Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chopsticks (筷子. 筷) as My Madeleine

I read Proust's 'A la recherche du temps perdu' ('Remembrance of Things Past') at university and understood the psychological insights embodied in his reaction to tasting the 'madeleine', the lynch pin for the unfolding of the novel.

But I only full appreciated it yesterday, dusting a pair of late C19 Japanese lady's chopsticks. Brought back from a 'grand tour' of 1890 by Great Great Aunt Serena (Mimi), front row, middle, in 1897 ...

... and in the 1950's ...

A stream of memories seemed to chaotically tumble out around the room.

I knew Mimi in her nineties - I was up to three or four. Someone whose unguarded sweetness and great openness with children makes you remember them vividly for the rest of your life!

A few of the torrent of my remembrances of yesterday.

Her sitting me on her knee - I still recall the hard boniness through the flower-print cotton dress.

And singing 'Little Brown Jug', with the delight of sharing her joy in the music.

With the laughing and boisterous hugs and kisses at the end.

The something strange about her face. Which I only learned later was a glass eye. And so more appreciated the boldness of a young woman traveling the late C19 world of China, India, Japan and Egypt to Europe.

Finally, my almost favorite flashbacks.

The grand gesture of her putting on lipstick - a quick unsteady slash across her mouth, unknowingly and crazily 'colouring in' her false teeth. Not seeing was no reason not to care about appearance!

The too much powder. And its fragrance.

Competing with lavender perfume.

Big square thin hands. And their silky dry skin. And liverspots.

Long thin arms.

The red cut-glass bead necklace.

Small straw hats.

A sensory flooding of sensations bathed in a generalized emotion of tender loving and protection.

But I am also careful in such real remembering of Christopher Isherwood's caution in 'Christopher and His Kind' against unconsciously manufacturing. But these recollections are important to me, even now!


  1. What a wonderful tribute to your great aunt. I had one aunt who was very special to me and the rest of the family. I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season. Take care!

  2. It's wonderful you have such memories.

    One of the many complaints I have in my life is that I can no longer distinguish what I remember with what I have been told happened. Consequently I don't know how much of my remembered past actually occurred.

    Alan down in Florida

  3. hey wit

    in life i think there are only a few of these people who cross our paths - the trick is to recognize them when they do and treasure the time with them

    have a great holiday - xmas and new year - hope we continue to be in touch in 2009!

    take care


  4. hey alan

    you are right - i experience exactly this - i have 'memories' which seem so true but then - occasionally - i see them as imaginings - sometimes revealed by - someone who was also there!