The Proust Parallels Project – Part 1 – Memory and Madeleines (P3-1)

Posted: October 17, 2012 in Proust
Tags: , , , ,

If I really wanted to be like Proust, I’d tell you all about Petit Madeleines dunked in lime tea, make you lust for one, and then just drop the subject for the next 3000 blog posts. After all, one thing I know, even if I didn’t ever finish “In Search of Lost Time” in the past, is that the Petit Madeleine crumbs loom large…. someday.

For now, I just want to share a quick impression of the 40 pages on “why I have trouble sleeping”. It took me a while to fall into the cadence of the first section of Swann’s Way. But, interestingly, once I did, I loved it. There is the obvious Freudian aspect of the kid who want’s mom in the bedroom. True. But there is also the beauty of understanding how it feels to get (and to not get) what you crave. In a sort of anti-Freudian twist, it’s the father who acts compassionately and tells mother to spend time with the distraught child. Along the way, the feelings and imagery are almost magnetic in the way they draw you into something as banal as a child trying to get mother to say goodnight.

As I read this section I realized a few things.

First, I was pretty lucky when I was a child. In Swann’s Way, poor little Proust is whisked away to bed as soon as the guest arrives. Conversely, I have great memories of my parents letting me hang out with the adults when they had their friends (especially the Temple Havurah) over to the house. They never just whisked us away.

Second, this brought up lots of childhood memories for me. Not so much about my mother, but both of my parents. I was born with a very tiny esophagus and required a number of dilatations as a very young child. Proust’s childhood memories made me remember the many times my dad would take me to the hospital for these esophagus dilations,  sit over at Norm’s Restaurant worrying about me, and then bring me home again. I was not fond of the doctors who wanted me to drink some radioactive shit which they thought a 5-year-old was incapable of realizing WASN’T a vanilla milkshake (trust me on this… Barium ain’t vanilla flavored). I also remember being in the OR and seeing the anesthesiologist and his little mask. And, mom tells me that I used to come out of the procedure knowing all the names of the surgical instruments – which sort of makes me wonder just what “doctor anesthetic” was really up to.

What I don’t remember, but what touches me more deeply the older I get, it this. While I was drinking radioactive “vanilla milkshakes”  and memorizing surgical instruments, dad was worrying about his little kid enough to drive himself to having an ulcer. He wasn’t just eating breakfast at Norms. He was letting his love for me eat at him. And, when I realize what a little shit I was as a teen and a young man, I see just how much more I owed him than I knew.

What I find really interesting about what I just wrote is that it has nothing to do with “In Search of Lost Time“. But, it speaks to the power of the book to evoke memories. I’m now 3% of the way though this epic, and I already understand why It’s rumored to be addictive.

By the way… You’ll still have to hear more about lime tea and cakes…. But then I’ll just drop it (for a while).

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