City Landmark – Proust’s Bed & the Grand Hotel, Cabourg, France
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This is the same bed on which Marcel Proust slept and the same window through which he would watch the sea outside.
It is a cold and quiet day. The Delhi Walla is at room no. 414 at The Grand Hotel. A place more substantial in imagination than in reality, this hotel in the seaside town of Cabourg is the setting of some of the most memorable scenes of Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time. Proust experienced the life here and distilled those impressions in his novel.
It was amid the chandeliers of the Grand that the fashionable society of Paris would gather in the summer. This freezing December evening, however, Cabourg is as lifeless as a tomb. The lobby at the Grand is more promising. A few people are sitting in Salon M. Proust–a man on the corner sofa is reading a book. In the adjoining restaurant, the great windows are looking out on Promenade Marcel Proust–it is empty except for three or four people who are looking like Chinese shadows. The mist-covered sea appears grey, mysterious and precarious.
Over coffee and madeleines (of course!), the hotel’s kind director, Corinne Dupont, shows me a bust of Proust that adorns the lobby (see photo 6 below). She talks of a day early this year when several Proustians descended on the hotel dressed up in Belle Époque costumes.
The hotel, which shall celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, has seen its share of renovations, but the room in which Proust stayed has been largely left untouched. Even so, Marcel Proust remains elusive. He has become so much like a myth that it is impossible to imagine him in this room. Standing next to the bed on which he would sleep, I realise that the only way to get close to Proust is probably not by journeying to the landmarks of his life but by once again reading all the seven volumes of his great novel.
The hotel of Lost Time
6. (Corinne Dupont of Grand Hotel with Marcel Proust)