City Travel – Proust’s Land, Illiers-Combray
The Delhi Walla in the French capital.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It was raining. The Delhi Walla was in Illiers-Combray, a small town south of Paris that is believed to be the setting of some of the most memorable passages in the first volume of In Search of Lost Time, a novel by Marcel Proust considered to be the greatest monument to French literature.
Carrying Swann’s Way–the first volume–in my hand, I walked in Combray’s vacant streets and gardens. The stream was crowded with black ducks. The alleys smelled of wet grass and wood. Cows mooed on the mossy grounds. The black and grey steeple of the church of Saint-Jacques followed me wherever I went.
The town has a school named after Proust. The outer wall of one house was painted with his figure. A local bakery sold madeleine, the teacake said to have inspired Proust to write his great novel.
The day concluded with a visit to the Marcel Proust Museum. It was home to Aunt Leoine, Proust’s close relative with whom he spent his childhood vacations. Feeling like an intruder, I tiptoed into the various rooms, went up and down the creaky wooden staircase, and also stood in front of the bed on which Proust slept. According to the lady at the reception, the museum receives 500 visitors annually. It also serves as the headquarters of Marcel Proust Society and the International Marcel Proust Institute.
It was evening when I walked back to the railway station. The last train to Paris had already left. I boarded a bus. A co-passenger advised me to devote the next few months of my life to Proust because “his book will then stay with me for the rest of my life.”
12. Proust’s room