These I remembers, of which a number were published in les Cahiers du Chemin (no. 26, January 1976) were put together between January 1973 and June 1977. The principle is straightforward: to attempt to unearth a memory that is almost forgotten, inessential, banal, common, if not to everyone, at least to many.
These memories for the most part belong to the period when I was between 10 and 25, that is between 1946 and 1961. When I evoke memories from before the war, they refer for me to a period belonging to the realm of myth: this explains how a memory can be ‘objectively’ false.
– Georges Perec
I remember that all the numbers whose digits add up to nine are divisible by nine (sometimes I spent whole afternoons checking that it was true . . .).
I remember the time it was rare to see trousers without turn-ups.
I remember Porfirio Rubirosa (the son-in-law of Trujillo?).
I remember that ‘Caran d’Ache’ is a Frenchified transcription of a Russian word (Karandash?) which means ‘pencil’.
I remember the two cabarets in the Contrescarpe district: Le Cheval d’Or and Le Cheval Vert.
I remember ‘Chérie je t’aime, chérie je t’adore’ (also known as ‘Moustapha’) in a version by Bob Azzam and his orchestra.
I remember that the first film I saw with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin was called Sailor Beware.
I remember the hours I spent, in third year I think, trying to provide a supply of water, gas, and electricity to three houses without the pipes crossing (a solution isn’t possible so long as you remain in a two-dimensional plane; it’s an example of elementary topology, like the bridges of Königsberg, or the colouring of maps).
Should you say ‘There is only two ways of poaching an egg’ or ‘There are only two ways of poaching an egg’?
What colour was Henri IV’s white horse?
I remember that the central character in The Outsider is called Antoine (?) Meursault: it’s often been said that nobody remembers his name.
I remember candy-floss at fairgrounds.
I remember the lipstick ‘Kiss,’ ‘the lipstick that doesn’t stop you kissing’.
I remember the marbles made out of clay that broke in two when you hit them too hard, and ones made out of agate, and the huge glass ones which sometimes had bubbles inside.
I remember the front-wheel-drive gang.
I remember the Bay of Pigs.
I remember the Three Stooges, and Bud Abbott and Lou Costello; and Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, and Bing Crosby; and Red Skelton.
I remember that Sidney Bechet wrote an opera – or was it a ballet? – called La nuit est une sorcière.
I remember Hermès handbags, with their tiny padlocks.
I remember the difficulty I had understanding the meaning of the expression: ‘without solution of continuity’.
I remember the game ‘Enrich your vocabulary’ in Reader’s Digest.
I remember ‘Burma’ jewellery (and wasn’t there also a jeweller called ‘Murat’?).
The Emperor, his wife, and the Little Prince
Came round mine
To make my acquaintance
As I’d already gone out
The Little Prince began to shout:
Since he’s gone away, we’ll come back Tuesday.’
– Why do musicians always get up late?
– Because of the Partita 4 in D
I remember the question: ‘‘Nebuchadnezzar,’ how do you spell it?’ and the answer: ‘i, t.’
I remember: ‘My bells are jingling in my punts.’
–What’s the difference between a drunk, an oversexed somnambulist, and my family?
–One of them slumps in a heap and the other humps in his sleep.
–What about your family?
– They’re all fine, thank you.
I remember Master Bates, Ben Dover, Seaman Staines, and Roger the Cabin Boy.
I remember that Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a series of articles about Cuba in France-Soir called Ouragan sur le sucre.
I remember Bourvil.
I remember a sketch by Bourvil in which he repeated several times, at the end of each paragraph of his comic lecture: ‘Alcohol, no, mineral water, yes!’
I remember, too, some of the films he made, Pas si bête, and Le Rosier de Madame Husson.
I remember Wakouwas.
I remember that there was a battleship called the Georges Leygues.
I remember that I was very proud to know a lot of words derived from caput: captain, cap, chef, cattle, capital, capitol, capitulate, capstone, etc.
I remember Wee Willie Winkie, with Shirley Temple.
I remember Roger Nicolas, whose catchphrase was ‘Listen! Listen!’
I remember ‘Carambar.’
I remember ‘Doctor Gustin’s Lithium Salts.’
I remember the month of May at Étampes, when we started going to the swimming pool.
I remember that I dreamed of one day having all 57 varieties of Heinz.
I remember Closterman and Commandant Mouchotte, who has since become for me the name of a cat that some friends found in Rue du Commandant-Mouchotte, at the back of Montparnasse.
I remember First on the Rope by Frison-Roche.
I remember the massive power cut that plunged New York into darkness for several hours.
I remember Brigitte Fossey and Georges Poujouly in Les Jeux interdits.
I remember Théo Sarapo.
I remember a weekly that was called Le Nouveau Candide.
I remember that in No Exit there’s a mystery surrounding a ‘bronze by Barbedienne’.
I remember that I tried several times to use a slide-rule, and also repeatedly started on manuals of modern math, telling myself that if I took it slowly, if I read all the lessons in order, did the exercises and everything, then there was no reason for me to lose the thread.
The above is an extract from I Remember by Georges Perec, translated from the French by Philip Terry and David Bellos, and published in English by Editions Gallic.