I've admitted to a tendency of being a living-in-the-past shopper, and I'm seeing the same tendency (though it isn't shopping), in our first 24 hours in Paris. We rode past our first apartment (me longing for the quieter location), walked past Les Halles again, made continual references to past experiences with phrases like, "This gate was never locked before," or, "It seems like there's more homeless people than before." When we rode bikes straight to Notre Dame just because it's what we always did and didn't find the Africans selling and shooting their colorful wares into the night sky, it wasn't as magical as before--
Note to self: beware of the "than before" attached to the end of sentences and experiences.
Nostalgia is a treasure, but so are new experiences when not held hostage by the previous. The default to remember when, can be a dream trip, a life trip, a buzz kill. Each adventure necessitates and deserves its own set of -new-eyes, or its own payoff of, "Wow, we've never done this."
Some experiences will always require a repeat: Disneyland, the seashore, a fine restaurant, and of course Paris. Within Paris, we will always stand in awe inside Notre Dame, find that one boulangerie with the pear tarte, wait in line at Pierre Hermes for the visual and epicurean ecstasy, and buy tickets to Vivaldi in St. Chapelle.
We are programmed to return to the pleasurable. We do it over and again in our relationships, our travels, our sensory adventures. We bake the same peanut butter cookie recipe because it consistently tastes good; we lunch with the same friends who validate our importance. We long to learn from the same professor who brings excitement to American history or brings clarity to math.
The challenge emerges when our repeat doesn't live up to its memory: it doesn't taste as good, it doesn't meet the same standard of performance, the clerks aren't kind like they used to be. When it doesn't, the experience has a built in, unavoidable, guaranteed disappointment. Given that travel is limited to one planet, given that tastebuds, sights and sounds have a limited range, how do we keep experiences fresh and time worthy? We renew the experience within the experience. We continue the hunt for the new: a perfect croissant, baguette or Asian infused French restaurant, a hidden park, a new cobblestoned street, a friend.
So... months before we began this Paris expedition, we started the trip with new eyes: We rented a different apartment but stayed in the first arrondissement. We chose different dates within the same-visited summer months. We will return to the same patisseries and return to the souffle-only restaurant, but we'll try a new flavor along with the raspberry. Within our marriage, we will choose new topics to explore and recently we even took up a new sport. We look for the new within the old, and we're not afraid to let go of the old, or hang on to the valuable old.
This is where memory serves us and when memory becomes treasure. The wisdom comes in knowing when it needs to become only a memory.