02 August 2009

Apologies to Proust

Mais, quand d’un passé ancien rien ne subsiste, après la mort des êtres, après la destruction des choses, seules, plus frêles mais plus vivaces, plus immatérielles, plus persistantes, plus fidèles, l’odeur et la saveur restent encore longtemps, comme des âmes, à se rappeler, à attendre, à espérer, sur la ruine de tout le reste, à porter sans fléchir, sur leur gouttelette presque impalpable, l’édifice immense du souvenir.
Et dès que j’eus reconnu le goût du morceau de madeleine trempé dans le tilleul que me donnait ma tante (quoique je ne susse pas encore et dusse remettre à bien plus tard de découvrir pourquoi ce souvenir me rendait si heureux), aussitôt la vieille maison grise sur la rue, où était sa chambre, vint comme un décor de théâtre…
When from the distant past nothing remains, after the beings have died, after the things are destroyed and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, yet more vital, more insubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of everything else; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the immense architecture of memory.
Yet again I had recalled the taste of a bit of madeleine dunked in a linden-flower tea which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long await the discovery of why this memory made me so happy), immediately the old gray house on the street where her room was found, arose like a theatrical tableau…
Marcel Proust, Du côté de chez Swann (1913) in: À la recherche du temps perdu vol. 1, p. 47 (Pléiade ed. 1954)(S.H. transl.)

This morning at 4 a.m. when I should have been asleep, rather, I was traveling.

Traveling back to my grandmother's kitchen during the hot summertime. A thin fresh white bread, dots of mayonnaise and a single perfect slice of a cold TOMATO. The bread was a simple one-not made anymore- but at a grocery deli I find something that comes close. I spread the pieces with Dukes mayonnaise- if you are a Southerner-and I say this only in the terms of the palate- and the importance of your preferences- You will understand.

The coldness of the home grown TOMATO- its slightly tart bite, melting deliciously together into a sweet goodness- all the ingredients sliding into one pure taste. The bread now a soft dough , I hurry to catch the little droplets of ambrosial juices-allowing nothing to be lost. The perfect summer sandwich-early this morning and anytime I was at GranMa's.
Why so specific about such a simple cold TOMATO? The cold TOMATO was not a part of our family's summer fare. My father preferred them room temperature- and that is how we dined, so far and few made it to that state. My GranMa liked her darlings cold. Simple-That was how she liked them and that is how I liked them when I was at GranMa's house.
So, Yes the TOMATO tastes quite different cold.
It tastes of childhood, carefree thoughts: a little Chinese robe that smelled of roses, a small closet abundant with of House and Gardens, every sort of old paper and fabric I thought could possibly exist under the sun tucked in bureaus, desks, boxes & baskets, crystal and sets of china filled a tall antique cupboard in the Dining Room-demitasse cups to serve my imaginary guests, little China figures in a bathroom alcove arranged in a garden setting, all existing in a charming magical cottage I knew simply as GranMa's house.
All these things presented themselves for a moment and I savored it.


  1. Yes, you are indeed from the South. I recognize it all.

  2. Little A-

    This is so vivid I can taste it.

    A delicate suggestion or request: Can you please wake up at 4am every night, have a dream, drift back to your childhood, and write us some vivid memories.

    Very Proustian, indeed. Brilliant,www.thestylesaloniste.com

  3. Love your Proustian tomato. Tomatoes/madeleines.. they both evoke precious memories. I think I would have been fascinated too by your GranMa's house. I must talk of mine one day. You've reminded me.

  4. Lovely post - thank you for sharing.

  5. Memory and food sandwiched together. While I prefer my tomato warm, I love your memories of your grandmother. Such sweet sentiments.

  6. Wonderful southern memories! What a beautiful tomato by the way...nothing like the insipid specimens that we're getting here in New York at the moment.

  7. Diane- this night I happened to have been asleep and woke up, more often than not I am up at this hour-never having been to bed, Oh a terrible, but unrepentant night owl. I work best at this hour or find myself reading into the morning hours.This a.m. I woke up with Beverley Nichols on my chest and a cup of tea tipped over on the pillow beside me and Zetta in heaven over its contents. Needless to say- I had drowsed off. la

  8. Rosie- My GranMa Bes was a force. She lived to be 107 years of age. a phenom really. Her household was always in order and spending the night was a special treat. g

  9. Laura,anon, PT
    Thank you, it is always a gift to go back and reminisce. So many tomatoes, so little time. They were the staple of our summer diet growing up and I never tired of them. I remarked to Pigtown today that I love tomatoes on buttered toast for breakfast. g.

  10. Home, mostly I prefer warm, one reason why the cold one gave me a jolt back to those days. I have many tomato stories- I actually did a little polling on tomato sandwich preferences of my facebook page- with very specific details about the art of.. G.

  11. Reminds me of markets in the midwest, when I could buy a beefsteak tomato and treat it like a meal. We never ever see tomato like that here, even when its a good tomato year. Do you also get peaches? Something else I miss from childhoods traveling south.

  12. Balsamfir, toms are over the top right now so many. The peaches -yes, last time at the FM they were everywhere. This is one of the things that makes the almost unbearable humidity tolerable. (finally-the book is packed along with a little something else. horribly slow) la

  13. Eating a tomato sandwich hanging over the kitchen sink because it's so juicy, it drips down your arms. Perfection.

  14. Meg- nothing could be finer. gaye

  15. Love hearing your memories of your grandma. Grandparents are such special people and I feel so lucky to have had grandparents who were such a big part of my lives, too. My grandma had stacks of vanity fair magazine in her library's closet that I would sneak a look at and always big jars of snickers and peanuts in the shell in my grandpa's office.

    So true that tomatos take on a different life cold (one that I must admit I don't like!)!

  16. I convinced myself as a child that I like mayonnaise- I so wanted to eat tomato and mayo sandwiches just like Harriet the Spy.



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