Nostalgia brings along a bitter-sweet taste that makes us feel good. But when the connection with the past becomes obstinacy, the risk is to stop living

* Rosalia Giammetta, psychologist and psychotherapist, director of QuiPsicologia

The past is a foreign land: where things are differently. The L. P. Hartley's quote, which Gianrico Carofiglio borrowed as the title of one of his novels, describes well the paradoxical nature of memories. Which are, in our perception, a projection of our intimacy yet are never, in truth, entirely ours, nor under our control.

Psychology teaches us, in fact, that memories change: without a conscious intention, our mind selects experiences and modifies them, sometimes reinventing the past. Despite their instability in relation to what really happened, memories are still essential to our survival: to perceive the continuity of ourselves over time, to know who we are, to grasp our identity. Cultivating memories, maintaining contact with the past but also being able to cross and forget them are fundamental components of our well-being.

The nostalgia between desire and pain

Nostalgia is one of the links with the past: it is the feeling of longing for people, places, experiences. A mixture between the desire for a return to another somewhere’ (loved, lost and perhaps partially idealized) and the pain of the impossibility of this return. However, the relationship between nostalgia and actual experience is more complex. As Baudelaire and Bloch pointed out, we can also be nostalgic about something that was never actually known or felt, for unoccurred possibilities and lives that we only fantasized about: a nostalgia for the future, colored with hope.

The past as a search for belonging

Can all this explain our love for everything that is vintage?

Yes, because nostalgia makes us feel closer to others, satisfies the need to belong, helps to find meanings in life. For those who tend to nostalgia, the purchase of objects related to the past – especially those that have become part of the collective imagination – is a concrete strategy to satisfy these needs.

The probability of making vintage purchases is greater the more the person in need of company, security, support and connections. Objects from the past – or that take up their forms, colors, flavors – fortify their identity and self-image: they are a remedy with which to access temporarily other possibilities, to a better, different life.

A chair from the fifties is obviously not enough to reorganize a personality or develop a feeling of belonging. But the purchase may give the feeling of a change in our existence, and to have done so in a secure, point-like, controllable way by incorporating islands of the past. A change at zero risk, inside the comfort zone: objects fixed in time, old but different from the present, familiar but foreign, nourish the ideal Self and support identity, give the feeling of being complete, enrich.

Collective cocooning

And when you experience significant threats, like in these months of anguish due to Covid-19? Psychological tension and economic uncertainty will not decrease the current interest in this type of purchase, quite the opposite.

However, this collective cocooning has a downside. Because even if the memories and the connection with the past are fundamental for the human being, they carry with them the risk of transforming the past into the only possible land. If the connection with what has been stiffens enough to become obstinacy, we end up like Lot's biblical wife: unable to overcome nostalgia, she is transformed into a statue of salt. If the connection with the past becomes obstinacy, there is no room for any other thought. So not even for life itself.

In the photos of Daniele Bozzano, Poetic Hotel, Poetic Hotel, a cultural project by Simone Berno in a dilapidated and inaccessible hotel in Padua. Thirty guest’ artists create installations which they then abandon forever. Only when the decaying building is demolished will the artistic project see its fulfillment. Poetic Hotel is a place that holds explosive passions, which can only be visited online, to protect - and out of respect - the spaces and those who inhabited them.