Nostalgia is one of the most obscure longings of the mind. It sends us paging through old journals and photo albums of our ancestors, on trips to worlds we “remember” as exotic from childhood stories, and into hazy day dreams of past embraces.
The sense most susceptible to nostalgia is smell. A whiff of some passing scent can release a long-trapped memory of a time and place, captured down to the textures of skin and colored light refracting through glass.
It seems like no coincidence that the first syllable “nos” is the Russian word for nose. A Latin interpretation connotes something that is “our.” It’s easy to imagine something that used to be ours, now covered in algae. Our noses and algae: these, however, are false friends. The real meaning of the “nos” in nostalgia derives from the Greek “nostos,” or a return home, while algia means “longing.”
The complexity of the word is accurate because we know it when we feel it, but we can never quite define it.