Monday, August 27th, 2007 http://adamkhan.net/rambles/a-drop-in-time
wo years and nine months ago one crisp cold day in Rome my Olympus C-5050 (state-of-the-art back in 2002 according to Steve’s Digicams) rolled out of my lap as I stood up from an outdoor table at a cafe on Piazza Vittorio Emmanuelle. Since then it has languished broken in various drawers. A very nice English fellow who’d been on holiday for a week was leaving and this was his goodbye cup of coffee down the street from Hostel Beautiful, where yet another temporary little community had sprung up, this time centered around the handsome and charismatic Manni Pasqualini—Australian and to me more Clooney than George himself, down to the voice.
The fellow we were saying goodbye to was also a big beautiful man, albeit some fifteen years older and ravaged and aged by a nearly fatal illness from which he was still recovering. As well as being a wonderful guy anyway, people in such circumstances have their own gift to give: their sheer and obvious gratitude for being alive today.
Homeless at the hostel: these were in restrospect somewhat rich days despite seeming dreadful at the time due to having no home and precious little money and Maddie and Jam being up in the northern Lazio countryside with Gloria the mad dogsitter. By now I either had my job or it was in the cards, but nonetheless it was still mantra time, a period during which I had to repeat the line: “What’s Wrong with Right Now Unless You Think About It?” in order not to just quiver myself out of existence with anxiety.
And so I stood up, and onto the hard ground rolled the camera I’d bought about seven months before. That had been May 2004 on the delightful endless strip malls of New Jersey. I’d been sent to a particular store by Barak and Noga, who had found it on the internet as having the best price for the video camera they so desperately wanted back in Tel Aviv. They were setting up their dog adoption service, Parvatonim, and wanted the camera to take short movies of the dogs. A memory returns, reasonably vivid, seldom if ever thought about since: stopping for directions in New Jersey at a pet store and having a pleasant time speaking to an elderly couple there. Ah, the minutae of memory.
A camera itself is a kind of memory time machine, supernaturally capturing moments on the fly, fleeting insignificant seconds pressing a button on a plastic box yet with the passage of time becoming the emblem and sometimes the key to an entire epoch of your life. And then to have that camera back again in one’s hands a personal epoch later, well, it feels sort of like a time machine squared. Your chronicling device is suddenly back to what it was years ago, before much was changed and lost, and that in itself somewhat returns you to those times.
The camera, which may even have been inside its case, hit the ground lens first, bashing it in so that it would no longer wind in and out when switched off and on. It stopped working.
I’d just had it delivered to Rome by Emeline and Adi, my sister and brother-in-law, who’d won the trip on the National Lottery. Mistakenly I’d followed the advice of Colin Fletcher in The Complete Walker IV book and left the camera behind. Fletcher writes that he’d broken his once on a hike thirty years ago and never replaced it, feeling liberated from the tyranny of taking pictures. Bollocks. I missed my camera a lot on the walks in Turkey, so much so that I went and bought one while there, and it was a piece of shit, and so I have no clear photos of that amazing mad week, each night spent alone with the dogs in a different isolated mountain campsite. (Though those memories remain very vivid without photographic assistance—fancy that.)
Having a low-res camera does affect your perception of an era. Yes, I’ve taken a few nice ones since acquiring my Nokia 6630 telephone’s camera, but the quality is almost always iffy. So now that the camera’s back it suddenly feels as though life can potentially be technicolor again. The camera is 5 megapixels, not many by today’s standards, but enough for crisp lovely images.
The time that I did have the camera was at Even Sapir, so once again I’m brought back to that period in life. All psychic roads lead to Jerusalem it seems. Honor your infatuations, they say. My nostalgic infatuation is now for there, living in a spacious grannie flat overlooking one of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen from a house, the grounds seamlessly becoming the countryside and national trails. I think of the place as I walk the streets here in Britain, looking at the street signs and architectural styles that I so dearly missed for years as a boy and young teenager in Israel and that now make me a little sad. And I’m hoping that just as Buddha had to meditate for years on suffering, seemingly fruitlessly, and as the Buddhists apparently train monks—getting them to short-circuit their minds by obsessing over insoluble problems until they give up and are willing to allow that the seat of the self may lie elsewhere than the mind—then so I hope the irony here will help break the nostalgia habit.
The irony being of course that now that I’m finally back here in Britain in my mid-30s I am feeling for Israel and Maddie similar to how I felt for years in Israel about Glasgow and Vicky, sitting in class at school drawing maps of my old immediate neighborhood back in Glasgow (though presumably Vicky was fine, having been returned to the family we had gotten her from). Surely this is enough to short-circuit the nostalgia nonsense: it’s clear that I take it with me, it’s about me and my habits and tendencies, not the actual objects of my nostalgia. At place A I’m nostalgic for B, then at B for A.
There’s a recent article on Nabokov, ‘Nabokov’s Gift’, which covers his Speak, Memory and enduring sense of exile and nostalgia. For Nabokov nostalgia seems to be a source of artistic inspiration. Being finally back here among the old familiar bricks, street signs and license plates seems to have absolutely no real impact whatsoever on life, which impugns on the significance of my childhood longings. Of course, during that period of longing I was not only sitting around moping. We had an active play life, I had the deepest crushes, exciting new friends, thrilling and satisfying new smells. What I’m getting at is that nostalgia is not something to seek nor something to be frightened of, but merely the inevitable by-product of moving around and forming attachments, something to just calmly allow, something like dogs’ vestigal useless kicks in the air after crapping—a behavior that Darwin muses on in The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals and can only explain as a vestigal useless imperfection like an appendix.
The difference between air scratching and waxing nostalgic though is that no dog labors under the illusion that the seat of her self is her right hind leg, whereas waxing nostalgic enlists the imagination, memory and emotions, which together combine to form what we usually presume to be the very self. Enlightened ones try to teach us that this is not actually the self, but it is very hard to experience the truth of that statement, even if we believe it. I experienced it briefly in yoga class a couple of weeks ago in savassanah—I already mentioned that in the previous parries, so important a moment it was—when the chatter of the mind seemed a weak parody and the self sat recognizably in the belly and organs.
So my question is whether fixing the camera is a trigger for defanging nostalgia. I hope so because without defanging it threatens to feel more vital than actual current life. I have a broom now hanging from a wall outside in the back yard here on Tichborne Street, as I had it outside at Sapir. We’ve upholstered the kitchen chairs, each different, and one of them is furry artificial orange and black tiger stripes, the same as what I had covering half a sofa at Sapir. I stand outside here in the yard having a smoke and can’t help but feel nostalgic for Sapir, that circumstances at the moment are just a more expensive but inferior recreation of that magical time, when of course I had both Maddie and Jam looking so beautiful in their repose at various spots around the property, taking in the airs.
What happened was that here in Britain I finally mustered up the wherewithall to contact Olympus and ask what to do about getting the camera fixed. They emailed me back saying it’ll cost £105 and to send it in to them. My Dad suggested I try to fix it first myself—no harm in trying because if I fail they’ll fix the further damage I did anyway. Sound advice, plus the post office creates such resistance in me that it was easier to go to the pound shop and buy some pliers. There they were: £1 for a package of five pairs of pliers (rather than say £5 for one pair at a regular hardware shop). Optimistic, I also bought some batteries.
I clamped the pliers around the lens casing as the camera attempted to push it out upon being switched on. I did it three or four times, getting increasingly firm, until something popped and there it was, working. That impact in cold Rome 2¾ years ago had merely forced the lens barrel past one of the tube’s threads. With enough force I just reversed the process.
Now that’s something nostalgia can never do.