Tag: Proust

Time is a messy scribble

This is a weird thought I’ve been having a lot recently. I’ve been a fan of Marcel Proust for a few years now, ever since I first picked up a copy of his mighty Remembrance of Things Past and started to read (and yet to finish).

This man again?

Arguably the most profound narration from Proust’s huge tome, which is composed of a number of novels, is the description quite early on of what happens to the narrator’s sense of time when he tastes a madeleine. This moment of remembering has coined the term a ‘Proustian moment’, which refers to how a sound, sight, sound (music), smell, taste or happening can trigger a flash back of strong emotion to an earlier time.

Proust’s cake

Through his writing, Proust examined what is perceived, and also what is remembered, and the repeated and ever-present links between perception and memory.

This interests me because I find the idea that time is a linear yet intangible ‘something’ completely meaningless. Many people, it seems, see time as something invisible that they live in and they travel along, as if they are a dot travelling along a long line that stretches from birth to death. They accept it as natural and dependable as the air that they breathe.

Is time like this?

I don’t see time like that at all. Time disturbs me. I see time as a big cumulus cloud with me in the middle.

Time, if it were pretty

If time were a line and I had to draw it, it would look something like this.

My theory of time

Time often feels as if it is traveling at a constant, linear fashion. Yet, there will be a moment in time’s journey, when I’m in a building I’ve been in before, or smelling a smell of the past, or tasting a taste of my childhood, or thinking about someone who has long left my day-to-day existence and I will get what I can only describe as a time-carrying emotional wack in the stomach. It can be a good wack, or it can be a bad wack.

I also have these time-carrying emotional wacks when I am driving. In fact, I get them a lot when I am driving. I also get them at Zumba, when I’m trying to sleep, and when I’m waiting in a queue. So they are sometimes triggered by an external stimuli (a smell or taste) and sometimes triggered by a total lack of external stimuli (boredom). Time exists in the chaos and the void.

So it may be n number of years since an emotional event happened, good or bad, but I can be thrust back to that event just as suddenly and unpredictably as I can not be thrust back to it. The idea that time heals, is utter rubbish. Why? Because time is a cloud, it isn’t linear. It doesn’t just have speed and direction. It has position as well. Perhaps the physicists need to step in at this point and make the observation that they have made many times before that you can either examine the velocity of a particle or it’s position but not both.

This theory is called the Uncertainty Principle. I therefore propose that we create an Uncertainty of Time Principle as well. Time is like a particle. We can see the position of time in our minds, or the velocity it is travelling at (with us along with it), but we can’t see both together.

If I could control my emotions and prevent the lack of or all-encompassing stimuli to the senses, then time would be predictable. But I can’t and it isn’t. So I have to accept that this is how time is. Time is woolly. It can’t be measured.

There’s no point fighting or seeking the emotional wacks, they will come when time wills.

Why I like to dangle my legs

At the weekend, I went to London. For lunch on the Saturday, I ate at my favourite okonomiyaki restaurant this side of Tokyo. In fact, I don’t know of any other okonomiyaki restaurants in the UK. When I lived in Japan, okonomiyaki was one of my favourite dishes (joint with chilli raamen and perhaps just above tsukune – also known as duck balls).

Okonomiyaki – also known as cabbage omelette – but it is so yummy

The seating in this restaurant was like no other I have come across in the UK. The main dining area is in a square horse shoe shape around the centre. The seats themselves are quite high. They are more like benches than seats as such, They have a lid. On arrival you are asked to place your your coat and bag inside the seat. Then you sit on the lid and, as the seats are quite high and unless you are six feet tall or above, you dangle your feet down.

So when I did this, I felt an odd sense of comfort. I thought weirdly about this. After two minutes of deep contemplation I concluded that this comfort  is a Proustian / Freud uncanny-childhood-memory thing. I reasoned that I liked the sensation of dangling my feet because as a child, my feet always dangled wherever I sat. It was lovely to sit and dangle. I really did feel comforted.

This man again?

The food was pretty lush too.

Why do I love New York so much?

I had this thought while at Newark International Airport with nothing much to do for an hour and ten minutes while I waited to board a plane to Heathrow. I had spent the last 48 hours in New York and I was sat at Newark asking myself: why do I love New York so much? What is it about the city that draws me in? Why do I want to return there after only 12 months since the last visit? This is a thought that is made more curious to me because I know people who have been to New York and have professed that they were disappointed by the experience and even concluded that they disliked, and even hated, New York. I don’t understand that because after two visits, for 48-hours each, I love the place. I’d live there if I could. What is there not to love?

