ghosts of buildings past


Today I went for a walk around the top end of Nether Edge, around Brincliffe and Psalter Lane. It has been at least 2 years since I last walked past the site where my campus used to be. Now the site is empty. All that is left is the library building, everything else is gone. The site is fenced and locked, the library boarded up. No signs indicate what was there before.

Whenever you move to a new house, you always leave places behind more or less full of memories, images from the time when you inhabited the space. The same with other buildings where you spent long periods of time: your school, university. I don’t have many images from my kindergarten in Galicia. I have never revisited it, I don’t know if it stills exists. But since I don’t know, the few vague memories I have got still have a physical place where they belong. From seven years old until I went to University, I attended the same school in Santander. And it is very much present every time I go back home to my parents. The building is very near my house and I pass by it every time. So all the memories I built in that institution are still very much, more or less, fresh and they have a concrete home, they still are very much attached to their physical building and location. The same goes for the University in the Basque Country, even though I haven’t visited it or passed by it, I know it is still there, functioning and mainly unchanged.

But Psalter Lane is gone. The building where I studied for two years. The year I graduated from the MA, 2007, was the penultimate year the campus was operative. It moved to the city centre in late 2008. The site was closed but still standing until last year, when it was demolished.

It was strange to see the empty site. The space around the library building somehow didn’t seem big enough to accommodate all of the buildings that there were. It was quiet. It sits understated in the middle of the leafy residential area.

Images from one’s memory are always changing, sometimes subtly or unconsciously, other times, the remaining memories are so incomplete that one has to actively use imagination or logic to fill in the gaps. My images of this building are quite vivid in my memory. What has changed dramatically is the physical place where they originated. It has disappeared. The only way I can describe what this feels like is that the images and memories somehow now feel half orphaned. They have lost the physical link that anchored them to this particular geographical time and place. I cannot revisit or form a dialogue between myself in the building today and what I recall from the past. Or if I do, I will have to establish this dialogue only with its absence, and in the future, with whatever gets build in its position.

I suppose that all places we left behind, with time, become more and more unconnected or irrelevant to our memories of them. But there is always a small sense of comfort, or perhaps of reassurance, when thinking that those memories had once a physical container, no matter how far ago or away, how distant or inaccessible. They took place, literally. I guess I am talking about a sense of truth, what was truth and real to us. Does this mean that now that my container has vanished, – and more importantly, now that I know it has – are my memories any less true? of course there still remains some of the place, but the foundations are not enough, it was the building itself that held the meaning to my memories…

More on this… another time.

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