I am enjoying a Sunday lunch at Tom Colicchio’s Craft – food and service close to perfect – and I get up to use the restroom. The kitchen door swings open, and the image of the tiny copper pots hanging on a rack; the gleaming stainless steel counters; the chef’s immaculate whites; the blue bandana around his head; the reverential silence hits my eyes and that trapdoor creaks open. For a split second, the intense joy of what it felt like to work in the kitchen – the adrenaline, the sheer perfection when everything came together – washes over me in a wave of pain and familiarity.
Nostalgia – from the Greek nostos, homecoming and algos, pain.
The Sting song the dance instructor plays randomly, that puts me in the back of a car in Montecarlo, on the way to the Sanremo music festival, belly full of clams and mussels, 25 years ago. “Rainy Night in Georgia” while I am driving to work, and I am sitting in the car of a boy I never kissed, long before I knew what love was. A bizarre BBC spy show and the scene by the bench along the embankment where I sat last time I was in London, relishing the beauty of the sun hitting the spires of the Parliament.
What all these little spells have in common is the way they arrive unannounced and the memories they bring of all the perfect moments that, in an improbable jigsaw puzzle, make up the best of my life. I realize now that I already knew then how happy I was.
I don’t want any of it back: not the excruciatingly long hours in the kitchen nor traipsing back to another music festival. I am happy where I am, who I am with. I am not nostalgic for the past – if anything, I am more excited about what I don’t yet know. But I am always surprised how the memory of happiness is often linked to the nearly physical pain of the knowledge that in that particular incarnation, that particular happiness, will never visit me again, not even if I tried to recreate it. Especially, if I try to recreate it.
If melancholy lingers, nostalgia doesn’t. It’s a split second. And then it’s gone, erasing the sweetness and the pain. I walk on to the restroom, my heels hitting the parquet in a rhythmic clacking, I carry on driving, I follow the plot.
How does nostalgia feel to you?