Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Proust tour

Odette has alerted her readers to a Proust tour to Paris, Illiers-Combray and Cabourg (the novel's Balbec). It's too late for this year's trip, which took place in June. Interested parties might begin saving for next summer ($3,675).

Had I but cash enough and time, I'd like to make such a trip. I'd especially like seeing Proust's notebooks at the Bibliothèque nationale. I'm not sure though that I believe in the likelihood of the "magic moments" that the tourgivers promise:

Reading the madeleine excerpt from Swann's Way while you sip tea and take a bite of your madeleine in Illiers-Combray. Standing in the lobby of the Grand Hotel in Cabourg (Balbec) with a view of the beach. Unforgettable experiences that bring Proust's prose to life.
Well, maybe. What brings Proust's prose to life for me is recognizing the Proustian workings of memory and perception in my own life. Eating a madeleine would bring me no closer to Proust than eating red beans and rice would to Louis Armstrong.¹ But drinking a glass of water and being reminded of my grandparents' kitchen — that, for me, is a genuinely Proustian moment.

There's a wonderful anecdote about Joseph Cornell that helps me to understand my uneasiness about this promise of "magic moments." David Saunders, a high-school student and fan of Cornell's work, once brought the artist a box of items from childhood:
There were glass shards, chandelier crystals, a sheriff's badge, old coins, wind-up metal toys from early in the century. Knowing how much Cornell loved such objects, Saunders plunked down the box on the kitchen table, removed its contents, and generously said, "You can have everything!" Cornell appeared astounded. "Oh no, Mr. Saunders," he protested, "I couldn't take these. This is your marvelous collection."

[Deborah Solomon, Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell (NY: Noonday, 1997) 356-57]
So too it's Proust's marvelous madeleine, the trigger for his involuntary memories. Yours, or mine, might be found closer to home.

¹ Red beans and rice was a signature Armstrong dish. He often signed letters "Red beans and ricely yours."
Proust in Paris, Illiers-Combray and Cabourg (Balbec) (Travel-by-the-Book)

Related posts
Joseph Cornell on collecting
All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

comments: 4

Lee said...

I do love that Cornell anecdote. I've just blogged about Michael Redhill's Martin Sloane, which is indebted to Cornell and a thoroughly wonderful novel.

Michael Leddy said...

That looks like an interesting novel, Lee.

I wonder what it is that makes Cornell so appealing to writers: his use of found materials? (Like words, coming with previous associations and contexts.)

Anonymous said...

I was thinking it would be funny if I ate a madeleine dipped in lime blossom tea and had Proust's involuntary memory.

Michael Leddy said...

A nice thought — it sounds like the start of a story.