Proust's Way

21/11/2013 10:49

A century ago it was published for the first time the start of the journey of Marcel Proust through their own memories. Although André Gidé, a good friend, rejected De Coté de Chez Swann, Swann’s Way, the first volume of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, In Search of Lost Time, was released in November 1913.

Follow the Proust’s steps, follow the steps in search of his time leads directly to Illiers, a small town south of Chartres, just a hundred kilometres west of Paris. Marcel, the little Marcel, peering from the window of the train the steeple of the church of Saint Jacques, Saint Hilarie in the text, just before the train entered the station. From there we would walk a few streets before crossing the gate at number 4 rue du Docteur Proust, where was, and is still there, chez Tante Léonie, the Aunt Léonie, actually Aunt Élisabeth, sister of his father Adrien, where between 1877 and 1880 was to spend the Easter holidays and summer days, leaving behind for a few weeks the Paris of his childhood. A Paris plunged into the rapid technological changes that shook the French and European society between the World Exhibitions, the advent of electricity, running water, telephone and telegraph and replacing horse-drawn for steam and electricity trams.

Chez Tante Léonie, the home of Jules and Ëlisabeth Amiot, Proust's paternal uncles, became in 1954 the Musée Marcel Proust, which recreate memories attached to the writer: furniture, manuscripts and family papers, a portrait of the father, Adrien Proust, by Jules Lecomte du Noüy, one of the mother, painted by Anaïs Beauvais and two displays, one devoted to his maid Céleste Albaret and another to the family Amiot. On the top floor of the house there is a permanent exhibition of images by Paul Nadar, one of the pioneers of photography who was devoted to portraying Parisian society of the time and also the social environment related to the writer.

In Aunt Léonie's home happens the famous cupcake experience which flavour blended with the tea open the narrator memories: “ mère, voyant que j'avais froid, me proposa de me faire prendre, contre mon habitude, un peu de thé. Je refusai d'abord et, je ne sais pourquoi, me ravisai. Elle envoya chercher un de ces gâteaux courts et dodus appelés Petites Madeleines qui semblent avoir été moulés dans la valve rainurée d'une coquille de Saint-Jacques. Et bientôt, machinalement, accablé par la morne journée et la perspective d’un triste lendemain, je portai à mes lèvresune cuillerée du thé où je avais laissé s’amollir un morceau de madeleine. Mais à l’instant même où la gorgée mêlée des miettes du gâteau toucha mon palais, je tressaillis, attentif à ce qui se passait d’extraordinaire en moi. Un plaisir délicieux m’avait envahi, isolé, sans la notion de sa cause”.

 (“ mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the 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.”)

Excuse through which he start searching for a time now belonging to past, of a time that exists only in fleeting episodes scattered between the nostalgia of memories. All that happened once in Illiers-Combray. In April 1971 the city agreed to change the place name in one of the few extraordinary cases in which reality is adapted to a name which comes from literary fiction.

Also in Illiers, Illiers-Combray, are the Pré Catelan gardens, the Catalan meadow, exotic garden created by Jules Amiot became in the novel the Swann's mansion, Tansonville. Alongside these are château de Villebon gardens, which will become the Guermantes's château. They say there is still the boulangerie where they elaborated the famous shell-shaped cupcakes. Illiers was part of one of the French routes to Santiago de Compostela. The scallop shell represents the Apostle and the pilgrimage. The town’s church is also dedicated to Saint Jacques, Santiago.

From Illiers to Cabourg, from Combray to Balbec. Balbec has a certain eastern city of the sun resonance, the Phoenician Heliopolis dedicated to God Baal. There is another small town in Normandy called Bolbec, but it’s not the one. Balbec is Cabourg a resort and spa centre that was already fashionable in the nineteenth century in Normandy coast a short distance from Bayeux or Caen, Cabourg attracts weekend crowds from Paris perhaps as much as the neighbouring Trouville-Deanville.

