Vanished places; remembered spaces

July 26, 2007 at 3:00 am 4 comments

Thailand ritualI came across this wonderful vignette from The New York Times. It’s a short piece about the footprints of vanished places: favourite coffee shops that have long since closed; a trendy boutique that has morphed into a dry cleaners. The space may vanish, but your memory of it doesn’t. And so you carry around in your head a whole map of long-gone geographical places and perhaps memories of people who died many years ago.

It was synchronicity really reading this article as, over the last few weeks, I’ve been remembering people and places that no longer exist. I remember, for example, in Pitt Street, Sydney (opposite The Westin Hotel) on the corner of a small side street that leads into the MLC Centre – there was once a cake shop. If I say what decade this might have been in, I’d reveal that I really was born in the Jurassic Park era. The door of this cake shop (can’t remember the name) had one of those annoying wire, fly-screen doors that would smack you in the face as you entered if you weren’t careful. But it was filled with old-world cakes and biscuits, not the processed stuff we get today – brandy snaps with fresh cream; vanilla slices with real, soft yellow custard filling, not the nasty custard powder type; pastel pink and chocolate neenish tarts filled to the brim with buttery cream. Every time I walk by this vanished place, it evokes memories of another Sydney in another time. It’s curious to think of how another space has overlaid the vanished one; with people now walking over a spot where I once stood eagerly ordering a brandy snap so many years ago. An alternate, vanished universe overlaid by an existing universe. My mind still thinks I can go there at lunch time to buy something sweet and tempting, but the reality is quite different.

Similarly, when I walk through Sydney’s Strand Arcade, I expect to see a bustling health food store that once existed on the ground floor and sold “alternative” products before they were fashionable. And I expect to see a Cahill’s Restaurant where you could dine on their famous ice-cream cake with caramel sauce. You used to be able to buy this sauce in supermarkets – it was gooey, thick and a wonderful golden caramel colour. I often wonder what happened to the recipe for that famous sauce – I’ve tried to recreate it several times and I’m nearly there, but it just lacks that something special.

My mother used to talk of the Trocadero and Princes – Sydney nightclubs that were requisitioned for Australian and American armed services personnel during WWII and where people danced away their fears and uncertainties, trying to enjoy a fleeting moment of happiness in a world caught up in a maelstrom. She spoke of the dancing costumes she wore – rustling taffeta gowns and whispering soft silks. I know the spaces these nightclubs once existed in and often wonder if the spirits of laughing, dancing couples still twirl silently whilst modern city office workers walk across what was once the dance floor.

When I think of this, I recall David Bohm’s notion of the implicate order. To quote Bohm: “In terms of the implicate order one may say that everything is enfolded into everything“. The explicate or unfolded order is everything we see in this world; it’s our level of existence. The implicate order is a deeper order of existence but there is a constant flow of movement and exchange between the implicate and explicate orders – the universe constantly enfolds and unfolds so that everything in the universe is a seamless extension of everything else and hence everything is interconnected.

Cartesian duality is rejected if we accept that human consciousness, for example, is enfolded into animal consciousness and matter; that every portion of the universe enfolds the whole; that past, present and future time is constantly enfolding back into deeper levels of reality. Bohm suggests that “…sequences of moments that ‘skip’ intervening spaces are just as allowable forms of time as those which seem continuous“. Rather than a linear, sequential notion of time, this suggests that the enfolding/unfolding pattern could conceivably result in ‘intervening spaces’ (perhaps thousands of years) and so just as humans may separate for long periods of time yet still “pick up from where they left off”, so may we witness Cleopatra meeting Julius Caesar for the first time as the universe and life ripples through its enfoldings/unfoldings. And so time may be reversible and fractal, a concept that would give new meaning to the adage “history repeats itself“.

If this is at all possible, then perhaps the spirits of long-gone war time dancers can come alive again as the present enfolds and unfolds on the past. Mmmmm…..perhaps I could go back in time and get my hands on that Cahill’s caramel sauce recipe, bottle it up and make millions!


Entry filed under: Complexity, Reflections.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Brad  |  July 26, 2007 at 10:11 am


    Memories are terrific places to relive old terrain. I also get the same sense (no pun intended) with smells that evoke memories from past experiences – the smell of cut lawns reminds me of my father mowing the back yard when I was a young boy which in turn links to other childhood memories of family life. When a sensation links up to an old memory, it’s like rediscovering an old friend.

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  July 26, 2007 at 11:19 am

    Hey Brad
    Great triggers for stories eh!

  • 3. Oohlala  |  July 30, 2007 at 9:07 am

    Have you tried with these 3 recipes of Cahill’s caramel sauce??

    Whenever you can recreat it successfully, please let me know. Realy want to taste it!!!

  • 4. thinkingshift  |  July 31, 2007 at 12:36 am

    Thx Oohlala! hadn’t seen those recipes; will try them out.


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