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The good old days?

Posted in Life & Love

It’s like a sneaky trapdoor, in the pit of my stomach, that opens treacherously when unexpected. Nostalgia is.

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?

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11 Comments

  1. Sometimes, reading a book or listening to a piece of music, I feel a sense of nostalgia for something I never experienced – how weird is that?!
    However, as one who grew up in Africa, there are certain nostalgia ‘triggers’ for me….a phrase, a tone of voice, a photograph and I am deeply locked in to the past. Approaching my 70s (far too quickly to my mind) there are other triggers, places in London, in Scotland and now in China, but Africa trumps them all.

    May 22, 2017
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    • I understand completely. Especially with books, I can be transported into lives I will never live and become nostalgic for them. And, as I get older, there are places, attached to memories small and large, that, as you say, become triggers. More and more of them.

      May 22, 2017
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  2. L’inglese ha tradotto letteralmente dal greco, homesick. Sbaglio? Per me la nostalgia è la mancanza del mare, ma non la sento quando sono lontana, bensì quando ci sono davanti, e mi viene addosso tutta la sua potenza e il senso di libertà e di infinito che trasmette

    May 17, 2017
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    • Non ci avevo pensato – anche se homesick ha piu’ una connotazione di lontananza e mancanza di casa e/o famiglia. A me il mare d’inverno fa venire nostalgia dell’estate e degli amori perduti.

      May 18, 2017
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      • Sì, il mare d’inverno è malinconico

        May 26, 2017
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    • I suppose. Winners hadn’t really crossed my mind but I guess you are right.

      May 18, 2017
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  3. That’s a good analogy, the trapdoor in the pit of your stomach. Nostalgia, for me, definitely hits there, but it hits deep in the chest too. Sometimes it’s quite marvellous, when the memory of some happy occasion, or some great achievement, spontaneously resurfaces. It’s always a fleeting thing, though.

    I like that you’re more excited for the unknown future than you’re nostalgic for the past. Sounds like a good mindset

    May 16, 2017
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    • I am extremely attached to my past – and attracted by history – but have never been attached to it. Kind of weird.

      May 18, 2017
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  4. Winston Moreton
    Winston Moreton

    Great question. Great writing

    May 16, 2017
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