27 January 2009

There Is No There There

The quote "There is no there there" appears in Gertrude Stein's Book _Everybody's Autobiography_. When Stein returned to California from France on her lecture tour to the United States in the 1930s, she wanted to visit her childhood home in Oakland, CA. She records that she could not find the house. Hence, "there is no there there."

This is an experience common to people who have left a childhood home only to return many years later. In their mind they know that locations where they have lived have changed over time, but somehow they expect "home" to be different ... a protected space held sacrosanct in memory. The disappointment is almost palpable to see larger crowds, bigger buildings, wider roads, and missing stores all filled with unfamiliar people.

Sometimes whole buildings disappear to be replaced by some modern atrocity. Here is an example from just one of my hometowns. The beautiful Fresno Courthouse.

Foundation work started on 1 October 1874 and completed on 19 August 1875. The Board of Supervisors met here for the first time on 6 September 1875. In 1878 about four acres of land around the courthouse were landscaped with the first planting of trees. Landscaping was completed in 1888. The building was demolished in 1966. Unfortunately, this beautiful old building was replaced by this:

The Board of Supervisors who voted for this destruction despite public protest were all replaced in the next election. Unfortunately, it was too late to correct their mistake.

Have you ever gone "home" to find that there is no there there?


Mo and The Purries said...

Our local library is a lovely old building - with a horrendous 1970's addition onto the front. Looks like someone put a human habitrail on the front of an antebellum mansion.

As for your question about going home - yes, unfortunately, I had that experience. I still dream sometimes of the farm house I grew up in, on 68 acres that is now a subdivision of McMansions.

Allison said...

Yeah, that's exactly the song that you made me think of. I also remember commercials where they'd have like an old lady narrating about how she and her husband met, and how he came home from the war, and she'd being saying a word, like "train station" but they'd have a guy who voiced over that word and said something else....no example off the top of my head, but I think you have the idea. I forget what the commercial was for. :-|

Anonymous said...

I love that song!

carol g said...

Nothing in life is certain except taxes, death and change... I don't like my "home" town changes because I still want to feel the comfort of my youth.

Travis Cody said...

The last time I was "home", which would have been the first real home I remember as a child, I couldn't find the street. I kept driving around, seeing things that looked vaguely familiar.

Then I found the grocery. And things really started to look the same. And then I drove a little farther and there was my school and the park attached to it. Then I drove another block and there was my street.

And then there was my house. Some of the yard fences I remember were gone. But the trees and things I recalled were the same.

That last time was about 17 years ago I guess. I wonder how it looks now.