St Kilda pier and marina at sunset

Nostalgia’s Curse

(Sufjan Stevens’s Carrie and Lowell is on the turntable.)

Lyndal and I were travelling. I had spent some time and some bucks buying music speculatively so we could have something while we were away. Bandcamp was a big help with that.

We visited many places that were new to us and had a chance to discover the wonders they had to offer. We finished our trip in New York.

For me New York is a second home. We live in Melbourne and I travel to NYC about once a year.

One of the things about not living in a place but being super familiar with it is noticing the changes. When Lyndal and I first started visiting there together we stayed at the Hotel Chelsea. This became our base in the city. We stayed there a few more times over the coming years. We knew the staff. We knew the residents.

The Chelsea closed down in 2011 after some bitter feuding between the owners. It had already started to change, though. Somehow the fighting had affected the hotel itself. We noticed a change in the atmosphere when we visited only a few months earlier. We were already mourning the loss of something we once knew. We mourned an experience we once had.

The Chelsea closed down in 2011 and we felt lost in the city on our next visit.

Last November I noticed that the New Venus, the diner we used to frequent on 8th Avenue, near 23rd Street, is no longer there and I felt more loss.

Today I went for a walk in St Kilda, an inner-suburb of Melbourne where I spent a formative years drinking, watching comedy and seeing gigs. It’s where Lyndal and I formed our initial friendship. My memories of St Kilda are strong but that St Kilda does not exist anymore.

There are glimpses of it.

I saw a topless tattooed man in his fifties, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, wrestling with a broken canvas-covered shopping pusher, some kind of bottle and its label were tangled in the wheel mechanism.

There were the joggers and roller-bladers and families and packs of teens on the beach, enjoying possibly the last clear and warmish day before winter hits.

These are the things that have always been St Kilda. But the Espy Hotel, where we used to hang out in the car park, beer garden and the front room (it’s called the Nimrod Room), has not been the same for years. Now it’s closing for renovations. They say they’re going to sound-proof the band room so they can still have live music, or something, but the fear is that they’ll get rid of the live music altogether.

Fitzroy Street, once a destination for al fresco dining, being seen and bumping into people, was almost a wasteland: stores remaining without tenants for years because the landlords ask too much while restaurants and cafes go out of business regularly because the foot traffic just is not there anymore.

The curse of nostalgia is that we fear change and are wary of the new.

The truth is that my St Kilda was the same St Kilda that disappointed those who came before me because Bojangles wasn’t there anymore and they renovated the Sea Baths.

The Chelsea that Lyndal and I experienced was frowned upon by those who were there in the 70s and 80s.

We attach our memories to physical places and are offended when those places change even though we know they can’t stay the same; even though we change, ourselves.

Just because we once had experiences does not mean that there are not new experiences to be had.

This is about choice. We can go through life wishing we still had the experiences we once had or we can seek the new experiences.

Let’s look at New York as an example. There’s not a period of time that we can point to and say "that’s the definitive New York". Even when I first visited in 1992 I recognised that it was simultaneously Woody Allen’s New York and Spike Lee’s New York.

The city has changed a lot since then and still there are experiences to be had and stories to be told. It’s just a matter of seeking them out rather than mourning the ones we once had.

The mourning is not only futile, it’s disrespectful to the experiences we actually had. We were never going to have that moment again but we have many moments to come, but we’re not going to see them if we keep looking back.

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