Este post va dedicado a un amigo muy especial. Ya sabe quien es.
The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. - L. P. Hartley
Sometimes I’m not sure if with this blog I’m teaching Spanish or writing my memoirs. Paragraph after paragraph, line after line, my writing is heavily steeped in my memories of two short but piquant years of my life. I’m the first to admit that those years were far from perfect, but somehow despite it all (all being my depression, my negligence, my isolation, my cycles of guilt) I was surrounded by a great deal of beauty, some of which I was even able to appreciate at the time. With time and the buffering effects of memory, it’s only that beauty that remains. I love this about memory. I know better than to try to futilely recapture the beauty of the past, but beauty is so fleeting and I don’t want to forget any of it. In the end, all we are left with are memories–I insist on having mine be good ones.
Last summer when I traveled around Argentina and Colombia for five weeks, I ended up seeing Woody Allen’s two latest films. I saw To Rome with Love in a theater in Buenos Aires and Midnight in Paris in Medellín. I didn’t pick the movie either time. I was too distracted to really be able to concentrate much on Midnight in Paris, but now that I think about it I realize that its central theme is nostalgia. The main character lives in the past, obsessed with the idea that the golden age was Paris in the 1920s. But as he magically travels to that era every night, he falls in love with a girl from the period who is convinced that the true golden age was the Belle Époque–the days of the Moulin Rouge in the late 1800s. And on and on it goes. Beauty seems omnipresent in earlier times and as scarce as hen’s teeth in the present moment. Funny how that works. Where is today’s beauty? Surely it abounds, but where? If only we could have tomorrow’s hindsight today.
Ahh, nostalgia. They mean the same thing (I think), but for some reason I have the impression that nostalgia is used more in Spanish than in English. I seem to hear it more; I know I say it more. And maybe I feel it more, too. It’s very common to use poner with this idea, either reflexively or transitively.
¿Será que la lluvia me pone nostálgica?
Could it be the rain that puts me in such a nostalgic mood?
Mi papá se puso nostálgico al escuchar la canción de U2.
My dad got all nostalgic when he heard the U2 song.
My friend Jisel wrote a post a while back that began, “I woke up today feeling inexplicably nostalgic for Colombia.” See, this girl feels me. She then proceeded to take a trip down memory lane complete with pictures. It got me wondering whether memory lane stretches down to Latin America. Is it like the Pan-American Highway, extending from Alaska to the tip of South America? Is it as well transited as it is here in the States? How do Spanish speakers revisit their memories, anyway? I needed to make sure I was going about it the right way.
My attempts to find a translation for memory lane were less than satisfying. Predictably, I found many translations that were a combination of words like viaje/paseo/camino/sendero/jardín/mundo + memoria/recuerdos/nostalgia. Take your pick–it would seem that there’s no universal standard phrase like there is in English. One I like is el baúl de los recuerdos to figuratively represent that mental space where we store our cherished memories. My favorite, though, was this one: carril de la memoria. Now, in my book that’s way too literal. A carril is a lane on a road, as in changing lanes. A carril de la memoria, then, gives me the idea of a highway where one lane is just for memories. You know, right next to the HOV lane. I can see it now: HOV lane for fast cars, memory lane for those drivers who just want to amble and take their sweet time. When you have to get somewhere but don’t want to interrupt your wistful reverie, take the memory lane and keep pining at a comfortable 5 mph.
I’m rather fond of my past and grateful for it (indebted, really), but I’m not nearly as interested in it as I used to be. Sure, there are things and people I miss, but I’m much happier now. Happier, healthier, more in harmony, more interesting. And more successful, going by my personal goals and dreams. Thankfully, I’ve finally stopped indulging in nostalgia like it were my full-time job. I want this time in my life to also be one that I’ll think back on in twenty years and yearn for, thinking, man, those were really good days! But not the good old days . . . just like you can’t truly know who the love of your life is until you’ve reached the end of it and consider and rank all of your loves, I can’t really know what the good old days are until I’ve lived them all. This is just the love of the moment (and maybe all the moments to come, if I’m lucky), and I’m content so long as I can say that these are good days. Which they definitely are.
Working in health care, I’m reminded daily how fragile life is. Just yesterday, I interpreted for a family whose two-year-old son (number five out of six) almost certainly has metachromatic leukodystrophy. He has three cousins who died of the disease while toddlers, and now he will as well. The mom burst into bitter tears as she recounted how he has been regressing in his motion abilities, and I struggled to not start crying myself. I’ve seen a baby be stillborn; I’ve delivered terminal cancer diagnoses and had to ask people about their hospice preferences. Life is so very short. I can only suppose that all the smaller losses along the way somehow prepare us for the final one. In the end, what do you have? You have your relationships and the love and meaning they give your life, and you have the memories of all the love you gave and received in earlier relationships. I’m so grateful for all of the loves of my life even if, at least romantically speaking, none has lasted so far. If only I could think of a way for “thanks for the memories” to sound as sincere as I mean it. Maybe we had a few weeks, maybe a few months, maybe a year–whatever the length, thank you for loving me.
(PD: For the life of me, I can’t figure out if the quien in that first line needs an accent or not.)