Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.
–Don Draper, “The Wheel,” Mad Men
It’s appropriate, I suppose, that I write this on the same day my madeleine mold tray arrived in the mail, if for the classic literature reference alone. But today isn’t one for cakes to be dipped into tea; no, it’s for listening to Nino Rota’s score for La Dolce Vita for the umpteenth time, and maybe drinking a nice glass of Barbera d’Asti with dinner. It’s about figuring out where in Stamford I can find the freshest eggs possible to make myself a plate of delicious carbornara and portioning out what is likely the last of the sage leaves from my balcony plant for some veal saltimbocca.
You see, our friend and innkeeper during our stay in Acqui Terme has formally announced that she and her husband are in the process of selling their B&B, and while I had a feeling that something like this was going to happen sooner rather than later, the finality of the news struck me with an overwhelming sadness that even threw me off-guard. We visited them just over five years ago on our honeymoon and spent an idyllic week there, walking around the northern Italian countryside, cooking little meals in their gorgeous kitchen, trespassing in their neighbors’ vineyards, and exploring the spa town that was a few kilometers down the hill from their property. I’ve written snippets about our trip over the years, but like most of our travels that have particularly resonated with me, I can never bring myself to write more than a few words at a time about how the trip affected me.
To be honest, I’ve struggled to understand this since-growing reticence of mine to write at length about these experiences, either here or even in my private journal; I mean, I’d assume I’d be just as quick to want to capture the words that described everything I’d seen and tasted and experienced in a place just as much as I whipped out my camera to photograph seemingly everything in sight while I was there. But I think there’s something to be said for not putting it to page, however private that page may be, because then perhaps once it’s released from the depths of both the heart and the mind, the urge, the yearning to revisit those feelings in person again could go away.
Or maybe I’m afraid of putting the experience into words lest they cause that experience to plummet from the profound into the trite. Isn’t that what can hurt about nostalgia the most—that our memories, no matter how fond we are of them, aren’t that special after all upon closer examination?
Certainly our trip was miles away from anything that could be remotely described as epic: once we drove from Malpensa airport to Acqui, we spent the majority of our time either relaxing at the B&B itself or wandering around the surrounding area. Yes, there was a lovely afternoon trip to Turin, but most of our time there was spent wandering Via Garibaldi and looking at things rather than climb the steps to the duomo to take a panoramic view. But what it lacked in grandiosity it more than made up for in serenity: it gave us both a way to do the things we love without the irritations and frustrations of everyday life. It was a weeklong respite from everything that was crappy at that time (namely my recent unemployment) and instead we could focus on the good things, like that we were married and our biggest concerns at any moment were figuring out the right way to ask for things in Italian as we practiced our phrases and vocabulary on our walks down the Regione Valloria and deciding which wine we wanted to enjoy first each evening.
In other words: our activities were blissfully quotidian, and it was precisely what we both needed. And thankfully, those memories do stand up to examination some five years later.
So I’d like to take this time to profusely thank Diana, Micha, and Max for their wonderful hospitality, and to wish them well as they move onward. And because I can’t begin a piece with an epigram from Mad Men without wanting to show the whole scene, here’s the whole, right-in-the-feels pitch from the first season finale of one of the best shows on television:
“It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the Wheel. It’s called a Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around, and back home again… to a place where we know we are loved.”