So after three days of travelling, I’m finally back in France. Everything is familiar and yet slightly different. Including this keyboard, making it pretty difficult to write. But, even if no one reads this, I still need to write it.
Being back, however, makes me want to write about the concepts of home and nostalgia. Some of the most powerful emotions we can feel is in relation to our homes, to a longing for an idealised past that is founded as much in our imaginations as in reality. The inherent appeal of nostalgia is why Proust`s à la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time) is so powerful. We can relate to the famous sequence of the Madeleine, where the author is washed in a flood of memories triggered by his dipping of this French biscuit/cake1 into his tea, because we all have similar triggers pulling us back into a long-coveted past.
I’ve felt this recently, but the trigger was more in a smell that I couldn’t quite recognise. Of course this isn’t surprising as smell is the sense most closely bound with memory; it’s why I still have a cologne that I bought when I was fifteen and still occasionally wear when I am feeling particularly homesick. The smell made me long for a past which I knew I could never revisit and suddenly I felt a sense of deep bitter-sweet melancholy which I cherished because of it’s emotional depth. It’s not knowing exactly what it was I was desiring that made that so difficult. It’s hard to deal with our longing for the past because most often you don’t know what it is you are searching for beyond a feeling of security and comfort.
I travelled a lot from country to country when I was younger and, as such, had trouble recognising a home, but I’ve always had that intense desire to revisit the comforts of my childhood. Feeling comfortable and safe is what defines the concept of home. In our search to revisit our childhood homes we are in fact trying to revisit a time when we felt less vulnerable and more sure of our lives. The problem is those times most likely weren’t the halcyon years that we supposed they were,they were just as confusing and discomforting as the times we are living through now. We only project an idealizing sheen on the past because it seems easier than facing the fact that life is perpetually disorientating and baffling.
In saying all this, I think the key to facing the past is to embrace the beauty of nostalgia as a enchanting feeling while realizing that it is, at the same time, beguiling and sometimes misleading. It is perhaps more important not to try to search for a past happiness but rather to find new happiness in the life you lead in the present.
1It’s hard to define which it is, if you’ve ever had a Madeleine then you would understand why