Here I am listening to Massanet, staring at piles of tattered turn-of-the-century books, van Gogh’s night sky casting a soft glow upon the far wall. Here I am lounging on a plastic mattress, typing — inklessly — on a MacBook my innermost — or at least my outermost — thoughts, trying to listen to digitized classical music over the roar of nearby car traffic. Here I am, being made keenly aware of the incalculable distance which lies between me and that Belle Époque whose art, books, and music surround me. As much as I try, as much as I gather up the memorabilia of the past, dig through its refuse for the treasures that have survived the harsh passing away of time, — as much as I try, what I yearn to capture and live within is intangible. It is a feeling of else-places, of else-times. It is a consciousness cast in quiet sepia. And it’s a darn curse! Not so much the feeling or consciousness in itself, but the possession of it. It’s to be fixed between then and now, unsure in which can be found the greater truth, the most valuable ideas, the most worthwhile ventures. Lost.
Not lost spiritually, or politically. Not even lost like a sheep. Lost as in misplaced. That is, I would be found if I were not here — as distinctly nonsensical, and tautological, that may sound. Yet no compass, no sailing ship can lead me to this land. If I had a chance at finding it by the night sky, believe you me, I would lose no time in embarking on a voyage to search for it. No, there is no light, however heavenly, able to point me to my beloved elsewheres. Not because it is impossible, though as a feeble-minded man I do not know how it could be possible. But because it is undesirable that I should swim against the tide of Progress like some harebrained salmon bent on finding a mate downstream. There is a march, and it propels us forward. Perhaps if we all decided to retrace our steps, we would discover a past awaiting, pining for, our return. Or perhaps not. (If a tree falls in a forest, but there’s no one about to hear it, has it really fallen? If we return to the past, but everyone has already departed the past, are we really returning? The former has an answer, the latter does not.)
I do not speak of time-travel. I do not wish to vacation in the 1770s for the summer and then spring-break on the Acropolis. Travel assumes that one’s home remains to welcome one back after a journey. What I speak of is not roundtrip travel, but a one-way quest. Backward.