The Body Speaks Bike
Those who've spoken more than one language over the course of their life will sometimes notice a curious phenomenon: They will remember events and conversations from their past not in the original language, but in the language that is currently dominant for them. It is as if our mind auto-translates the dialogue. I will remember conversations in English that couldn't have possibly happened in English. And then I must struggle to reconstruct the real dialogue, the actual words used, in order for my mind let go of the auto-translate and restore the "correct" memory. It's just one of those weird, fascinating, disturbing things that the human brain does. And it isn't limited to language.
Last weekend I went berry picking at a nearby farm. Blackberries are in season now, and with a small green basket I headed out to the rows of bushes. Pulling the plump bubbly things off the prickly branches in the afternoon sun, I remembered the last time I'd done this: It was in my 20s and I lived in England. Our small university town was surrounded by miles and miles of meadows, a riverside path winding through them. I remembered in vivid detail cycling through the meadows in the exquisite afternoon light and stopping to pick blackberries along the way. Sometimes I'd be alone, other times with my friend. In summer the blackberries were everywhere and, excited by this discovery, we gorged on them shamelessly - staining our clothing in the process, drunk on the countryside smells and the sheer beauty of our surroundings. In my mind's eye I see it all so clearly: The river. The farm gates. Climbing over nettles to get to the berries. And, of course, riding my bike along the path. Except, wait... rewind. I could not have been on a bike. I did not own a bike at the time; I did not cycle when I lived in England.
And so there I stood now, dismantling this incredibly real-seeming memory of myself riding a rusty 3-speed through the East Anglia countryside. And its companion memory of riding together with my friend - both of us astride such machines, summer dresses fluttering in the breeze. In fact we did not cycle side by side. We did not dismount our bikes and toss them onto the grass upon spotting the berries. I suppose we must have walked. But the visceral recollection of walking is vague, buried somewhere in there like the true dialogue of those auto-translated conversations I struggle to remember in their original language. I guess my body speaks bike now.