When J and I decided to get married in San Diego, we quickly compiled a short-list of things we wanted to do during the five days we’d be there. In addition to getting married at the San Diego Zoo
Wild Animal Park Safari Park, we wanted to visit the actual San Diego Zoo. Given our fondness for baseball, we wanted to see a Padres game; given our fondness for naval ships, we wanted to tour the USS Midway Museum. Last but not least, we wanted to spend some time strolling the grounds of Balboa Park with its landscaped gardens, museums, and other attractions. With its predictably perfect weather, San Diego is a pedestrian paradise, and the grounds of Balboa Park are a beautiful place to wander.
This was my second time visiting San Diego, and my second encounter with Balboa Park. Years ago, my ex-husband and I took a long road-trip to California and back, and we stayed an extra day in San Diego to do laundry. I mention the laundry because that was the only reason we stayed two nights in San Diego: everywhere else we stopped on that long road-trip, we stayed only one night, always pressing on to our next destination. Somewhere deep in my photo archives I have an old picture of a much-younger me sitting on a bench in Balboa Park with a much-younger Reggie: one of a dozen pictures my ex-husband and I took in San Diego when we weren’t at our hotel doing laundry. Both Reggie and I enjoyed that day walking around in Balboa Park, the chance to walk being a welcome respite from all the driving we did on that road-trip.
J’s and my wedding trip to San Diego wasn’t intended as purification, “purification” being the term we use to refer to our habit of revisiting (and thus reclaiming) places we’ve previously gone alone or with our respective exes. But of course, any time you revisit a place, you are in a sense clearing the air of any old, musty memories that might have lingered there. When I first visited Balboa Park during that years-ago road-trip, I immediately wanted to go back and spend more time there: one short afternoon wasn’t nearly enough time to explore, and all those days cooped up in a car were taking their toll. In the back of my mind, when I added “Balboa Park” to J’s and my short-list of wedding-trip activities, I must have realized the place deserved an exorcism all its own, thereby transforming it from being a place I visited all-too-briefly with Husband #1 to being a place I truly enjoyed with Husband #2.
We’ve all heard the saying that you can’t go home again, but what happens when you return to the site of a long-ago vacation, a place that certainly isn’t home? Leslee recently wondered whether vacationing in a new place is better than returning to a destination you’ve already visited…but what happens if you return with your new husband to a place you previously explored with the old? Can you purify a place without drawing unfair comparisons between “then” and “now”? One of the things I enjoyed about J’s and my wedding trip is how much walking we did: far from spending too many hours cooped up in a car, we explored San Diego on foot, walking from our hotel to Balboa Park and back, from our hotel to the ballpark and back, and from our hotel to the Zoo, Midway Museum, and waterfront and back. So many steps — so many hours spent literally on the ground in San Diego — made this trip intrinsically different from any road-trip, for we explored our various routes and destinations at eye-level and at the speed of our own feet.
The first time I visited Balboa Park, my main regret was that I didn’t have more time to explore there: Balboa Park was a place I missed before I’d even left. This time around, my only regret is that we didn’t get to tour the Botanical Building, as we were there on Thursday, the only day it’s closed. Someday, someday. I no longer need to return to San Diego’s Balboa Park in search of a leisurely experience I missed, and I no longer need to go there to purify the place from old ghosts and stale regrets. The next time J and I visit Balboa Park, we’ll do so in a spirit of celebration, a chance to revisit a sun-soaked landscape whose contours cradle many happy memories.