Saturday night the basement heaved to the sound of Balkan music and sweaty bodies dancing to send off the Painters Palace in one last bash. For the past couple of years, a dilapidated basement in Budapest became the home of an artistic community where Monday nights people scribbled stories and poetry on the spot, Wednesdays others would crowd round naked bodies for live drawing, and Fridays paint somehow got everywhere as the wine flowed for Drink N Draw. A couple of weeks ago, the group got a notice of eviction, and it was time to send the basement out with a bang. Body painting, tango in the streets, live music, and liberal swigs of cheap wine and an abundance of love and hugs filled the place. The Painters Palace will regroup in another location, but without the community, it’ll become just another damp cellar without its soul. A week later you’ll walk past, and you may never know of the work and the friendships forged here.
It was the same with the apartment I rented in Madrid with its rotating cast of artists, singers, scientists, and foreigners. People returned to the flat for the parties and literary salons we hosted – even years after they moved out. Like the Painters Palace, we were a community here in this large shared apartment on General Orgaz Street (yes, that was its real name), life long friends, an inspiration to each other, and embracing memories
that were some of the best years of our lives. But after the last generation, me being one of them, moved out and eventually left Spain it just became another rented flat. We used to joke about our address, but you can’t even find the street on the map anymore as it has a new name. All the roads in the neighborhood were named after problematic generals and commanders under Franco’s commands and had their names changed a couple of years back.
Private places change. Life moves on, people leave, venues transform, and sometimes even the street names are different. But what about when we travel? I am a big advocate for traveling to places more than once, but I am also aware that although the site remains, time changes the experience. Paris 10 years ago is different from Paris now. Even iconic landmarks like Notre Dame can disappear, or at least, change beyond recognition as quickly as overnight. I was in Painters Palace when I heard Notre Dame was on fire. I realized then if I were to go back to Paris, it wouldn’t be there – not the same way at least; a week later my favorite place in Budapest is also gone.
Even if landmarks remain and our favorite cafes and restaurants state open, it’s still never the same the second time around.
Perhaps this is why some prefer not to return to a place a second time. We have an experience and we come back, things won’t be the same. But maybe a place that failed to inspire us on our first visit gets injected with a new community or a spirit that makes the experience even better. Places change like a living thing, just like we evolve over our life, so does the essence of a place. Maybe it takes traveling or meeting with the right local to notice a detail you hadn’t seen before, or you visit that bar you had high hopes for on a night when a special event is on. Too often we write off places due to a bad or mediocre feeling, yet maybe if we had been here a different time, our experience would be better.
Hvar was desolate and depressing in the March rain yet in the summer it’s overstuffed with tours. However, the ferry journey back to Split with crowds of Croatians singing in unison on the ride back to the mainland was not something I would have likely experienced in peak season.
Rather than tick places off the list or take them for granted, take it all in at that moment. The place may stay but in the next moment, month, or year it will change. Whether you’re having a coffee at your favorite cafe or you’re looking up at a gorgeous landmark. Pause and feel the moment. Sure, snap that photo or that selfie, but don’t just click and walk. It’ll be different next time, or it may not even be there.