Of Macaroons, Memories and Missed Opportunity

Carol’s parents had just returned from Paris bringing with them macaroons – lots of them.  And there was Carol, the box in one hand, the PH cheatsheet in the other, trying to decide between Ispahan and Satine and giving up (or giving in) and having them both!

I chose a classic coffee macaroon and ate it standing in the middle of the field looking out at the white market tents, the Saturday shoppers in shorts and flip-flops, the kids racing around and the horses grazing beyond the stone wall, and I just couldn’t get my bearings.  My feet were planted in the solid soil of New England, but with each bite my mind traveled further and further away until I could see myself leaving Pierre’s shop on the rue Bonaparte and walking toward my apartment.  I could see Place Saint-Germain-des-Pres stretching in front of me and I might even have heard the church bells chime if Michael hadn’t tugged on my sleeve to ask if I needed garlic. 

We all talk about that passage in In Search of Lost Time, the one in which Marcel Proust writes about how a bite of a madeleine transported him to another time and another place, but today I lived it. 

It was a wonderful moment, but a strange one, too.  I had trouble reconciling the meticulous construction, the flavor, the fragrance, even the spirit of Pierre’s macaroon with the setting.  The macaroon was so Parisian, what was it doing in Connecticut?  On the farm?  Would there have been this disparity for me if I’d never before tasted a PH macaroon?  Would I have enjoyed it less because I was missing a context?  Would I have relished it more because it would have been an initiation?  And why should food have a place?  Wouldn’t I be just as happy having caviar by a campfire as I would be eating it from a mother-of-pearl spoon in a grand chateau? 

Who would have thought one little bonbon could cause such confusion?  I know, I know – Proust!


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