|At the summit of the Serles on that first visit to Austria.
Early in the new year, my wife was describing to our friends how a house in a nearby village was being converted into a restaurant.
Interjecting, in a mansplaining sort of way, I added that it was actually the old pub, going on to confidently describe its former décor and ambience. Jane cast her eyes to the ceiling and indeed said nothing as we drove past it the following morning… When sure enough, there it was, the Ship Inn open for business and next door to a house under scaffolding.
Something similar occurred a few weeks earlier when in writing an article I described the Dresdner Hütte as my first ever alpine refuge: it literally changed my life, I said. And yet on checking my diaries, I was reminded that we’d first stayed at the Maria Waldrast hostel, climbing Mount Serles before heading down to the Stubai Valley.
This fallibility of memory is common and even used as a literary device by writers — it’s known as the unreliable narrator. Perhaps by fessing up, I’m hoping for a redemption of sorts and seeking to make a connection by sharing a failing that many will recognise, especially those greying around the temples.
But the interesting thing is that despite these lapses, I’d suggest our memories are still real and valuable in their way. My description of the Ship Inn’s interior turned out to be accurate to a tee. And while I was wrong about the chronology of my first visit to Austria, it’s true that for forty years, those recollections have shaped my life and passion for the mountains.
It seems to me that in summoning our experience, what matters most is not so much the absolute veracity as the impression it leaves and the enrichment this brings. As my art teacher once said when I was struggling with a likeness, 'Nobody knows what Lisa del Giocondo looked like, yet the Mona Lisa is a brilliant portrait regardless'.
Of course, there are times when accuracy matters, not least in, say, navigation. As I was reminded this week after confidently heading down a shortcut to one of the quieter lifts of the Les Gets ski resort… Half an hour and two long diversions later, we eventually arrived at our intended destination!
Oh well, at least the view – and the snow – was spectacular.
* This post is a slightly revised version of an article for The Austrian Alpine Club (UK).