On Sec­ond Thought.

While most around me were lis­ten­ing to “Va­lerie” by Steve Win­wood or U2’s “De­sire,” I was wear­ing out a cas­sette of Ella and Louis into the ground on my Sony Walk­man.

Ottawa Business Journal - Ottawa at Home - - WHAT’S INSIDE - Writ­ten by LAURA BYRNE PA­QUET Il­lus­tra­tion by RON MARTIN

Mem­ory-mak­ing mu­sic.

There’s a strong link be­tween smell and mem­ory, as any­one who has ever been trans­ported back to their child­hood by the scent of Play­dough can at­test. But I think mu­sic plays al­most as im­por­tant a role in our brain’s mys­te­ri­ous fil­ing sys­tem.

Take Ella and Louis, the al­bum of jazz stan­dards that Ella Fitzger­ald and Louis Arm­strong recorded with the Os­car Peter­son Quar­tet in 1956. I dis­cov­ered it, as many as­pir­ing so­phis­ti­cates do, in my early 20s. While most around me were lis­ten­ing to “Va­lerie” by Steve Win­wood or U2’s “De­sire,” I was wear­ing out a cas­sette of Ella and Louis into the ground on my Sony Walk­man. (Yes, I’m that old.)

In 1988, I spent three weeks in Ger­many work­ing with a team of in­ter­na­tional vol­un­teers at a peace re­source cen­tre. ( Yes, I was that ide­al­is­tic.) In be­tween spo­radic spurts of paint­ing and yard work, we had the chance to travel the coun­try. I found my­self strolling around a lake in Hanover with my trusty Walk­man, as Ella and Louis crooned “Cheek to Cheek” in my ears. To this day, hear­ing that mu­sic brings back ev­ery­thing about that sum­mer day, from the ducks on the pond to the laugh­ter of chil­dren in the dis­tance.

On the same visit, my group of vol­un­teers and I took a road trip to the bor­der be­tween West and East Ger­many. As we ate a pic­nic by the side of a road that had been sliced in two by a high chain-link fence, an East Ger­man mil­i­tary pa­trol stopped on the other side and stared at us. What else could a bunch of young peaceniks do but pull out a gui­tar and start bel­low­ing “Give Peace a Chance” at the tops of our lungs? Even now, when­ever I hear the John Len­non clas­sic, I re­mem­ber that I was among the last peo­ple—thank­fully—to see a di­vided Ger­many be­fore the Ber­lin Wall fell.

That trip stoked a life­long ob­ses­sion with travel that had started with my glo­be­trot­ting fam­ily, who took me to Ire­land when I was four. Over the years, the men­tal as­so­ci­a­tions be­tween mu­sic and places have con­tin­ued to ac­cu­mu­late in my sponge-like brain.

Some­times the mu­sic is sim­ple: dur­ing a trip to Paris in 2004, my hus­band and I lis­tened con­stantly to a lo­cal jazz ra­dio sta­tion. The chan­nel’s three-note mini theme song still calls up im­ages of our apart­ment in Mont­par­nasse when­ever I hear it, as I do fre­quently, thanks to the won­der of In­ter­net ra­dio.

In other cases, the as­so­ci­a­tions are more gen­eral. Any tango tune brings Buenos Aires to mind, and I can prac­ti­cally taste po­tent Caribbean rum punch when­ever I hear soca mu­sic.

And the best part? Again, thanks to the In­ter­net, it’s eas­ier than ever be­fore to find a copy of any song I might have heard, just about any­where. When I’m com­pil­ing slide shows of my va­ca­tion pic­tures, find­ing the per­fect sound­track is a snap—even if I’m the only one who knows why Ella and Louis will al­ways re­mind me of Ger­many.

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