"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think."
-Michel de Montaigne
-Michel de Montaigne
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Doppelganger, Or, Can You Ever Go to the Same Place Twice?
Recently on my trip to New York City, I found myself visiting the same places I'd loved while I lived there. Without any conscious thought at all, my feet took me where I spent countless hours as a penniless undergrad: Bryant Park, the Rose Reading Room at the New York Public Library, the Central Park great lawn, St.Patrick's on 5th, Barnes and Noble on 66th, the same, the same...
And yet. Not the same.
-Bryant Park loveliness.
-Magically delicious street gyros.
-7 train that shakes you like a deranged nanny caught on tape.
-Eau de subway (it has its own unique funk, like home).
-Crazies yelling obscenities below my window at 2am.
-Neighborhoods: Columbus Circle now = mini-mall.
-Stores: Bronx Target(I-wudda-given-a-leg-for-one-back-in-tha-day).
-Laws: Honking illegal in Manhattan? It's the city symphony.
-Inhabitants: 125th Street is so...white? Not bad, just different.
-Weather: It was hot, balmy even. It always seemed freezing to me in New York before. Maybe I'm just fatter. Yeah, most definitely fatter.
I tripped around the city looking for something familiar or beloved in the changing landscape; and I was a little overwhelmed by it, the passage of time. The apartment where Edgar Allen Poe lived is now a NYU dorm room. The bookstore where William Faulkner made his fateful meeting with Elizabeth Anderson is now a department store. A bariatrics clinic looms awkwardly in proximity to Edith Wharton's house in leafy Gramercy Park.
Everything is a version of something else.
Why do we return to places, sometimes even people, expecting the same thing twice? We want things, loves, experiences to be held in suspension, bottled at their peak. I suppose this is what getting older means. It means that neighborhoods will look different, even only a few years later. It means that people and love, not only can, but WILL change.
It means that you can never really go back to the same place twice.
But if you are very lucky, this new thing--this hybrid child of past and present--will be more than just a doppelganger following you in the dark recesses of memory. This new thing will be even more lovely than the park bench you remembered, speckled in light.