Clearly, a lot of frustrated lit majors end up cranking out copy at the New York Times. And just as clearly, the Times likes to flatter its readers with a certain sort of superficial literary allusion. Specifically, it appears to be an unwritten rule at the Times that no article about either (a) memory or (b) cookies–or even (c) the sense of smell–can be published without a mention, preferably in the lede paragraph, of Proust and/or his madeleines.
This morning, we have the latest example:
Proust had his madeleines. Douglas Boxer had his Mallomars.
“My mother used to buy them on special occasions, and I used to sneak down to the kitchen and steal them,” said Mr. Boxer…
By itself, this would be unremarkable. But it’s become something of a game around our breakfast table to watch for these things — call it Spot the Pretentious Proust Reference. (And just to be fair, articles specifically about Proust or writers inspired by Proust are disqualified.)
As with Proust and his madeleines, tourists and natives alike swoon over the mere mention of these perfect almond treats.
As soon as he smelled the mystery smell, Greg Nickson, 45, a freelance cameraman, was transported, like Marcel Proust, to things past, things like the chocolate factory that flooded his childhood neighborhood in Chicago with sweet aromas.
Even if your Michigan happens, lately, to be Fire Island. Proust isn’t the only one who had a madeleine moment. Every summer place engenders its own.
MARCEL PROUST’S mind flooded with enough childhood memories to fill thousands of pages when he dipped his madeleine in tea. Richard Telofski, a commercial photographer, reached his epiphany in a similar, if more prosaic, manner. He found his inspiration at a supermarket, while staring at a display of ice…
The company stocks more than 1,000 essences, and for a price (starting at $125), Brosius will custom-blend your own memory-triggering madeleine. One aging client, who wanted to be reminded of Little League baseball, received a cologne containing essences of dandelion, dirt, grass and leather — for that special top note of baseball mitt. Proust would be proud.
Since I’ve started downloading songs, I’ve found I can browse the past. For Proust, sensation — the taste of a madeleine — prompted remembrance. I am the anti-Proust. I have the memory first, and then I look for the song, buy it and listen to it.
The sense of smell is a powerful thing, able to evoke memories through just a whiff of a familiar odor. After all, it was the smell, as well as the sight and taste, of that petite madeleine soaked in tea that unleashed ”Remembrance of Things Past.”
Honeybees have a little Proust in them, apparently, according to new research from scientists at the Australian National University. They have discovered that just the whiff of a familiar scent from a feeding place can make the bees return to the spot, by bringing out memories of the route.
For the Vietnamese, even those who left the country long ago, pho tends to stir memories, the way a madeleine did for Proust.
WHEN Marcel Proust bit into a little madeleine, it famously triggered a book’s worth of delicate memories. But when it comes to being jolted back in time, foodstuffs aren’t nearly as effective as music. Almost everyone knows hundreds of recordings that are time machines.
The scent hit my hypothalamus. Had Proust cracked a bottle of Wildroot instead of scarfing that madeleine, he would have remembered Ace ”bendable” combs, sitting in Mass next to a fidgeting brother and blowing up Revell PT-109 models in the swamp with firecrackers.
A simple hamburger barely a half-inch thick, slightly charred at the edges and rare inside, embellished with only ketchup and a neat slice of Bermuda onion on a four-inch bun, awakens in me memories as compelling as those aroused by Marcel Proust’s famous madeleine. My hamburger, however, evokes not…
And so on…