Between 1907 and 1914 Marcel Proust came here to spend the summertime, once past the age of childhood stays in Illiers-Combray. He came with his mother and Reynaldo Hahn. At other times went alone and usually occupied room 414. From there he could see the sea, the beach that opens to the Channel. The Grand Hotel got at that time the most current developments in the period: central heating, elevators, electric light. It is still open and have a hall dedicated to the writer, a restaurant called Le Balbec and a terrace overlooking the sea bearing the name De Coté de chez Swann, Swann’s Way. The walk along the sea is the promenade Marcel Proust. And in the same Cabourg are sold in tins which exploit the known images of the writer, the famous shell-shaped cupcakes. In a cafe also offered a tea or coffee with a couple of cupcakes. Nine Euros. Deal of the day. The Magdalene M. Marcel Proust - Cabourg

But Proust was viscerally Parisian and more specifically from the rive droite, the right bank. His grandfather used to say that he hated the idea of ​​spending even a night away from Paris. To follow the steps of the writer in the French capital is not at all too difficult, no more than to draw some marks on a subway map, although it can be slightly disappointing to track buildings that were demolished years ago and where more recent ones replaced them. In Auteuil, when leaving Miguel Ange-Auteuil subway station, the exit is virtually opposite number 96 rue de la Fontaine. Here, in the house once belonged to his uncle Louis Weil, he was born and here only a plaque commemorates the fact, Ici naquit Marcel Proust le 10 julliet 1871, on the wall of an apartment building. Keep in mind that when the little Marcel came into this world in this place, Auteuil was a small and wealthy town in the Parisian outskirts annexed to the capital in 1860. The family moved after the birth of his brother Robert in 1873 to the second floor of number 9 on the Boulevard Malesherbes. There is not even a plaque, the family moved again, in 1900, at 45 rue Courcelles, near Parc Monceau. Once his parents were dead, he moved on December 27, 1906 to the close 102 in boulevard Haussmann, near the church of St. Augustine against which there is a bronze statue of Joan of Arc, sword raised and turning to green. On the facade of the building another plaque reminds that habita cet immeuble de 1907 à 1919

Proust frequented the coffee Weber at 21, rue Royale, closed in 1961 is now an English tavern. In the Place de la Madeleine he used to seat in the restaurant Larue tables or in coffee Durand. In the same rue Royale which had once been the ice cream parlour Imoda Glacier, became in 1891 the restaurant Maxim's, still open. Years later haunt the Ritz hotel restaurant in the 15 place Vendôme, where today they have a Marcel Proust suite whit a copy of the portrait painted by Jacques Émile Blanch when the writer was 21.

Crossed the Seine, at 51 Quai des Grands Agoustins still exhibits its menus to customers the restaurant Lapérouse, a historic place overlooking the Ile de la Cité. In fiction Proust makes Swann frequent it, because that makes him think about Odette de Crécy, who, in the novel, resides in rue La Pérouse, near the Étoile. Years later, a Proust’s friend, Laure Hayman criticized the author for having recognized herself in the character of Odette, perhaps because they lived too at 4, rue La Pérouse, between Kleber and Iéna avenues: “Certains jours au lieu de rester chez lui, il allait prendre son déjeuner dans un restaurant assez voisin dont il avait appréciée autrefois la bonne cuisine et où maintenant il n’aillait plus que pour une de ces raisons, à la fois mystiques et saugrenues, qu’on appelle romanesques ; c’est que ce restaurant (lequel existe encore) portait le même nom que la rue habitée par Odette : Lapérouse” (Un Amour de Swann)  ("Some days, instead eating at home, went to lunch at a restaurant close enough that before long appreciated for its fine cuisine and was now only one of those reasons at once mystical and ridiculous at the same time, often referred fictional, and it was that that restaurant (which still exists) is called the same that's street where Odette lived: Lapérouse "Swann in Love)

Of course there are more Proustian places in Paris, the Bois de Boulogne, where they went for a walk in the Allée des Acacias, today Longchamp Avenue, the Champs Élysées and puppet performances or the Parc Monceau, in the vicinity of the apartment of rue Courcelles .

