October 21, 2016

I’ll Have What Proust Had

21 October 2016 | by Andrea Frost

The other night, I was enjoying a moment of heightened pleasure resulting from that exquisite mix of company, conversation, conviviality and wine. As I did, I noted how the fusion of aromas with such intoxicating moments are how sensory memories are made. Running away with the idea, I wondered if it were possible to intentionally fuse an exquisite moment with an equally attractive wine aroma, so that every time I devoured the wine, I would be reminded not of the accepted technical descriptions available to everyone, but of my particular moment of assigned pleasure. In short, could I engineer my very own remembrances of things past?

What I am talking about, of course, is creating my own “Proustian moment”, the famous moment in Marcel Proust’s novel À La Recherche du Temps Perdu, in which a petite madeleine dipped in tea triggers a precious childhood memory. “No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place.” With reflection, the memory’s origin revealed itself. “The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings … my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea.”

For Proust, the experience was nothing short of profound: “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 myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal.”

Replace the tea with wine, exchange his aunt for someone of my choosing and I want what Proust had. My thinking was this: I am yet to taste a galaxy of wines and commit hundreds of others to memory. When I do, I’ll likely be offered a suite of descriptors to assign to the wines. While this information is helpful for professional moments, it rather limits the aesthetic ones. I wondered if I could engineer my own associations so that in future, when I taste a Barolo, for example, I recall not just dried roses, sour cherries, spice and hints of liquorice but a “pleasure that invades my senses” and”‘sends a shudder right through me”? Or if I taste a Chambertin, say, I recall not just opulent red fruits, sinewy tannins, savoury and complexing spice, but an experience whereby the “vicissitudes of life become indifferent” and I too am filled ‘with an essence similar to the effect of love’. Could I too ‘cease to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal’ all from a glass of wine, as Proust had done, all from a cup of tea?

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