City Reading – The Delhi Proustians XXIX, Outside Wenger’s
A la recherche du temps perdu.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Today is the 29th meeting of The Delhi Proustians, a club for Delhiwallas that discusses French novelist Marcel Proust. Every Monday evening for an hour we read his masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time.
Each week we meet in a new venue to dive into the atmosphere of Marcel’s novel.
It is 7 pm and The Delhi Walla is outside the Wenger’s Bakery in Connaught Place. A friend told me it makes the best macaroons in Delhi. According to the French culinary reference book Laroursse Gastronomique, it is a small round dry pastry made of almond paste, sugar and white of egg. I had my life’s first macaroon during a recent trip to Paris. I tried it in the famous shop Ladurée.
Unfortunately, I did not feel anything for this pastry. The friend blames my failure to appreciate the subtleties of the “so-civilised” macaroon on my under-developed aesthetics.
Similar could be the case for those readers who want to appreciate Marcel Proust but fail during every attempt to read him. His novel is full of feelings, but, I think, you need to have a delicate temperament and great patience to savour the passages.
Today I’m starting The Guermantes Way, the third volume of Lost Time. I finished the second volume, Within a Budding Grove, last Sunday, spending the entire afternoon and a substantial part of the evening reading in a small graveyard in central Delhi. Completing the book was an accomplishment. I was proud.
Now I must start with Guermantes.
The twittering of the birds at daybreak sounded insipid to Françoise. Every word uttered by the maids upstairs made her jump; disturbed by all their running about, she kept asking herself what they could be doing. In other words, we had moved. Certainly the servants had made no less noise in the attics of our old home; but she knew them, she had made of their comings and goings familiar events. Now she faced even silence with a strained attention. And as our new neighbourhood appeared to be as quiet as the boulevard on to which we had hitherto looked had been noisy, the song (distinct at a distance, when it was still quite faint, like an orchestral motif) of a passer-by brought tears to the eyes of a Françoise in exile. And so if I had been tempted to laugh at her in her misery at having to leave a house in which she was ‘so well respected on all sides’ and had packed her trunks with tears, according to the Use of Combray, declaring superior to all possible houses that which had been ours, on the other hand I, who found it as hard to assimilate new as I found it easy to abandon old conditions, I felt myself drawn towards our old servant when I saw that this installation of herself in a building where she had not received from the hall-porter, who did not yet know us, the marks of respect necessary to her moral wellbeing, had brought her positively to the verge of dissolution. She alone could understand what I was feeling; certainly her young footman was…
… One day I will finish this novel.
I know what I will do next — I will read all the important books written on Proust; afterwards I will return to Swann’s Way, the first volume of In Search of Lost Time.
The 30th meeting of The Delhi Proustians takes place on 15 October 2012.
Where Gandhi-King Plaza, India International Centre Time 7 pm Nearest Metro Station Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium
Macaroons of Ladurée, Paris