“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time” ~ T . S. Elliot, Little Gidding
Grandpa remarked – “They don’t make tea leaves (chai-patti) the way they used to anymore!”
I do not know which era was he referring to, but I knew exactly what he meant.
There is science behind memory, nostalgia, association, and allied emotions. But what intrigues me is the area beyond the science of such emotions. The area where us humans have an innately beautiful ability to trace a(n) (invisible) line through scattered moments, not necessarily grand, but trivial, and like a mobius strip end up where the nostalgic moment originated.
For instance, when Grandpa was drinking tea, it started with a sip of the present day tea, and from there he time travelled to a bygone era where the aroma and the taste of leaves were richer, and then a little further where porcelain tea cups and their accompanying saucers were class apart unlike their china counterparts, and then his nostalgia ended where it had begun, and he took another sip of the (present day) tea.
Nostalgia, in my opinion, is a beautiful clash between what once was and what is. Remember that heart-warming scene from the movie Ratatouille? One where Anton Ego (the top French food-critic), after biting into the ratatouille that Remy (the protagonist rat and the chef) creates for him, gets visually transported (in his mind) to an era where a kid (himself) sits atop a dining chair, and relishes ratatouille made by his mom, and then comes back to the present era, meets the chef and pens down a thoughtful and positive review.
I had a similar experience while in Budapest, last October. I was attending a friend’s wedding. After eating a five course meal, drinking and dancing until midnight, there came in the midnight buffet. In the fight between greed and self-control, greed won. I took a small ladle full of mashed potato on my plate, and one bite took me home. At first I thought my taste buds are hallucinating, probably because of everything good I ate and (mostly) drank earlier. But, I went on a spree of consuming more ladle-full mashed potatoes to tell myself that it indeed mimicked the taste that mom brought to the table when I was a kid (and still does). My nostalgia lingered for a week. We left Budapest the next day, and we came back 4 days later. And I knew I had to eat the mashed potatoes again. But the wedding food was done (obviously!). So, I had to forage for it elsewhere. The last night in Budapest was a success, for after a more than satisfying experience at a thermal spa, we ventured into a restaurant that had an old world charm (so Europe! so much more nostalgia) and also had mashed potatoes. There was a man playing the accordion as we gorged on the food, and the hosts were amazingly polite and we were taken care of quite well!
The Hungarians we met on the trip were an epitome of humility, and were the best hosts. A particular scenario is where I badly wanted mashed potatoes in the above mentioned restaurant. So, I read the menu thoroughly and discovered that there was one item in the menu that came with mashed potatoes. I knew I wanted only the mashed potatoes, nothing else to take away its glory. So I did my best to explain and the host did his best to understand, the two of us transcending the language barrier that we were faced with, and in the end I was presented with a graceful plate of mashed potatoes. And each bite took me down the memory lane. And though I am no Anton Ego, I must say the hosts and the chefs at the restaurant delivered to me that day not mere food, but nostalgia on a plate. And my imaginary line that connected Hungarian mashed potatoes to mom’s mashed potatoes did complete a circle at that restaurant.
P.S. If you are in Budapest, do visit the Szecheneyi Baths, and soak in multiple baths. You could do the thermal beer spa too! And after spending hours and hours of time in that magical land (and water), head out to visit the beautifully lit Heroes’ square. And then for you rumbling tummies, a treat awaits not very far. Step in to Bagolyvar restaurant and mesmerize yourself by dining in an old world ambience. Try their hot chocolate. Slurp!