Carmen Gomez

I remember starting a chapter in my memoirs which I titled “Back in the old familiar streets on Market Day.” It came to mind because it is about the sweet recollection of the past; of our memories; and it’s a fact that nowadays, we have become very aware of the ailments of old age, and sometimes not so old, which afflict so many all over the world, including this small and kind nation of ours. 

Here, I am referring to Alzheimer’s. In recalling what I had written that day, I realized that what for me held a special nostalgic moment, also has great relevance today, as it helps to stimulate the brain when the memory loss appears in our lives. I had started that particular chapter recapturing memories of the smells and sounds that I had been used to, and which had been around me as a child; senses which never leave you; and when aroused can open the floodgates of memory at an instance.

The chapter read “There is no rich smell in particular that carries me back; but when I open the spice cupboard, and take out some fragrant herb, it awakens a memory of a whole way of life. I am back in the old familiar streets with my mother and my sister, amidst the hustle and bustle of people on their way to work or running errands. The busy morning air thick with sporadic cries. It’s Market Day.”

with mother

This reminded me of how we girls used to go shopping weekly with mother, to Gibraltar’s very own marketplace; and what a splendid site it was, rich in its diversity of fruit and vegetable; fresh fish caught daily of all shapes and sizes; live poultry and an impressive meat hall.

I recall writing in detail every single smell from the different enclosures, to every detail, from holding a chick in my hands and feeling its little heartbeat, right down to the feel of the waxed white paper that the butchers in their crisp white long aprons; particularly early in the day; wrapped up the meat in.

You can not imagine the pleasure I got from recalling those memories. This business of smells and sounds also brings me to one important point which is, the realization that in today‘s day and age, such things as going to Market and all the paraphernalia surrounding it, belongs to the past. This particular outing which an older generation enjoyed sadly is not there for the up and coming generation. This does not mean that there are not others, it’s just that the family unit no longer has the time for doing things together.


When this present generation ages, which is a natural process of life; unless in the meantime someone has invented a magical formula to cure Alzheimer’s; they too will sadly become sufferers of this neurodegenerative disease.

But when I look at life at present, I am not sure what it has to offer them in the way of capturing in their sub conscious the smells and sounds I speak of; so that one day they too, will not only have that treasure trove of memories to escape to and relive those happy days of childhood, but a chance to help themselves try and recover, one’s memories of yesteryear.

Marcel Proust in his novel “in search of lost time” describes a character recalling long-forgotten memories from his childhood, after smelling a tea-soaked Madeleine biscuit. Smells can trigger emotional memories and hold in its essence the vast structure of recollection for those who need this lifeline when affected by yet another chapter of life’s cruel lottery.

What I’m trying to say here is that, for better or for worse, today`s generation does not share the bond of family life which is conducive to such collective memories, with its smells and sounds. Let’s face it. Without wishing to generalise but being realistic, that picture of family life as I have described, is basically non existent in most homes. There is little chance that smells of traditional home cooking are prevalent in many households today, for the children to absorb and store in their memory banks for later on in life.

Thankfully, things are moving in a healthy direction, thanks to efforts being made by the Department of education in conjunction with the Minister for Education, as I read recently; in the way of ensuring that children are able to have a much wider scope of taking in new experiences outside of the home and enjoying the wonders that nature has to offer.

With this healthy attitude in place, children will be able to build up not only a solid foundation of emotional and mental well being, but will be able to capture important senses which will form part of their everyday memories in time.

As children we used to go up the Rock for walks and take in the scents of the paper white narcissus which then grew in abundance; and a simple whiff of them brings it all back. We also used to sing in a choir as part of the school activities and any of those hymns, or classical songs now when heard, can bring those memories back too.


Any stimulating activity in the life of a child helps to build pictures in the mind that accompany them through life, and are so crucial when you have to draw on them in later years.

Families need to have at least one day at the weekend where they can be together and do things together, whether at home or out in the open air.

From Dr. Alzheimer’s first description of the disease in 1906; it wasn’t until 1984 when the National Institute of aging began to fund centres and establish a national network for Alzheimer’s research. Let’s not wait so long to start building memories of our own which will stand the passing of time and will survive any eye phone, eye pad or tablet in sight!