The wistful, bittersweet lure of nostalgia

The term nostalgia describes a yearning for the past, often in idealized form. The word is a learned formulation of a Greek compound, consisting of νόστος (nóstos), meaning “homecoming”, a Homeric word, and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning “pain, ache”.

(Definition via the ever accurate and always trustworthy source of our times, Wikipedia.)

As an admitted nostalgia fiend, there are few things I find pleasure in more than reading a weathered book with someone else’s notes scrawled in the margins, a looped, cursive signature of a stranger on a yellowed LP cover, a ripped tag from a foreign brand on a secondhand, delightfully unique garment. The mystery of discovering the joys of lives once lived, grasping at the small tokens of pleasure that perhaps contributed to a sense of purpose, escapism, longing, beauty… an infinite possibility of meanings, never fully uncovered.

The minutiae of life help to drive us through the daily slog of the mundane, fuel our aspirations, and tell our stories beyond our ultimate demise. In discovering the artifacts of the past, the eternal and the temporal nature of existence is fused together in a moment. I find myself infatuated with the past partially due to to the terminal nature of life, in the dark hope that the minuscule items that contribute to my sense of self will somehow transcend my time kickin’ it as a corporeal being. Our lives are ever changing, constantly moving, but the significance of past histories remains, the ideas behind them will never die.

(Side note: the auditory accompaniment for this article is provided by Aphex Twin’s “Avril 14th”.)

 With that mildly morbid statement said, let’s turn to a more cheerful stance on nostalgia: FLEA MARKETS! Any San Franciscan who loves diggin’ through piles o’ crap in search of hidden treasures should definitely hit up Alemany Flea Market, located just off of the 101 in Bernal Heights. I went on Sunday morning with two good pals, ’70’s Ray-Bans (stolen from my dad) shielding my weary eyes from the harsh winter sun. (Music interjection: have you heard Beach House’s ode to their distaste for the winter sun?) At first, Alemany Flea Market was overwhelming with the sheer quantity of STUFF present, but upon closer inspection, details of loveliness emerged.

One of my luckiest finds: an issue of LIFE magazine from January 9, 1970. Fascinating speculations about the future, analysis of cultural norms, beautiful photography and design aesthetics.

Streisand and a Picasso.

These statistics are from your parents’ lifespans. Illuminating, fascinating, and more than a little   disturbing.

“What sort of society are our computers and computer-oriented society driving us?”

Predictions of androgyny for 1970’s fashion.

Fantastic Rolling Stones book (The First Twenty Years):

LBJ-era political cartoons:

How much has changed, and how much is exactly the same?

San Francisco seems to be an endless treasure trove for individuals who are drawn to the unique histories of the past. Other recommendations for those who love to imagine stories told in the waxy wood grain of weathered bar tops:

Aub Zam Zam: Sip a wicked martini with the 3 pm-Tuesday regulars in this decadently divey Haight locale. The lush red walls, dingy carpets, and gold-encrusted Persian mural behind the bar are the original 1940’s decor… try to find the black-and-white framed photo in the back of this haunt in its heyday!

Cafe Du Nord: Originally opened during the Prohibition era, Cafe Du Nord feels like a hidden relic, a dark-wooded basement gem (featuring an excellent live music roster). In more recent nostalgia news, apparently it was THE place for the late ’80’s gothic scene, with a wildly popular event called “Dark Sparkle”… how intriguing!

St Francis Fountain: Operating continuously since its inception in 1917, this wood-paneled Mission diner evokes the days of the sock-hop while you are served vegan soyrizo and artisanal coffee by attractively grungy servers (how appropriate for the neighborhood). Past ‘n’ present, UNITE!

What are your favorite places to reminisce about a lost time that perhaps never even existed?


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