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I made crêpes. I remember the dough, which amused me because all the ingredients were powdered: the flour and the salt, of course, but also the milk and the eggs. I simply threw all those powders into a bowl and mixed them together until they looked like the sand, almost white, of one of the beaches where I exposed myself to the sun for the last time. Then I added water, trying to remember the right viscosity – almost liquid, not thick like for those American pancakes. I remember my crewmates, occasionally coming into the kitchen to watch me throw the crêpes in the air before catching them back, clear side against the pan.
It was not long ago. A week, maybe? A month? Two? The more I think about it, the less certain I am. What did I do that day? I remember that my shorts were stained with white flour when performing a weekly social experiment. So, it was on a Wednesday. Now that I think about it, Christiane took a photo, freezing a crêpe in the air. It is by looking at this photo’s properties that I figure out how long ago it happened.
Outside the dome, it is quite easy for me to situate events in time; if you ask me when something happened, I can give you a relatively accurate estimation. Here, it is different. Memories blend together, time lengths are hazy. When I realized that we were past the midpoint of the mission, I was not surprised. But I would not have been surprised either if I had been told that we were a third, or three-quarters, into the mission. Situating a meal, a book I read, an argument, a joke, or an experiment, is difficult. Enough to convince me to keep a logbook, so that my memories of the mission are not, in the end, a disorganized flow of images without chronology or logical connections.
Part of the explanation could be the lack of sunlight; without a clock, it would be difficult to distinguish between evenings and mornings. In my windowless bedroom, I am often surprised when I look at the time. The lack of seasons, maybe? But I think that the main reason for this hazy perception of time is the lack of variation. We are always in the dome, or in the lava fields around. Always with the same people. We take, always at the same times of the day and the same days of the week, the same tests. In spite of some of my crewmates’ efforts, our food always has this typical, salty note of shelf-stable food.
I become aware that I – as, I assume, almost everyone – rely on other memories to situate one among them. If I want to remember when I saw my cousin for the last time, for instance, it’s easy: it was during the last Christmas I spent with my family, in December 2013. Maybe you can situate a movie you watched because it was after an evening with your friends, last Saturday. But here, remembering that it was in a white dome, just after running on a treadmill and just before rehydrating some ham cubes, does not help much.
To assess the time gone by after an event, one often relies on memories accumulated since then. If you have images of different seasons, new encounters, various places, and new experiences, you know that quite some time has gone by; a year, maybe? If you only have memories of days at work, evenings with your family and a weekend by the sea, you don’t have to think much to attribute this event to last week. But when all that comes to your mind is a blurred image, where only walls and furniture are clearly defined, the task is much trickier.
Fortunately, in spite of a daily monotony, unusual events happen that mark the passage of time. Finding the closest event to a memory helps situating it, albeit vaguely. Here, rather than in weeks or months, time is measured in earthquakes, celebrations, technical failures. If I try to remind myself of the mission, from the beginning to now, those peculiar events interrupt a confused flow of images from the dome and rocks.
The beginning comes in high resolution. I can see the landscape passing by the window of a four-wheeler. I can see media crews trying to tear catchphrases from us, at a time when we would just like to silently enjoy our last moments outdoors. The only answer that crosses my lips, towards which points a microphone, is “Here we are”. Part of the foam covering the microphone is gone; did an angry interviewee suddenly bite it and tear a piece away, like a shark? The idea makes me laugh, and only cameras pointing at me dissuade me from biting another piece away. I remember the noise and bustle just before entering the dome and, suddenly, after the door has closed, the silence. The look I have around, at a decor that then looks foreign, thinking that all this – people and objects – will soon look extremely familiar.
Then, only a few clear images separate segments of the blurred and continuous mass of my memories. Some images make me smile; for instance where the group, bonded and solid, is laughing at a joke to which everyone adds. Or where we explore lava tubes for the first time and our lamps, piercing the darkness, reveal rocks with surrealistic colors and shapes. Others are quite painful. Terrorist attacks in Paris, watched through frustratingly scarce pieces of information. Messages telling me that my paternal grandmother has undergone a murder attempt and that brain damage has made her, after coming out of a coma, extremely aggressive. Christmas celebrations turn into gatherings in a hospital room, and all I can do to support my family is send derisory emails. Other images run through my mind: the first time I put my suit on, the strongest earthquake I have experienced, arguments, moments of intense complicity or tenderness, a nocturnal EVA under an incredible number of stars…
We have 5 months left. Is that a long time? I don’t know. But I am convinced that other events are waiting for us that will leave more of those clearly defined memories. I am looking forward to discovering them.