I was reading a novel, and the author kept using this word. I remember learning the meaning of palimpsest a long time ago, but I forgot over time because it’s not the sort of word that gets used a lot in casual conversation.
pal·imp·sest | ˈpaləm(p)ˌsest | noun • a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain. • something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.
It’s an unfortunate and often frustrating fact of life, but things are always in motion. Entropy is the law of the land. I see it every time I return to places I used to live. I spent a large part of my life living in more or less the same area, and seeing the changes as I drive through certain parts of town makes me a little bit melancholy.
Time ate the 1980s for a snack. An ice cream shop I loved in childhood is long gone. The SupeRX pharmacy where my father worked when I was little eventually became a Rite-Aid. I don’t think many people even remember SupeRX.
The movie theatre where I saw “Ghostbusters” and “The Goonies” and “Karate Kid Part 2” was razed and reborn as a Ross Dress For Less. The theatre where I saw “Superman 2” and “The Great Muppet Caper” was flattened and left as an ugly portion of strip-mall. The original, really awesome Chuck E Cheese was turned into a Cinema and Drafthouse until that too failed. (Which is good- I still blame them for my mistake of watching “Se7en” while eating pizza. Bad idea.)
The Candyland Arcade, a huge favorite in my high school days, is nothing at all now. The same goes for the comic book store that was a few doors down from the arcade. My father switched from SupeRX to Albertsons, but that store is gone now too, bought up by Publix.
Time went clogging on into the 90s. My mental map of Palm Beach Community College doesn’t contain all the buildings that are there now. It doesn’t even have a third of them. A big ugly fence went up around my old high school- as much to keep the kids in as to keep interlopers out, I imagine.
The Clock Family Restaurant, a big favorite haunt in the early 1990s, is long gone, replaced first by a Denny’s, and then later on by a Tijuana Flats and a Sleep Number mattress store. (There’s still a Clock in Gainesville, but it’s not the one I know.)
The Motorola factory where I earned my paycheck in 1995 has been demolished and rebuilt as fashionable condos and shopping. Dad started working for Winn Dixie Pharmacy, and he managed to retire before most of the Winn Dixie stores vanished from the area.
Four different movie theatres that I worked in have been closed or demolished. One of them is an L.A. Fitness now. The Carefree Theatre, home to so many of the best stories of my early twenties, was first abandoned, then knocked down, and is now an open field awaiting the construction of fashionable little condos. The car dealership next to it has been demolished to make way for, you guessed it, more fashionable little condos.
The places where I went to dance and love and breathe in the music in the late 1990s are almost all gone now. I already talked about the Embassy Music Hall in a previous post; it’s a Walmart Neighborhood Grocery now.
When I moved back to Orlando in 2017, after eighteen years away, the same thing happened. The places I knew in Orlando were gone, or irrevocably changed. The roads were different in places.
With all of this change, it’s no wonder that the word palimpsest resonates with me. With new names overlaid onto old places and the ghosts of all my past lives marching past with every visit, it’s a concept that I’ve been keenly aware of for a very long time.
When I go past a place that was part of my life before, I see every version of it that ever was. My memory is often absolutely terrible, but I remember the past clearly when it comes to this.
Palimpsest. The shadows of the past overlaid onto whatever crap is there now. I just wish it wasn’t such a clunky word. Palimpsest doesn’t really roll off the tongue easily, you know?
Now nostalgia… there’s a word that springs easily to the lips.
What are you nostalgic for?
46/52 (and 25 of 30!)