Until I was 15, my family used to spend a couple of months a year at a house at the seaside. As the house has been my number one association to the word “childhood” since I’ve been introduced to the concept of nostalgia, I developed a strange relationship with it after we’d stopped visiting. When something that valuable for your inner life is (for the most part) taken away, you begin to question everything related to it in order to discover a definite, carved-in-stone truth that you hope will help you adapt to the sudden lack of it as painlessly as possible.
In the 4 years I didn’t go there my mind slowly recalled, reconstructed and analyzed every single memory: being afraid of going in the lower courtyard as a child because I was convinced a lion would eat me were I to disturb his kingdom unaccompanied by an adult, watching ships and lights with elbows resting on windowsills at night, narrow, steep stairs you could never get the hang of, the smell of lavender after having watered the garden, mysterious paintings in the living room, shortcut leading to the bakery past a brood of hens, stories bordering on occult everyone enjoyed elaborating on whenever they got the chance, the saddest dog in the world, listening to gentle morning rain between crisp white sheets … All pure magic realism the source of which was, I was sure, the house itself.
I returned to the house last summer with my brother. Happy that I finally had the opportunity to do it, I took a camera with me to capture everything I had been constantly thinking about all these years. However, when we unlocked the doors for the first time, let the light in and took a walk around the place, there was suddenly nothing to photograph, as if everything I held so dear never existed at all. It was then that I finally realized what I missed wasn’t the house but the time when we inhabited it. It was us, the people, who made it alive, and that feeling can never be recreated because my childhood at n° 87 is long gone, no matter how nostalgic I feel about it.
In a way, I’m content I let it go as – like so many times before – what I yearned for was unattainable. A part of me will probably always wish it weren’t, but our new place a couple of minutes down the hill has many qualities to it as well. If nothing else, I still have the memories – I’ve learned it doesn’t pay off to live off them, but in smaller doses I’m sure they can be nothing but benign.