Today a cousin invited my grandma, uncle, brother and I for lunch at his apartment, located in an older neighborhood composed of smaller buildings dating from the 1940s and 50s (estimate) out by the Universidad Nacional. I’m most familiar with the eastern part of the city, so it was strange being in Bogota and not hearing any buses or horns — just birds chirping. A part of the city I had never really considered living in, but we’ll see what happens.
While we were there, my grandmother started talking about the Bogota of yesteryear, when members of high society lived in El Centro and La Septima was Bogota’s most elegant avenue. She said that back then, you could trust people and that life in Bogota was easier and more idealic. Weekends were filled with trips to El Parque Nacional for theater and ice cream, fun was more innocent and people less devious.
As much as I love listening to these stories and imagining a more perfect world where people care about each other and none of today’s modern problems exist, I wonder if there’s any reality to this rosy recollection of the olden days, or if it’s more of an idealized recreation — the past reimagined.
Somehow, in my grandmother’s stories, Bogota is elevated to a crimeless, cultured, beautiful city devoid of any of its current problems. Even the street people in her recollections are remembered lovingly: La Loca Margarita who dressed completely in red and walked up and down the Septima in the 1930s and 40s with a basket of flowers and fruit, shouting “Que viva el gran partido liberal, abajo los Godos” (long live the liberal party, down with the Godos (conservative party); the almost dwarf-like accordionist dressed in a fine three piece-suit who played his songs in downtown churches and insulted anyone who didn’t give him a coin; the Bobo del Tranvia, who jumped from trolley to trolley telling jokes and collecting coins. All of these characters recounted with laughter and nostalgia.
In her story, the people dressed better, loved better and lived better, and today’s world has gone to Hell. Nostalgia is a strange thing. I wonder why so many people like to believe the best days are behind us, that the world is getting progressively worse, and the “standard,” or the “ideal” has forever been lost. I wonder if the world really is getting worse (in economic/health/social terms it surely isn’t — so aside from perceived human warmth, what else is there?), or if humans just have a tendency to fixate on the “great” things of the past and the “bad” things of the present.
I read a book a few years ago called “Prague,” and in the book, one of the main characters is working on a research project regarding nostalgia. I never actually finished the book, but the whole nostalgia thing is an interesting concept. I am a very nostalgic person, but I couldn’t tell you why. I romantize the past and tend to imagine it artistically– as an impressionist painting, black and white photograph, newspaper clip, the deep baritone of 1930s radio broadcaster, or one of the willowy, Grecian-like women in Mucha’s poster art. I wonder why.