Autobiographic writing is lying he truth
A few weeks from now I will turn 77. Which is a holy number but a dubious age. No doubt any more that my future is in the past. Looking ahead my common sense dictates to dispose of most of the contents of my bucket list.
So I won’t move to Scandinavia, will not resume piano lessons, forget about a degree in Portuguese and will not travel extensively in Patagonia.
Looking over my shoulder I see the long road I have travelled my previous 77 years – at the same time there is my mental cemetery. It’s huge and overloaded by my buried history. And I suddenly feel a urge to revisit former paradises that aren’t there anymore. A desire to return to places where my life peaked. Exhibitions, concerts, even some inspiring lectures I attended to. Wanting to know about the girls I knew. The exes and almost exes. About the old former friends. About colleagues who faded in the mist of time. And foes or rather some of my dearest opponents.
But I won’t even try.
Because I know it doesn’t work. The one thing it will bring is disappointment. Things changed, places changed, we’ve changed, the magic has gone. Forever. They were once in a life time experiences. I know because I did put it to the test.
That happened for instance when we wanted to re-enact one of our life defining moments.
In June ’60 my fiancée and I stayed a night at the small, solitary hotel at the top of the Ballon d’Alsace, France, where we officially shared a hotel room for the very first time during our very first holidays together. There and then we exchanged engagement rings after a year of being in love.
It was special also because of other reasons.
Firstly Hotel Staufer was extremely romantic in many ways. It was located on the bare, windy top of the highest peak in Les Vosges – a “moyenne montagne”, a mountainous area with altitudes ranging from 500m to 1500m. Moreover the atmosphere reminded of Wuthering Heights: “I’m so cold, let me in your window…It gets dark, it gets lonely, on the other side from you…. O, let me have it, let me grab your soul away” (the Kate Bush version of Emily Brontë).
Secondly, perhaps even mainly, because of the old lady who was the receptionist in the hotel.
In those years unmarried couples legally weren’t allowed to share one hotel room. But even though it turned out we were the only guests that night, this angel showed obvious disbelief when we asked for two rooms. With a wink she answered we could get what we asked for, but that she thought young people like us in all likelihood preferred one room.
Of course she didn’t need to be clairvoyant for that observation. But her liberal French attitude – so different from the then current Dutch Calvinism- was surprising to us all the same. Slightly embarrassed, but grateful, we accepted this lifeline bridging our tight budget, our wish for relative comfort and our huge lust.
Years later, in the seventies, my wife and I decided to revisit paradise.
That we shouldn’t have done. It was a huge disappointment.
The place had become a tourist destination. The hotel had changed in an unrecognisable way. The old lady had gone and slick management had taken over.
We stayed over the night only to discover the building’s ultimate make over was still or again in full swing. The provisional wall separating our room from the adjacent one, was that thin that we could clearly overhear that couple’s amorous exercises: “Ma chérie… Oh, mon petit chou, mon chou… Je t’aime, mon cœur… Moi aussi..”. Interesting, but no.
The urge to revisit personal highlights is nothing but a desire for sentimental journeys and nostalgia. Two misleading emotions actually. Hence my habit of burying memories, to leave them behind. Fight sentimentality, cut ties and trust on new ones. What was, will never be the same.
So forget about it. No pangs of nostalgia. No experiences of wistful and melancholic emotions. It made me thrive..
So I will suppress this urge to organize reunions and visit places where my footsteps are already. I will stick to my habit till the end.