I’ve finally figured it out.
For years now I have been saying that I just do not fall prey to nostalgia. I react to the mere mentions of things like high school reunions with a dead, thousand yard stare and a look of utter confusing, expressing my disbelief that anyone could think such an idea worth much of anything. I have had just about zero interest in all the reboots that are going on in pop culture, not the bands of my childhood that are now touring again. I can even watched treasured childhood movies with enough objectivity to realize that not only are these movies bad, but I was stupid to ever have enjoyed them.
But now I know that I am not completely immune. I suffer from an exclusively geographically based nostalgia.
I like places. I get caught up in the places that I used to live in. I lived in Boston for one short year and I still go on about it like it is the greatest place in the USA. I recently revisited, and I was happy just to walk around and do mental comparisons of all the changes between the near decade and a half1 of my first living there and my second visit. Almost the same exact thing happened this year with my visit to Thessaloniki (Photo-dump forthcoming). When my family first moved to the United States we moved into a crumby apartment building in a run down neighborhood2, and sometimes I get the nostalgic kick to go pay that place a visit.I “lived” in San Francisco for all of two weeks, and I still would like to go back and explore that place again. Hell, despite all the kvetching I did while I was there, I now even think about making a trip back to Hangzhou, just to hang around that place for a bit.
To try to abridge all this, I am a person who likes places. I am also a person gearing up to leave the city I live in currently. By the time you are reading this, I will in fact have left.
So on the one hand, it would make sense that I should be sad about going. However, there are other factors to consider. This place, where I have spent the majority of my 2020, has been the greatest author of my misery that you can imagine.
It isn’t the places fault. It was the fault of the really horrible people that I spent far too much time with. It was also the fault of the circumstances that obliged me to spend too much time with them, and didn’t allow me to find other avenues of social outlets. It was the fault of the circumstances, really.
I didn’t think this was going to be a problem. Not, at least, past July 1st 2020, when a lot of the horrible people I was dealing with kind of vanished from my life. But in a very weird way, what remained were all the memories.
I go for long walks, which was a habit I had well before we could only do it for state-sanctioned hours at a time. I often try to multi-task my way through these walks, sometimes with a good podacast, audiobook, or some music. But I started to notice that it was increasingly hard for me to focus fairly often. I would be frequently walking the same streets and paths that I had walked when I was at my horrible previous job, and I noticed that I fell back into thinking about all the same frustrating issues I had with my coworkers when I was working for them. It was becoming hard for me to let go. I think that is going to be the case with this place.
That is, were I staying here. It’s a unique set of 2020 circumstances that obliged me to a place where things were unable to ever get appreciably better. These things happen. I do not think, however, that this is some kind of rule. When I did visit Thessaloniki this year, I never once stopped to think about all the bad experiences I had there. Plenty of bad things did happen while I was there, and I am also likely sure that those memories were vivid when I was still living there. Instead, during this past visit I puttered about Thessaloniki trying to remember where exactly that super delicious falafel shop was, with the full realization that it would no longer be there. I just wanted to know if I could find it. I would like the same thing to ultimately happen here. Maybe I could come back in a decade or so and see if I can find the bar I went to the once on a February night before all the quarantine and lock down took effect.
Back when I was doing my Master’s degree a friend of mine was working on her thesis which was, I am afraid to say, a little on the moronic side. She was ultimately arguing that places, in their very nature, have intrinsic meaning and memory. She ultimately failed that thesis (at least partially for the fact that she was just phoning the fucking thing in. The bigger question was how her advisor let her get to the submission part at all). The closest thing I can get to giving that idea credit is the understanding that we put memories onto places.
Here is an example. I mentioned before that I take daily walks around Chalkida. I often go into a little park, par of which extends beneath a bridge that connects the island of Evia to mainland Greece. In the clearing beneath a bridge, I found what I later figured out to be a makeshift memorial to someone who had died (this was signified by the religious candles next to the little mound of stones). Looking directly above from the place, I realized that the bridge’s maintenance deck was directly above it. It isn’t proof, but in all likelihood that little memorial is at the exact place of someone’s suicide. That’s the kind of memory we can leave in a place. But that too has no real permanence, and as all the player’s in that drama begin to forget, the memories will fade. Time purges all these things, and I do look forward, already nostalgically, to the moment where time has cleansed Chalkida of those painful memories I have of it.
1 2003 – 2019. Oh christ I feel old.
2 I am not actually sure how this is meant to be evaluated. In the early 2000’s I drove bby that appartment building with a friend and pointed it out to him, telloing him about the time I lived there. His reaction was one of shock: “You lived there!? But you aren’t nearly hispanic enough for this neighborhood.” Years later, a sort of recklace work colleague asked me to give him a ride home via a friend-of-his’ house. The stop at said friend’s was obviously to buy marijuana, although he never said as much. That house was a rowhouse about a block or two away from that old apartment building I lived in. I pointed it out to him, and I got nearly the same verbatim answer.