You Can't Go Home Again, but Technology Can Give You a Glimpse

I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, from age 5 to 17. Although my parents lived there another 11 years after I left for college, I only went back to visit a few times in the early 90s. Life got busy; it was less safe; and my parents would visit us. I would think about Caracas occasionally, but it was a world away from my life in Boston, L.A., D.C., and now Virginia Beach.

For anyone who hasn't visited, Caracas is a place of contradictions - it is a chaotic, bustling city of 3 million people nestled in a beautiful, green valley about 3,000 feet above sea level. The weather is idyllic to the point of ridiculousness: it's 70-85 all year. There's poverty, traffic, corruption, and crime, but the Venezuelan people are warm, full of life, and family-oriented. My strongest memory of the city was this view, which we saw every evening as we unwound on our teeny-tiny balcony:

In a pre-digital age, this faded photo and a handful of others would be the only tangible reminders of my childhood home. But technology has changed all of that. Half a dozen years ago, I discovered Google Earth and was amazed to see a birds-eye view of the apartment building I grew up in:

Fast forward a few more years, when Facebook exploded. My Caracas friends were early adopters because it was such a fabulous tool to connect with people from all over the world who had once gone to school with us. All of a sudden, I could see bits and pieces of Caracas in the backgrounds of friends' photos. A few months ago, a friend visiting Caracas posted pictures that he took from his friend's apartment. It was a total coincidence, but he just happened to be across the highway from my old apartment complex. For the first time in almost 20 years, I saw the familiar green buildings that had haunted my memories:

The two green buildings in the foreground are part of the five buildings that made up our complex. Our building is not in this picture, but is off to the right. Here's another photo he took, of the exit that led to our buildings (I don't remember the highway ever being this empty):

I was floored to see these views. I love how satellites and social networks have let me revisit my childhood home from fresh and surprising perspectives. And it's fitting that they only approximate the view I remember from the fourth floor balcony, as memories always retain their own lives.

So this was a rambling post about place and memory. Do you ever think about how your life was shaped  by the places you've been, the specific spots on Earth you've seen? Can you ever go back? REM put it nicely, "Stand in the place where you are. Now face North. Think about direction and wonder why you haven't before. . . .Think about the place where you live and wonder why you haven't before."

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