Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Transience of Place

Hey, I’m Adam. I can never think of what to say when introducing myself and so hate it, which makes me all the more thankful for Gus’ kind, but wildly inaccurate, introduction. So without further ado.
Leaving places is always strange. When you’ve been somewhere for a little while, long enough to consider it some kind of home, and the time comes for you to move on it is an odd sensation. In this day and age it’s easier than ever to move about, and if you ever want to it is generally quite easy to return to a place. Odds are that you probably will, to see old friends, family, to reminisce. These are not the old days where you would leave to make a new life in a new land and never see your home shores again. There is not that level of finality in leaving a place, which, perhaps, in some ways makes things harder. But there is an undeniable emotional impact in those symbolic last moments you spend as a resident living in that place. There is a sense of severance. In your day to day life you may walk past places that you feel no attachment to at all. The daily route you take to work or town or school seems meaningless. But day after day you will take that same route and pass those same things and they will become indelibly etched on your mind. And you will walk past them thinking all manner of thoughts and feeling all manner of feelings and so, much as your environment becomes etched into your mind, you will impose those thoughts and feelings on your environment. Your surroundings will become inextricably associated with them so when it comes time to leave and you take one last look around you will realise that your very experiences are physically rooted in that place. A building is just a mixture of stone, steel, wood and glass. But we imbue personalities on these things, narratives and histories, not just of our own personal experiences but also of their past. You may feel hostility for a place, love, nostalgia, but the place itself is not responsible for them, we impose a narrative on it much as, I suppose, we impose narratives on ourselves. Often we do not realise how much we have invested in these physical locations until it is time to leave.
I had occasion to think about on my last day in Newcastle, the city where I’ve spent the last three years as a student. It was that special and very rarely seen time of around five in the morning, just before the workaholics and early bird morning commuters are up but late enough that the majority of the screaming, underdressed drunkards have finally scraped themselves off the streets (although I did still see three or four young ladies in sparkly dresses and heels slumped on street corners). It was quiet, quieter than cities normally ever are, but for the occasional passing car and the distant street-sweepers. But despite the earliness it was bright, the early summer sun lighting up the still sleeping houses. 
Seeing the city like this, devoid of its usual noise, loud students and crowds of people, allowed me to see it in a new way, as a thing standing on its own. I found an attachment I didn’t know was there. To the physical place. To the majestic buildings, old-fashioned and new. To the trees, the pond and the beautiful green grass in the little parklet between the Civic Centre and one of the old churches, where I’d sat many times in the sun. To the World War One war memorial, a tableau of the men going off to war, which I’d passed hundreds of times with barely a glance before one of my lecturers made us go look at it in detail. Even to the quiet roads themselves.

I went and sat on a bench, in one of those carefully maintained “outdoor spaces” (for want of a better name) between two buildings, that a lot of Universities seem to feature these days. I’d never been there before. I’d been down the roads to either side many a time, even looked across the space between them, but I’d never really seen what lay there. I’d never really taken it in. Perhaps this is a particular curse of our day and age, though I think in some form it probably goes all the way back to the beginning. We are so busy rushing from one place to another that we never take in what lies between. We are so fixated on getting from A to B that we don’t realise that any point in between could be someone else’s destination, their A or B, and really has just as much value as any of our destinations. But I digress. This little island of tranquillity gave me a new perspective. I’d had my share of bad and good experiences in Newcastle but sitting there made me think of the transience of it all. In everyday life you normally follow some kind of routine; there is some kind of consistency. From one day to the next little seems to change. But that pause you take, just before you leave, makes you look back and realise just how different you really are, for better or for worse, from when you arrived. And however well you know a place you will never have experienced even a fraction of what it has to offer. Who knows where you would have ended up if you’d just once taken a turn down a side street, gone into a different shop or bar, struck up a conversation with a different person? 
Maybe this is not the case for everyone. I know there are some who never leave their home village and they may very well find other opportunities to consider the same thing, or similar, at different times. But I’ve left a lot of places in my time and this feeling of loss, transience, has ironically come with me everywhere I’ve left. I’ve also somehow become uniformly terrible at hellos and goodbyes. I always remember that the last thing I said to Gus before leaving Norway was “maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.” The next time I saw him must’ve been about a year later. In practical terms going back somewhere is easy. You can find ways even if you are damn near broke. But for all you may return to visit a place, however much you enjoy it, however much you reminisce, you will never be able to catch more than echoes of your past belonging.

1 comment:

  1. That was a really, really good read. Thank you.