{10/09/2012}   Revisiting places

I am in Berne, Switzerland, somewhere I first and last visited when I was 18.  My main memories were of old shopping streets with the pavements like tunnels with archways through which you could walk across the road.  I also remember the bears, which you could see from above in a kind of pit.  I headed straight for the bears.  The bear pit I could remember was still there but with no resident bears for the bears have been upgraded to a large area of slopping river bank about five metres away.  The shopping streets were kind of as I remembered, though a lot prettier.  But I am different to the person who visited 19 years ago.

People often say you should never go back.  I went back to Nara, Japan, seven years after I left, having lived in that town for two and a half years.  It was a really odd experience, kind of bitter sweet.  I was unexpectedly awash with homesickness at one point and had a weird kind of flashback to how I felt when I was there and got the phone call that my dad had died.  I felt quite wretched all those years later so I phoned my mum from a phone box I had used before.  It was all a bit surreal.  But I enjoyed cycling around and visiting some favourite places and remembering my way around and it all being so familiar.  And yet so unfamiliar for I was seeing it as a visitor not as a resident, yet I kept feeling like the person I was seven years earlier but who I knew I wasn’t then.  I can’t really explain how I felt but despite my unexpected upset I ended up pleased I’d gone back, though I couldn’t tell you why.  A year later, back working in Kyoto (decorating a five star hotel with Christmas decorations!), I visited again, this time with a friend who was working with me and who had never been to Nara and didn’t even know me until after I had left Japan.  That time, I had an amazing day.  Maybe because I’d already revisited that all important first time and maybe because I fed off my friend’s enthusiasm for the town.  There’s something really enjoyable about showing someone round a place you know really well.  It was really difficult to decide where to go but I knew we should hire bicycles (we did and it was great!) and I decided to choose just three places to visit.  It all worked out really well and as that was the last time I went to Nara, I now no longer feel a need – for it was a need I felt for some years – to go back.  I just can’t put my finger on what or how I got some kind of closure.

There is a part of me that feels a need to revisit places to check my memory, that I’ve remembered it right.  I also want to know how I feel about places with new eyes, as it were.  I’m in Berne for work so I didn’t choose to come back here.  I remember a lot less than I would have expected, especially as it’s a really stunning old city.  I was here before on my first really big adventure, Inter Railing round Europe, but sadly no further memories have been triggered from walking and tramming around the city.  I think I wanted to get a flashback or something to give me an idea of what I thought about when I was 18.

So I guess a lot of this going back places is about trying to piece together, get to know, the me of my teens and 20s.  Maybe I don’t need to know that; I probably would be horrified at how naïve I was then.  I don’t know whether my recent (ie over the past four years or so) fascination with revisiting places I knew between my late teens to mid-20s is a healthy or productive enterprise but it is at least enjoyable on the whole and has taken me back to some really cool and interesting places.


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