake up at the end credits. Maybe I was dreaming the entire time.
Traveling intensifies my inherent fear of losing, leaving, and forgetting things. At times, I secretly fantasize that a technological apocalypse will take away things like the cloud, and with it, the learned habit of an endless accumulation of memories and the anxiety of “phone eats first.”
I guess all we’ll have left then are some handwritten letters, books with sentimental value, and random tchotchkes we’d picked up on an impulsive purchase abroad. What I anticipate are not prepackaged memories ready to be unboxed in the same way every time, but stories that are defined by their missing threads — stories that can only be strung back together because they’d been lost in the first place.
Memories will return, albeit in the form of mere outlines of faces and source amnesia — as not quite there, yet still existing — memories.
Kyung Eun Lee is a contributing writer for The Prospect at the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at email@example.com or on Instagram @entertainmentkyung.
Self essays at The Prospect give our writers and guest contributors the opportunity to share their perspectives. This essay reflects the views and lived experiences of the author. If you would like to submit a Self essay, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.