My Madeleine

Writer: Grace Noh

  Image from Gastronomer's Guide

Image from Gastronomer's Guide

“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver 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 the effect, which love has, of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me.” - Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

Can you think of a moment of intense remembering of your past memories? I can, and you sure can too. This is called a Proustian moment.

Marcel Proust, a great writer and philosopher, once wrote about his experience of having a warm cup of tea with madeleine. At the moment, he’s been feeling depressed for a long time. As the aroma of tea and the taste of sweet madeleine touched his palate, he was suddenly carried back to his childhood memories, back to one summer he spent in his aunt’s house in countryside of France. A stream of memories came back to him as if he was little Proust again.

 Image from Gastronomer's Guide

Image from Gastronomer's Guide

Having a cup of coffee with a pistachio flavored macaroon in the afternoon near my apartment is one of the great treats. In fact, that is exactly what I am doing at the moment. The coffee is half gone, the macaroon has already satisfied my palate, gentle music is playing, and the small chats of people break the quietness of the café.

What makes this “ordinary” activity so enjoyable and exciting?

  Edouard Manet (1832-83),  Child in the Flowers  (1876), oil on canvas. 

Edouard Manet (1832-83), Child in the Flowers (1876), oil on canvas. 

Certain moments seem so beautiful even though others may not quite understand why those moments are special. Perhaps we tend to form judgments and define what makes something mediocre and ordinary. Are we forgetting to look at things as just being… life?

 Edward Hopper,  Morning Sun  (1952), oil on canvas, collection of Columbus Museum of Art. 

Edward Hopper, Morning Sun (1952), oil on canvas, collection of Columbus Museum of Art. 

Why do we appreciate artists who re-present the daily moments of life? Think of works by Vermeer, Manet, Seurat, and Hopper. Aren’t these something we see in daily life but in different perspectives?

Perhaps my excitement of enjoying a cup of coffee with small treats, Proust’s appreciation of life through a cup of tea with madeleine, and artists painting daily moments of life all have something in common: that life truly is beautifully fascinating and complex and this pleasure of life can be taken in simple things like smelling flowers in the spring time.

 Johannas Vermeer,  Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window  (1657-59), oil on canvas, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden. 

Johannas Vermeer, Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window (1657-59), oil on canvas, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden. 

My friends sometimes tell me that I am like a little girl. How do I think of that? I like it. Children get excited by simple things like jumping in a puddle or touching plants in the backyard. What about us? Are we forgetting how exciting life we are in because we seek more powerful stimulants? Are we now too used to those simple moments to realize what life presents us? Perhaps, life isn’t necessarily to hold extreme excitements.

 Pierre Bonnard,  Femme Endormie  (1928), oil on canvas.  

Pierre Bonnard, Femme Endormie (1928), oil on canvas.  

I am neither a great painter nor a great writer. However, I see these activities rewarding that everyone can enjoy it and not solely restricted to artists. Maybe it is your turn to see your surroundings with a new sensitivity. Why not take pleasure in simple things like starring at a painting portraying an intense sunlight and feeling the actual sunlight warming your body.