Cavoli Riscaldati – (v) lit. “reheated cabbage”; the attempt to revive a long-finished love affair
While this is actually an Italian word none of us are immune to revisiting old stomping grounds. The only thing keeping me from falling into the arms of an old flame is the setting on my Iphone that prompts it to explode if I drunk dial the number of an ex boyfriend. When that fails (I’m on phone number 4) I have a mantra I recite at my weakest moments – “you are a strong, confident woman and if you give in to your impulses a murder of crows will swoop down on your house and steal all of your Tiffany jewellery. And then poke your eyes out for good measure.” It’s a mouthful, but believe me, it’s like a condom for the soul. It’s disappointing that we don’t have a word for this in English but I guess we’re too proper to admit to such reckless folly (“you went back to him again?”) The Italians can smile knowingly over a bowl of spaghetti (“si, es Cavoli Riscaldati“) while we clumsily string words together in attempt to articulate the same experience.
What draws us to those old relationships that no longer serve us? Why do we try to recreate them time and time again until they are barely recognisable? Deep down you know that willing them to look at you the same way they did in the beginning won’t work. Their expressions are now foreign and their touch is like the one of a stranger. People change, they develop lines on their face, they smile differently, they make jokes you hadn’t heard before. Their stories evolve and morph into a narrative that you can no longer follow. Not that you haven’t tried. My first boyfriend and I spent four years of going back and forth trying to replicate the relationship we had at the beginning. Sneaking those first kisses in between class, going to the cinema but never actually watching the film, exchanging the words “I love you” for the first time. Every time we got back together, trying to rehash these organic moments, they ceased to exist. The memory of our first kiss was replaced by the memory of our first fight. Warm hugs were replaced by awkward embraces. The night before we broke up for good I had a dream. I was on a fishing boat and everyone was catching giant, mutant fish with their bare hands and then releasing them again. Upon seeing my first fish I hoisted it out of the water and squeezed it firmly against my chest. It wriggled and squirmed in my arms and I could hear voices in the background urging me to “let it go.” But I held on until the fish took its final rattling breath and died in my arms. I didn’t need to be Freud to know what my night visions were telling me. We had been beating a dead horse for years and for the sake of my own sanity it was time to move on.
I’m guilty of doing the same thing with travel. After my year in Madrid, I had collected a handful of places that I felt a powerful connection to. There was one cafe in particular where I sat for hours reading my book and watching the old men in the window playfully arguing over a game of chess. The cafe salon was old and musty but it had enormous arched windows that invited a celestial sunlight every morning. I would settle into a corner with my coffee and a chocolate con churros and let that comforting feeling wash over me. Years later, I revisited my favourite cafe and sat in the same seat and tucked in with my book waiting for that same nostalgic feeling to come over me. This time, the sunlight was coming in at a different angle and the old men weren’t there and the whole scenario seemed off. I had waited years to recreate this very moment but it had morphed into something that was no longer familiar to me. No amount of coffee or chocolate con churros could bring back that feeling. Trust me, I tried.
As I stepped out of that cafe, bloated and disheartened. I decided to go and form new memories. Madrid wasn’t going to stay the same just to keep me happy. It is a busy, vibrant city completely oblivious to my existence and there are so many new places to discover. The same goes for relationships. We are lucky if the memories we shared with another person are worth treasuring. I, personally, don’t want to taint them anymore than I already have to forsake loneliness. I have to let them go or I’ll be forced to give up eating fish forever.