Normally I am not prone to fits of nostalgia, but today I was overcome by a wave of longing for the summers of my college years. It was early afternoon and I was sitting at a cafe on one of my favorite squares. The young woman at the table next to me was at the beginning of a thick book of verse. Well-acquainted with the pleasure of starting a new book on a beautiful summer day, unencumbered by any appointments or responsibilities, I shared what I imagined must be her excitement and delight. It was when she lit her cigarette and the smoke drifted toward me that visions of summers fairly long past emerged, summers spent reading, writing, longing for a future in which everything would be somehow different and better, passing the time with my coterie of fellow students and cafe fixtures, many of whom were graduate students and thus older, many of whom were smokers.
Before the uniquely and peculiarly American rite of passage that is your 21st birthday, going out with friends that are older is problematic and you need to find a good strategy. Mine was to go a more elegant bar than most in the university town I was in and to order a more sophisticated drink than the beer that most undergrads swig. Many a summer night – both before and after the pivotal moment of my 21st birthday – was spent drinking glasses of port at Cafe Montmartre with various members of my coterie, who found it amusing that I was never, ever carded while I was underage. The taste of port still has the power to evoke memories of this period of time, memories of joyful banter, intense discussions, and significant friendships.
Recommended reading: On nostalgia, see Chapter Two of Kundera, Milan. Ignorance.