Rose City, City of Memory

Pasadena, California. What it’s most famous for are the Rose Bowl and the Rose Parade. Both are relative fixtures in the mind’s eye of my childhood. The Rose Bowl, not so much for football, but the flea market. (Held one Sunday a month.) And the Rose Parade is well… a parade, one of the largest in the United States and a big deal for the city. A million people line the streets to watch the floats (covered in flower petals) go past. Usually my family would watch it on television, since people will camp out on the streets a day or two in advance to guarantee a good viewing spot but heading out the night before is interesting people watching even if you don’t see any floats.

Pasadena is a lot busier now than it used to be. One section of town (Old Town) was re-developed over the past 10-15 years, and now it’s become hot spot for people in the evenings. It’s a little strange for me to go down there, because each time I go, I think about all the boarded up businesses that used to be there. If I still lived in Pasadena, the day-after-day would wear away those memories and replace them with the city’s more up-to-date version, but because I only visit, the new and old seem to co-exist; memory and vision juxtaposed.

After arriving yesterday, I needed a quiet place to work on my dissertation. (Yes, I’m still writing.) I decided to re-live one of my routines from childhood. I walked to one of the local libraries – the one in Sierra Madre and set up shop there for a couple of hours.

It was really interesting, this idea of looking at familiar places with traveler eyes. First of all was the feeling of the place. My parents (and my childhood home) is in a section of Pasadena called Lower Hastings Ranch. I never quite realized growing up, but what a quiet and sleepy little place it was! And the churches! Nothing fancy, but I recall reading somewhere that the United States had more churches per capita than anywhere else in the world and the walk yesterday convinces me that it might be true. Over the course of just one mile along one of the main thoroughfares – I believe I saw 5 or 6 churches, including a huge behemoth of a church that I remember causing a stir when it was first being built. It was/is massive.

And then there was the library, really my second home growing up. I spent so much time there, reading and playing with their Apple IIe computer. Hah – it’s all updated now, or at least the computers are. The fixtures and – yes, perhaps even some of the decorations – are still the same. I’d swear the furniture was too, but it’s looking too polished for that to be true. The design’s the same though. Even the book shelves – I remarked to one of the librarians that the science fiction and fantasy section was in the same place it was 25 years ago.

Strange. It was so familiar, and at the same time, there was a disjunctiion. It was a feeling I’d been having all that afternoon. The familiar-ness of Los Angeles/Pasadena, but that some piece or part of me did not fit. In a strange and sad bit of synchronicity, posted at the library was an obituary for Madeline L’Engle, the author of A Wrinkle in Time. It was that book that opened my eyes to reading for the love of it. Prior to that I enjoyed reading, of course, but L’Engle showed me that books could be about ideas – wonderful, strange, dark, fantastical ideas. I devoured that book and the others in the series. She was the first step in turning me into a reader. It was after that that the most frequent image of me as a child was with a book in my hand. And yes, it was either science fiction or fantasy.

In any case, it was a rather poignant note about change and memory. The cliche is true: you can’t go home. Instead, I think, home is created and re-created every day. With every act and interaction. With every thought and memory-making.

It is incredibly comforting to know that my childhood home in Pasadena is there, and that I will be welcome inside its walls at anytime. But home is not Pasadena anymore, nor is it Los Angeles. As I said, the fit is off now. Indeed, home is some place or thing else, and what that means for me personally, only the unfolding of days will tell.

P.S. A couple of years ago, I actually tried to read A Wrinkle in Time again, but as I said, you can’t go home. I was halfway through before putting it down. It just wasn’t the same.


~ by Samer on September 12, 2007.

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