Monday, May 7, 2012

Remembrance of Things Past

While baking a batch of madeleines the other day, I remembered how inextricably linked they are to a segment of  Marcel Proust's novel, In Rembrance of Times Past

She sent for one of those squat plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell … I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure invaded my senses …

Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake… Whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it

And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray … when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Leonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane …. and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and garden alike, from my cup of tea.

Taste sometimes propels me headfirst into a memory from the past, but for me that magical journey to another time and place is more usually achieved through the sense of smell. For example, the scent of diesel instantly takes me back to childhood visits to my grandparents in industrial Birmingham, England with the image of a bus station to accompany it. Wax crayons, and fresh notebooks to the first days of school and the tummy tingling sense of nervous anticipation . The scent of certain colognes reminds me nostalgically of certain teenage crushes.

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