Saturday, March 7, 2009


My pal Jeremy Beale writes to me:


I just read the latest on Psycho Gourmet and it reminded me of that old
thing about people eating in French films and not in Hollywood films. Movies
may be outside your remit but may I suggest the Proust films? There's the
scene in Ruiz's Time Regained when St Loup, returned to Paris on leave from
the trenches lunches with Marcel - there's a sort of savagery about the
relish and hunger with which he eats; it's extraordinary - we're inclined to
think of the pleasures of the table as being refined but here (with fantastic realism given what we imagine he's been eating whilst on active duty) the way he wolfs down his food is almost sexual.


Proust is not a completely open book to me. I don't believe I've ever eaten a madeleine - the expectations would surely be too high - and if it weren't for Proust I'm not sure I'd even know they exist.

Proust tells it thus:

“She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called petites madeleines, which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull 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, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place…at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory…”

From this it seems to me he didn't necessarily expect his readers to know what a madeleine was: some explanation was obviously necessary. And although I grew up thinking it was perfectly OK to dunk biscuits in my tea, I suspect there are books of etiquette that say otherwise.

Above is a still from a Korean tv drama series called My Lovely Sam-soon, in which the heroine, Kim Sam-soon, a French-trained pastry chef explains to her doctor friend all about Proust and the madeline. She concludes, at least according to the online translation, "This is sexy cookie."

Marcel would perhaps have put it differently, but I think he'd have understood.

1 comment:

  1. Funny thing - since I wrote this post I've eaten a number of madeleines, most memorably with my pal Martin who is losing, has already lost, great swathes of his memory. I went up to have tea with him and on the way stopped in the local shop looking to buy a cake or some such - and hit on a large bag of madeleines. Martin and I both agreed that they were very good, though I expect Martin had forgotten by now.