Four years ago, when I was trying to get through “À la recherche du temps perdu,” I put on a kettle for tea and bought the biggest bag of madeleines I could find at Monoprix. The madelines and tea didn’t transport me back in time in Paris as I had hoped, but it did make the reading experience a lot more
“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 had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.”
TLDR; One of the boys I tutor made me realize that this scene from “Ratatouille” is essentially the same idea.
Method reading is one of my favorite ways to read, to step into the shoes of the subject or the author for just a brief minute, trying to experience what life might’ve been like. Whisky with Hemingway. Butter and sole meunière with Julia. A connection through taste, kind of like what Proust tried to describe with the madeleines.
My roommate Tony plays tennis with a man at the market who makes and sells madeleines every Saturday. Without fail, we are always too – ahem – tired on Saturday mornings to wake up early enough to get madeleines before they sell out.
This weekend was going to be different…except I still forgot to set an alarm. At 7:56 a.m., I frantically texted Hayley, “THE MADELEINES!” My plan was to get there and start the line at 7:30 a.m. We got ready (tranqillement) and ended up at the market by 9:15 a.m. to find the madeleines were still in stock.
I wasted no time to try the spongy cakes that had been on our minds all week. Standing in front of the boucherie, between stands of vanilla beans and vegetables at the market, I finally understood what Proust meant. The lemony taste mixed with the loud cries of “Bonjour!” and the almost indescribable smell of the Saturday market. It was then that I felt that feeling of being home – even without the tea or a French Aunt Léonie. ♦