Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Gardens of Combray

My father-in-law liked to proclaim that he never ate any vegetables that didn't grow in his grandmother's garden. Said garden was in Mark Brandenburg in Prussia, and no doubt contained potatoes, peas, beans, carrots, tomatoes and the like. No zucchini, no broccoli, just a good German garden. I'm sure there was rhubarb and gooseberries and red currants and strawberries. Sounds good, doesn't it?

Swann has a fancy garden with raspberries, and little backwater Combray has access to pineapple(!) along with asparagus, apricots, cherries and all that good stuff.

I am thinking about this because I remember MY grandmother's garden, but also because I read the New York Times Magazine last Sunday with an article on "Nutrionism." The gist of the article is that if you want to eat "right", then eat what your grandparents or great grandparents ate. Think. No processed foods, or very few. Not a lot of meat. Lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Butter, no margarine. Home made bread. Home made desserts. People worked hard and they could pack away more than we can without getting, well, porky. This is an interesting concept that bears thinking about. In the summer, we made ice cream. Without chemicals or preservatives. I can still taste the fresh peach and the strawberry, a lost taste that resides only in memory.

Rather Proustian, yes? He's still talking about Bergotte and Swann's daughter and the scandalous Mrs. Swann. And I'm thinking of Swann's raspberries and the beautiful woman in pink who ate a tangerine. Are there lessons here?



Saturday, January 27, 2007

Such a Naive Lad

Lad. Out of fashion word, that. I read the passage where Marcel the narrator visits his roue uncle on the sly, hoping to meet once of his uncle's fancy women. Having a hard time honing in on "Marcel's" age. He is interested (quite interested) in women and girls, yet he seems psychologically very young and not at all astute in relationship to his parents.

As luck and fiction would have it, a beautiful young lady in a pink dress is with his uncle. She is eating a tangerine. Then they smoke, but she only likes the kind of cigarettes the grand duke provides her with.

Dumb Marcel goes home and talks around his visit, thinking himself very sly, but his foxy parents immediately worm out of him where he has been and who was there. The uncle is forever persona non grata. Dumb kid. Really dumb.

He mentions once that something is a hard choice, like chosing between riz a la imperatrice and the chocolate pudding. I'd go for the chocolate every time. The household runs a good kitchen, no doubt about that. Wonder if it was as good as Monet's. The writer Bergotte has finally appeared.

Off to have lunch with former colleagues.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Food! Food Food! Maintenant Nous Manger.

Now we eat!

Finally hit the comestible jackpot in Swann's Way. Mentions of lobster (!) and asparagus. The aunt ate creamed eggs (Yuck!) for lunch.

The gentle (and hungry) reader is then given a long list of what the family ate for the midday meal, which makes one understand why they were sleepy after the noontime feast. I am assuming that not all this food was eaten at one sitting which would be unbelievably piggy as well as hell for the cook (Francoise). I'm also curious about the preserves and biscuits (bread and jam?) that was listed as a typical lunch with eggs, cutlets, potatoes, preserves and biscuits. Don't think they were biscuits Americaine. Now I know I will have to find a more updated translation and a French copy. Merde! This is going to be work.

What else the family had for lunch: Brill (a fish), turkey (!), cardoons with marrow, leg of mutton, spinach (for a change), apricots (hard to get), gooseberries (soon gone), raspberries (from Swann's wonderful garden), cherries (the first of the season) cream cheese (beloved by Marcel), almond cake, fancy loaf (?)--bread but what kind?
The narrator's father was exceedingly fond of a cream of chocolate pudding (well, duh, who wouldn't be?) and was rather annoyed if anyone at the table refused it. Would not have been me. Nope.

Reading this scene reminded me of my grandparent's house and garden in Hesston, Kansas. We always awaited the first strawberries with excrutiating impatience. When the new potatoes were ready to eat, they were invariably served with creamed peas and the family (but not me) ooohhhed and ahhhhed over how delicious.

To everything there was a season, in the big garden, just like in Proust's Combray. I had great aunts that were as eccentric as his. In other words, I can connecting to this story as never before.