The city of endless possibilities

The city of endless possibilities

So I decided to kill my time at Newark International Airport by writing a list of reasons why I love New York. This is my list:

The smell

I love the smell. I wish I could bottle the smell. Times Square, where our hotel was, has a distinctive smell. This is a smell that I cannot preserve and return to at will. I wish I could. Someone needs to invent a technology that allows us to capture a smell and ‘share’ on Facebook or just keep for future reference. The sense of smell is a very important provoker of memory (just ask Marcel Proust).

This man again?

This man again?

Times Square smells of diesel, pretzels cooking, nuts roasting, rotting rubbish, steam and frying food. I love it. When we first arrived at our hotel, I opened the window, eleven floors up, and the smell hit me like a wave of city life. Chinatown smells of noodles and soya. The Lower East Side smells of coffee. Central Park smells of trees, fresh air and summer. The subway smells of engines and sweat.

Can you smell it?

Can you smell it?

The people

I love the people. They are interesting. I just wish I could spend more time with them. I would love to stop and talk to them and find out more about their lives. They come from all sorts of walks of life. Some appear beaten by life and others bolstered by it. The cultural diversity of New York is refreshing. Everyone moves with a purpose. They rush but not through stress. They drink coffee on the go. They listen to music on their iPhones on the go. They cross the roads while screaming down their iPhones ‘I know, that’s outrageous’.

The art

New York is the most cultured city I have been to. It is full of art and artists. I am with the like-minded there. I love the streets, the coffee shops, the art galleries as well as the inspiration of art (the people).

One of the many fabulous art galleries

One of the many fabulous art galleries

The feeling of youth

New York is a youthful city. Everyone is young (at heart if not of body). The youthfulness of the city is infectious.

The optimism

New Yorkers are optimists. They see possibility everywhere. They look on the bright side of life. They smile at strangers. They are happy all the time.

The bookshops

I haven’t had much time to peruse the bookshops of New York but I know that the bookshops are there, waiting for me. I only managed to browse books in the art galleries, the tenement museum in the Lower East Side and Barnes & Nobel but that was enough to whet my appetite for great books.

The people-watching opportunities

I love to people watch. What better city to do that in than New York? New York obviously knows that it is the perfect city for people watching. Many of its cafes and fast-food establishments are set out in the style which I call ‘last supper style’. This means that they have a big window and a bar with high stools along the window facing out. In other words, you can sit and enjoy your coffee and watch the world go by. To passers by, the people sitting along this bar resembled that very famous painting of the Last Supper.

Most cafes have a bar at the front for people watchers like me

Most cafes have a bar at the front for people watchers like me

What the cafe windows look like

What the cafe windows look like

You can go there for a weekend

I know it seems mad to go to New York for the weekend but it is possible. I’ve done it twice now. So my advice is: go to New York for the weekend and see if you love it as much as I do. I hope you do.

Proust was a very wise man

This is the weird thought (not that weird) that I had after finding something in a souvenir shop in New Quay today.

I saw an object in a shop there and was immediately taken back to a time in my childhood,. As I gazed at the object, flooded by a memory, I could almost sense that Proust’s ghost was watching me (his most famous literary creation was taken back to his childhood after eating some mandeleine cake).

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder 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 had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me…. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea (Proust, In Search of Lost Time)

Yummy orange cake

Yummy orange cake

I have no conscious memory of owning this object, which is a gathering of coloured stones with eyes on a bigger stone in front of a stick which reads ‘rock concert’. But upon seeing it I knew straight away that I had bought it over thirty years ago with my hard-earned holiday money and treasured it. I knew this to be true even though I no longer have this object now and obviously hadn’t thought about it for decades. I have no solid evidence that this memory is real (I need to ask my mum if she remembers). But I knew, I just knew, as I stood there in that shop today that I had owned an almost identical rock as this.

Rock concert - get it?

Rock concert – get it?

So I took a photo of this object and showed it to my husband later back on the beach. He immediately asked: ‘Why didn’t you buy it?’ I hadn’t intended to buy it. What need did I have for a tacky ‘thing’ made from pebbles? But as soon as he had planted that idea in my mind, I knew that I had to have it. I had to go back to the shop and part with £2.99. To me, as an adult, that isn’t much money. To me, as a child, the equivalent value would have been a lot of money. So I had to have it. It was fate. It was fate that we went to New Quay today. It was fate that I decided to go for a wonder around the shops by myself. It was fate that I saw this curious object and was reminded of my childhood. So I decided that I would be going against the gods if I didn’t go back and buy it. So I did.

I think I felt that I had to have it so that that feeling of being flooded with happy childhood memories would happen again, every time I looked at the object.

Proust remembering his childhood

Proust remembering his childhood

As I parted with £2.99, Proust smiled.