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The chocolate of Chenonceau

FOR many of us, traveling abroad means sightseeing. Not for us the silver sands and azure seas, the toasting of bodies in the sun with paper shields over our noses. Not for us walks through the Black Forest keeling under knapsacks, or drives through safari parks in search of lions. Where we are heading is the picture gallery, the museum, the stately home open to the public, the cathedral, the city, town, village famed for its architectural beauty. True, we are very happy to race through pretty countryside to reach these delights, commenting as we go on the lambs or the bougainvillea or whatever other prettiness nature offers us; but we do not want to stop and admire it. Our guidebooks have told us there are baroque churches of unparalleled exuberance, or perhaps a 15th-century fresco, or even a music festival in a Roman amphitheater just around the corner, and we do not, basically, want to be bothered with anything else.

Our holidays, therefore, are extremely cultured. As are we. Which makes it all the more extraordinary that when we reach home and are confronted by the newly developed photographs of our trip, we cannot remember -- at least not with any accuracy -- which place is which until someone (and this is the galling thing) says, ``Oh yes, that's the cathedral where that dog got so attached to us,'' or ``I'm sure we saw those cloisters the morning after those dreadfully damp sheets.'' Then we know. MDULThen we remember. We remember which of the ch^ateaux on the Loire is which because we had that wonderful souffl'e surprise at Amboise and picnicked in the hay at Chambord and lost the top of the camera lens at Azay-le-Rideau and upset a cup of chocolate onto a new skirt at Chenonceau.

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Some fairly obvious works of art such as, let us say, the whole of Venice, or the Taj Mahal, or the Mona Lisa, do not require the promptings of events to remind us of their excellence; but almost everything of lesser note is brought more readily to mind if it can be tied to a happening or to food. I shall never forget the faade of the cathedral at Palermo, for instance, because it was when surveying it that I slipped on a banana skin and crashed to the ground, taking my husband with me. And if you show me a reproduction of Vermeer's ``The Letter,'' I will know at once that it is in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, because I dropped my fountain pen down a grating there.

None of this is very encouraging, of course, to those of us who aspire to cultural enlightenment: In fact it is very depressing. One can only hope, in one's despondency, that remembering what the Place Stanislas in Nancy looks like because the bath tap wouldn't turn off is better than not remembering it at all.

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