The word ‘nostalgia‘ has Greek origins (nostos = “homecoming” and algos = “pain, grief, distress,”) but it was coined halfway through the 17th century by a Swiss doctor named Johannes Hofer, who wanted to describe the pain felt by someone who longs to return to his native country (we know it as ‘expats’ homesickness’, I guess.)

Famous examples of nostalgia include Psalm 137:1, where those exiled from Israel to Babylon mourn the loss of their native country:

  1. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
  2. Upon the willows in the midst thereof we hanged up our harps.
  3. For there they that led us captive required of us songs, and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
  4. How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land?
  5. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
  6. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
  7. Remember, O LORD, against the children of Edom the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.

Millennia later, Dame Vera Lynn sang a song of longing for England, echoing the feelings of thousands of British soldiers who served away from home

There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow, just you wait and see.

There’ll be love and laughter
And peace ever after.
Tomorrow, when the world is free

The shepherd will tend his sheep.
The valley will bloom again.
And Jimmy will go to sleep
In his own little room again.

There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow, just you wait and see: White

It is only later that the term came to describe personal yearning to events, places, people and artefacts of yesteryear, rather than a predefined medical condition (Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary):

“Main Entry: nos•tal•gia 1 : the state of being homesick 2 : a wistful or excessively sentimental sometimes abnormal yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.”

I got all artefact-nostalgic a few days ago, reading the article describing the demise of the Polaroid film (“Shutter closes on Polaroid’s iconic instant film“,) what an unbelievable loss, I thought, painfully aware of the fact that this venerable photographic tool will probably not be mourned by anyone under 30-35.

It appears that the Polaroid camera will become digital, replacing the unique film cartridge with a miniaturised printer. Right now, they have enough stock on hand to last for some time longer but once the current stock is finished… it’s clicking-off time.

The Polaroid film will join my jam-packed personal graveyard for objects: the Bakelite phone, the stylus driven turntable with its vinyl records, the reel-to-reel tape-recorder, original Pez dispensers and Matchbox cars, Bazooka chewing gum and, lastly, the bell-bottom pants of the 1960-70s.

French Actress Simone Signoret is credited with saying that Nostalgia is not what it used to be (this sounds even better in French: “La nostalgie n’est plus ce qu’elle etait“,) I feel that Signoret’s wisdom should not be ignored, one of the constant aspects of nostalgia is a personal, emotive, blind spot in us that keeps convincing us that things were better in the past (or in the old country, for that matter), whereas the present is awful and the future – bleak. Nostalgic moments call for reality checks, for a shake of our fragile sense of reality. Nostalgic people need a kick in the pants – right now.

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