My grandma got heavy cream was a woman on the other side of town. I still remember it. Golden and so thick you spooned it out of the pint jar. I was just a little girl, but I remember. My grandmother never used a recipe, and she baked bread and made pies with her plump, deft fingers. As a young girl she was beautiful, but work and children and worry aged her before her time. That was a saying then, "before her time." One could also die before one's time. Seasons and time. Remembrance of Time Past.

I love Proust.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Pineapple Salad and Ice Cream

A few more pages of Swann's Way, a few more mentions of food. The aunt's sisters got a case of "asti" from Swann. Obviously "asti spumante." Why not champagne? I hadn't remembered how much humor there was in the book. The sisters attempt to thank Swann for the asti without actually thanking him. The weird reverse class consciousness. The petit bourgeois in evidence. Really good stuff.

The narrator's aunt asked Swann for a recipe for "pineapple salad." Wonder what that was? Certainly NOT a slice of canned pineapple on a mound of cottage cheese. No-siree-bob, no. Maybe fruit salad? The mystery deepens.

Two references to ice cream, which must have been a stylish elegant dessert. The coffee-pistachio didn't pass muster. No wonder, ick. Another reference to a burnt nut ice cream. Hmmmm. Burnt almond? Burnt nut doesn't sound so delicious.

Now of course, snoopy Odette thinks it might be nice to have a copy in French to ferret out the odd food translation. Are we on to something here? She is also wondering what the words that led to "beef stew" were? And whether Scott Montcrief, translator extraordinaire, was a foodie for his day and age? I'm thinking NOT.

Apropos of pistachio ice cream. A young child in our family, when confronted with a very green pistachio ice cream, said, "Daddy, I don't like salad ice cream." Nothing Marcel would have ever confessed to the old man.



Monday, January 22, 2007

Beef Stew

Beef stew was the first food mentioned in Proust. I started last night with a few pages of Swann's Way. Fell asleep on the sofa while reading, a very pleasant, relaxing experience. Awakening on the sofa is usually disorienting --one expects to wake up in bed, but last night it was rather pleasant.My slumber hadn't become deep and unconscious yet.

My weirdest waking up experience was on an aircraft flying into Phoenix. It was very late east coast time, and I was soundly asleep. When the pilot let the wheels down, I thought the noise was a loud clap of thunder. Thinking I was home in bed, I grabbed my husband's hand, except it was the hand of the woman sitting next to me. She was kindly and we had a good laugh, when I explained what had happened. Normally, I don't sleep that deeply on an airplane. I think Proust would understand such an experience.

This recipe sounded good. Maybe it is similiar to what the narrator and his family ate at Combray.




Sunday, January 21, 2007


Helas, I have been tres remiss at keeping the blog up to date and reading Proust. The crazy thing is I see Proust references almost every day, as often as Hemingway and more than Joyce. Haven't made madelines, haven't read a single paragraph. I do listen to French pop songs often. Love the names. Zazie, Pascal Obispo, love the sound of the voices, the ambiance.

Now to get down to Proust. Since I am sort of a foodie I thought it would be cool to note all the food and drink in Proust and see if anyone is still eating it anymore. I have a fantastic book, Monet's Table, The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet, which I got out yesterday. The recipes are so simple. Very minimal seasoning. I suspect that the ingredients were so prime, that little in the way of spice and herb was needed.

At Giverney, Monet had the perfect life. He had a beautiful house, a lovely garden, his family was there, and his friends came to visit. He could paint at much as he liked and everything was tuned to HIS SCHEDULE.

Yesterday, while the wind howled outside, I clean out my "idea" file looking for short story ideas. I found Art in the City, a program from Monet and the Marvels of New Orleans at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Now, of course, anything from New Orleans, especially something this lovely has a heartbreaking poignancy and brings tears to one's eyes.

In the New York Times Crossword Puzzle today, Swann was the answer for the clue 'a main Proust character.'

While I've been postponing Proust, I finished a novel and re-wrote (for the umpteenth time,) the beginning chapter of another novel. I plan to do short stories for a while; two for children, and 4 or 5 for adults. How long will this take? No idea. An update of my web site, so old and neglected I won't even publish the URL, if also in the offing.

It is good to have projects and plans, even if they do not include one of the great novels of our time.

Au revoir,