The Memory of Places

Kiruna, Sweden
I've done a lot of moving the in the past five years. Some of my recent homes include: a 7th floor apartment in Paris, where I'd climb onto the roof with friends and enjoy a bottle of wine while gazing upon a sea of rooftops; a tall blue house on Munjoy Hill in Portland, Maine, just a half a block from the Atlantic Ocean; an apartment in St. Elmo, a neighborhood in Chattanooga at the base of Lookout Mountain, where the Confederate troops were defeated by the Union army in the fall of 1863; a basement room in Iceland off Laugavegur, Reykjavík's long main street - I remember going to sleep at midnight there and it still being sunny outside due to the bright Arctic summer.

Next week, I'm adding another place to my list: Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  I'll be living there for the next few months to take a position with WUNC. I'm excited to have a whole new town to discover and call my own, but for a lot of reasons it's also bittersweet. The place I live in now, an old white house in a diverse Chattanooga neighborhood, will be another home I've lived in and left behind with a whole host of great memories.

One thing that I like to do when I'm living in a place for a while is find some sort of token - take an object, however large or small, and make a memory out of it to keep with me. When I lived briefly in Norway in 2010, I visited some outer islands in the middle of winter and found a small frozen shell to take back. In Scotland, I picked up a smooth pebble from a beach on the west coast. To remind me of Sweden, I have a tiny pair of earrings:

I lived in Sweden for two months in December 2009-February 2010 (to see this).  Because it was my first Christmas away from my family, and I hadn't lived there long enough to know anyone, I decided I would buy myself one Christmas gift, my only gift that year. I wandered through the town of Kiruna, way up above the Arctic Circle in Lapland, peeking in shops and stores. In mid-December there, the sun sets for about three weeks, so the town was dark and covered in snow drifts and ice. I remember finding a little Swedish gift shop and spied these earrings under a case. They were made in the Saami tradition, carved from a reindeer antler and birch wood.  I bought them and kept them with me the rest of the year.

Kiruna at night, December 2009
My Christmas that year ended up being a nice one.  A scientist friend invited me to go cross-country skiing with her family for the day, and to share dinner with them afterwards. And the town was just beautiful.  Kiruna has a gorgeous old Swedish church that was decorated for the season, and I got a taste of Swedish holiday food that I never would have been able to experience if I hadn't been there for Christmas - things like blueberry soup, smoked eel, reindeer meat, lingonberry jam, and my personal favorite, Janssons frestelse, which is basically a potato casserole with anchovies and lots of cream. Oh, and lots of snaps and glögg (mulled wine).  It was a lonely time, but a beautiful one, and I'm glad to have a little token to remember it by.

Do you have a certain object that reminds you of a particular place or time in your life?  I'd love to hear!


  1. I carried a small piece of kyanite in my pocket for three months while traveling through Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Bolivia. Now it sits on my mantle, reminding me of my journey.

  2. That's neat. I like that you leave it out so you can see it. Some of my little pebbles and shells I've put in a pocket or drawer, so that I stumble upon them at random.


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