In the Marais, at 23 rue de Sévigné, the City Museum of History, the Musée Carnavalet, displayed in a hallway of the second floor furniture that the writer had in his three apartments that dwelt after death of his parents. The last, at 44 rue de l'Amiral Hamelin, where he moved in 1919 and where he died. A bed with headboard and footboard with a peculiar copper circular motifs decorating the corners who accompanied him since he was sixteen. Behind the head was a five-panel screen decorated with Chinese motifs. A bedside table in which the writer deposited his pens and black cover moleskin notebooks in which he was working at the moment. The furniture is completed with a Second Empire-style desk that was covered with books and photographs and memorabilia kept in drawers. But he didn’t used it to write. Alongside a chaise longue where Reynaldo Hahn used to sit during their visits. On the wall a portrait of the writer's father, Adrien Proust, Louise Brouarel work. Also is there the walking stick that accompanied him in the picture supposedly taken at the Vermeer exhibition exit at the Jeu de Paume Museum in May 1921.

Proust lively interest in British John Ruskin’s work which led him to undertake the translation of several of his works: The Stones of Venice, Sesame and Lilies, and The Bible of Amiens. Thought who really carried out the bulk of the literal translation was his mother, Proust added comments, criticisms and comments that came to exceed in volume the original work. It is unusual for a translator to move to the object for which they work, which it did Proust. In fact the author wrote about his translation of The Bible of Amiens: Je n’en espére pas moins que vous irez à Amiens après m’avoir lu. (I don’t hope less than you’re going to visit Amiens once you’ve read me). Proust went to Amiens and met the Notre Dame, probably unique in the maze that stretches on the floor of the nave, or the strange motifs carved into the capitals of its facade or by the three gates sculpted of the Western facade containing the old and New testament, a Bible in stone: the Bible of Amiens. Amiens, because of its canals, has also been called the Venice of France, la Reine des Eaux.

And after Amiens, another great interest aroused by Ruskin by Proust was the capital of the Venetian Lagoon. As for many other authors, Venice attraction exerted its effect. Someone described it as le rêve le plus réussi de tout l’histoire des hommes. (The dream best achieved in the history of men). The decay contained, the accumulation of layers of history that overlap one after another among its channels, the epic and mythomany that also is reflected in the waters of its canals, are a heap of ingredients too attractive to be rejected. And Proust did not. Along the same year, 1900, he visited it twice. In a first trip, from April to May, accompanied by his mother, Reynaldo Hahn and his English cousin Marie Nordlinger. Proust come back again in October, accompanied by Hahn, on a journey that would also stop in Padua to see Giotto's frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel.

As Ruskin, Proust will be captivated by Venice. He wrote to Gidé: “Venise ne s’en est pas moins inscrite en moi et je goûte encore, à me souvenir d’elle, un plaisir prorogé.” (“Venice isn’t less recorded in me and I do still savour, when I remember, in prolonged pleasure”). There will be two Venices in Proust, the one visited in 1900 and the magnified and idealized that appears in the Recherche, in Le Temps Retrouvé he will write “Et presque tout de suite, je la reconnus, c’etait Venise, dont mes efforts pour la décrire, et les prétendus instantanés pris par ma mémoire ne m’avaient jamais rian dit…un brusque hasard les avait impérieusament fait sortir… ” (“and almost immediately, I recognized it was Venice that my efforts to describe and the supposed snapshots taken by my memory had never said nothing to me... a sudden chance had imperiously removed them ...”)

Venice seems to close a circle, is the exit and way in of the maze, the Cathedral of Amiens labyrinth, the Parisian maze and the memory one in Cabourg, recalls in Combray and the labyrinth of the mind itself where it’s discovered that when is necessary to start the journey in search of which no longer belongs is because it does not exist anymore. And therefore it is impossible to alter the consequences of the effects caused on it. Perhaps some details may be modified at will, perhaps others may be eluded, but those actions practically belong to the matter with which dreams are built.

The Proust’s one concluded structuring that world, his world, over the seven volumes of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, the cathedral of his memory. From him remains is a headstone in the Parisian cemetery of Père Lachaise, there with his people closer who him  join in November 1922.

© J.L.Nicolas


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