My Moment with Proust – From Swann’s Way IV

A sliver of Casablanca recently had come to Robson Street in Vancouver’s West End, where I live. In the guise of a small restaurant owned and manned by a polyglot Moroccan chef who had wound his way from Marrakech through Italy, Germany, Montréal, Edmonton, to Vancouver, and, en route, acquired Arabic, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and English. His cuisine is exquisite, entirely prepared by himself, and uses the finest ingredients, combined and presented with understanding, skill, and the heart of one who believes in the daily necessity of small beauties and the beauty of courtesies.

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Casablanca Crepe, A Taste of Morocco. West End, Vancouver. 11 March 2017. (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

His creations include his own pastries. And it was his madeleine and his Moroccan mint tea that brought me, as I had wished and hoped for, my moment with Proust.

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A Moroccan tea service at Casablanca Crepe. Everything presented, except the fruit, but including the butter and strawberry jam, is a creation of the chef. 11 March 2017. (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

Il y avait déjà bien des années que, de Combray … n’existait plus pour moi, quand un jour d’hiver, comme je rentrais à la maison, ma mère, voyant que j’avais froid, me proposa de me faire prendre, contre mon habitude, un peu de thé. Je refusai d’abord et, je ne sais pourquoi, me ravisai. Elle envoya chercher un de ces gâteaux courts et dodus appelés petites madeleines qui semblent avoir été moulés dans la valve rainurée d’une coquille de Saint−jacques. Et bientôt, machinalement, accablé par la morne journée et la perspective d’un triste lendemain, je portai à mes lèvres une cuillerée du thé où j’avais laissé s’amollir un morceau de madeleine. Mais à l’instant même où la gorgée mêlée des miettes du gâteau toucha mon palais, je tressaillis, attentif à ce qui se passait d’extraordinaire en moi. Un plaisir délicieux m’avait envahi, isolé, sans la notion de sa cause. Il m’avait aussitôt rendu les vicissitudes de la vie indifférentes, ses désastres inoffensifs, sa brièveté illusoire, de la même façon qu’opère l’amour, en me remplissant d’une essence précieuse : ou plutôt cette essence n’était pas en moi, elle était moi. J’avais cessé de me sentir médiocre, contingent, mortel.

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My moment with Proust at Casablanca Crepe. West End, Vancouver. 11 March 2017. (Photo: Gloria Steel)

Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray … had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary 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 mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having had the effect, which love has, of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal.

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