Why Old?

But the rhythm makes a basic lattice on which the melody can rest — it’s a bit like a trellis on which a vine can grow. – David Israel

Here I am, once again, pondering the underlying structure of things; their basic framework. All current deliberations end up at the same place – what’s within?

I often wonder about the American fascination with the old, the ancient, which in this country is rarely more than 300 years old. But there is a certain segment of Americans, the ones whose great-great grandparents were perhaps the first to arrive at these shores. They like old homes, nay, they are fascinated with old homes. They are the polar opposites of people like me whose parents and grandparents were born elsewhere, perhaps in a country with a history that goes back thousands of years, in countries where a national identity can be summed up, according to some authors, in one all-encompassing word like husun (Orhan Pamuk in Istanbul) or saudade (a Portuguese word describing a collective feeling of something akin to nostalgia but not quite…nostalgia may refer to things long gone but saudade perhaps refers to things that appear to be long gone but there’s hope of their return). It seems we get tired of carrying around these national identities and come to America to find newness. We like new homes in new developments and we can’t understand the fascination with the old. We listen in amazement as co-workers talk about resurfacing this, wainscoting that, stripping this, remodeling that and we take our deliberations to the next level of thought where it appears to not be just about owning something old; ones own piece of history, but it is also a desire to change old things to ones own specifications, to modify and recreate and make it over into modernity trapped within antiquity.

Questioning co-workers and friends about this fascination yields answers that range from the subjective – “I like old things, they have character” to “You don’t understand, it’s the structure…you’ve got to see the beams in this place, they don’t have the same eye for detail anymore, those structures were solid”. This latter statement brings my mind back to the rhythm, melody and trellis, vine analogy put forth by my eloquent friend David.

Perhaps it is the structure that is of the essence, it’s the rhythmic basis, if you will, of the melodies that a present day American homeowner wants to weave.

But even that may not be all. There is the element of back story, the fact that we believe older things possess character, a rather universal feeling. Most people believe age adds character. But what is it about age that adds character? It must be the back story. It must be about the crow’s feet around the eyes that might hint at how much one has laughed over the years and the tiny frown lines telling of the storms weathered, should one care to listen, each etching marking a phase in ones life, a lesson learnt, a rite of passage or a badge of honor.

These are the elusive and irreplaceable elements in a person or a thing that often lend “soul” to it. The lived in, settled in feeling that one doesn’t get in a squeaky clean and new place with sheet rock walls and Corian kitchen counters…like the music one would hear from a keyboard synthesizer rather than the rich tones of a real piano.

This is the settled in feeling I crave everytime I feel each day swept clean behind me; leaving no etchings, no cave wall drawings behind at all. It may be why I feel mild annoyance at the pride in a voice thrilled at having acquired something old. It may even describe the twinge or spasm (depending on my mood) at the lack of traditions in our fledgling lives, the lack of routines or rituals of any kind. It is an unstructured existence, and we often declare its nature with pride and with a hint of rebellion stating, “Oh that’s not us at all!” A friend, a newlywed is ecstatic at having started a Diwali tradition and keepsake ornaments are the bestselling items at my employer’s corporate parent…keepsakes and heirlooms and things passed down through generations…Christmas trees decorated with antique earrings, for a lark one year, and then ever since…while I lament the absence of a trellis around which I can try and weave some melodies. The presence of said trellis or lattice that eludes me in all things I venture as I resign myself to the notion that invertebrates live a life as well.

I am at the end of this free-flowing stream of thought that acknowledges no framework of thought, or beginnings or ends. It started as a questioning and a wondering and is ending with an attempt at understanding the initial question and the consequential angst as understanding dawns at a permanence that I continue to fail to create.

Everyone needs to settle in.
That lived-in feeling, a must.
The rust, the dent in the couch,
the scratches on the door,
the wrinkles and,
the chipped mug,
all quite indispensable.

Like water, like melting ice,
seeping through every
cranny, every
from first sight
to last look,

Everyone needs to settle in

to new shoes – old shoes
until they caress, stretch, give,
or perhaps lose
their prime condition, replaced
with comfort

and adjust to constant change,
specks of dirt and layers of nacre,
that leave

…a pearl.


  1. Perfect. As finely finished as old crystal. And somehow, woven with my own present frame it has the quality of a fugue. And the concluding verse is an exquisite coda!

  2. Perfect. As finely finished as old crystal. And woven into my own present frame, it has the quality of a fugue.And the concluding verse makes an exquisite coda! You MUST collect all these things between covers!

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