Chinatown is a wonderful movie. One of the great things about it is how it portrays Los Angeles in 1937. The city looks so shiny and new. Watching Chinatown always makes me nostalgic for Los Angeles, even though I lived there decades after the 1930s.
What’s odd is that I don’t have especially happy memories of Los Angeles. Living there, it often seemed as if the really good stuff was happening on the other side of town.
My nostalgia, my “bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past”, my “wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to some past period”, is mostly for the past that didn’t happen. It’s for the past that might have been, a longing for missed opportunities in a setting that promised something wonderful.
The Germans could have a word for it: “Sehnsuchtnacheinervergangenensie hattennie”.
Sehnsucht nach einer vergangenen sie hatten nie. Nostalgia for a past you never had.
We might also call the phenomenon “stardust memories”.