What is it with this nostalgia that refuses to leave us alone? I mean, why is it that we sometimes feel so unable to shake those feelings in our heads about times gone by and moments that will most likely never come again? I’ve heard it said many times that it is sometimes better not to see or hear some things because once they are inside your head, it is simply impossible to rid yourself of them. For travelers this is specially a problem, perhaps because once you get to see or hear of a glorious place, your life is never the same. The visions linger inside of you mercilessly, and before you know it, you begin to cherish those quiet moments in your life that allow you to sneak away into those faraway places from wherever you happen to be at the time. You are carried there by that classic feeling of nostalgia, by the “sentimental longing or wishful affection for the past.”
And that brings me to the “old world;” to the time, money, and effort travelers spend every year visiting all things old around the world. Sure, travelers also love the glittering lights of modern Tokyo, or the clinical modernism of a Singapore, but for the most part, their feet seem to take them to old Beijing, to Old Town Prague, and to the far corners of the well-trodden world in search of things that have been around for a long time. Dark, cobblestone alleyways around the world send our heartbeats into overdrive in a way that modern minimalism just doesn’t seem to understand. It’s not a value judgment, though, but rather an impulse lathered with nostalgia that seems to be the culprit. The modern, by virtue of its newness, will be around for a while, but the old may not be, and that alone seems to be reason enough for lighting a fire under our feet. We just need to “see it before its gone.” We just have to. And no, it has nothing to do with the logic of where it’s best to spend our limited resources. Rather, it has everything to do with the images that live inside our heads, with that feeling that can only come when strolling slowly in an old world whose silent history whispers in our ears the sweet, romantic songs of adventure and melancholy that make us the conflicted souls we all are. So here is to the old world, to nostalgia, and to a future that finds its highest expression in the past, for it is in that past that we so often find the windows to our future.
I’m always fascinated by bookstores. Never mind that long ago I made the transition to e-readers, though, because no matter this surrender to the modern era, I still can’t resist the lingering nostalgia that comes from having been part of the pre-Internet generation. Not that my memory of simpler times leads to any sale during my visits (carrying a camera all day seems enough for me these days), but rather that in the process of transitioning to the digital age, all sorts of things were admittedly lost in the process. The physical sensation that comes from walking between rows and rows of books, the orderly lack of uniformity and topics on the shelves, and the childish satisfaction that accompanied the process of purchasing a book. All great things, but perhaps more relevant to an era when physical access to a whole slew of bookstores was more the norm rather than an exception. Notwithstanding this reality, bookstores out there are not giving up without a fight and seem to have figured something out by concentrating in neighborhoods that do away with the need for anyone to get into a car to reach them. This is good news. But is this a last stand or the wave of the future? Hard to say. What I know is that bookstores are still out there, and that just in case, we must all enjoy them while we can.
What is it about days gone by that so much fascinate today’s imagination? With the digital revolution being experienced by our generation, it would seem that everyone has been caught up on the modern technological era, looking forward to a connected world trying to move as close as possible to the speed of light. And yet, if you take a stroll down the Virginia countryside (or any state countryside for that matter), you will immediately notice that nostalgia for simpler times is alive and well in the American psychic. There are endless reenactments of colonial era lifestyles, county fairs where old machinery clonks its way throughout the day, and local entertainment that has nothing to do with today’s hip-hop generation. In some sense it is a look back in search of grounding, a retrospective yearning for meaning in a modern world that seems to lack meaning at times. And if we cannot tell where we came from, I guess we will never know how far we’ve traveled along that road we call life. So let’s hear it for nostalgia, for that marker along the road by which we measure the progress in our lives and which will always be our guiding light in an uncertain and unpredictable future.
Remember the old movie houses with their unique facades and the aroma of freshly-popped popcorn that spilled into the street? I think most people in America over 30 do, but sadly, these architectural landmarks are growingly been converted into all sorts of venues, from clothing stores to mini-shopping malls. The phenomena could be a bit more pronounced in larger cities than in small-town America, but the trend has not been a good one for these venues for a long time. That’s a pity, because the charm and feeling of these old structures will never be reproduced by today’s Megaplex theaters offering 16 to 24 movies under a single roof.
There seem to be many reasons for this gradual disappearance. For starters, the paying customers that continue to go to movies obviously want choices, and lots of them. Stadium seating where someone’s head in front of you is not blocking part of the screen? Check. Access to the latest movies on the first day of their release? Check again. Video game machines, ATM’s, and self-service ticket dispenser? No problem. Unfortunately, all of this comes at a price. Don’t know about you, but I still love having to stand in line to buy a ticket from a person inside that colorful ticket booth. And what about the flashing lights outside the theater at night? Those are great too. But more than that, these places have a kind of personality and character that modern concrete boxes can only dream of. One single show every evening. Why not? After all, a little simplicity may just be what we all need in our über busy lives.