One of the things you can do on a long plane journey or whilst travelling in foreign countries is to read back copies of those journals and periodicals which pile up reproachfully during normal life. With this in mind I travelled to India with a pile of New Yorkers, London Review of Books etc. I progressed through them, underlining, tearing out articles for posterity (despite online access the paper form still compels me).
An article in The New Yorker by Aleksandar Hemon (Mapping Home: learning a new city, remembering the old, December 5th 2011 for those of you with back copies still in the hall) particularly captured my attention. Having left his native Sarajevo in 1992 to move to the US he returned recently for a visit. One of the ways he gets to know places is by walking them (he invokes the persona of the flaneur, the existentialist nomad, the self-destructive poet). I can identify with that though it may frustrate those who need a linear direction and a destination.
As he walks:
a simple lust would possess my body. The city laid itself down for me; wandering stimulated my body as well as my mind.
I gradually became aware that my interiority was inseparable from my exteriority, that the geography of my city was the geography of my soul.
We move from Baudelaire to Proust when his body involuntarily turns to look as, in his youth, at where the cinema posters used to be displayed:
From the lightless shafts of coporal (sic) memory, my body had recalled the action of turning to see what was playing.
Following that involuntary turn, my body was flooded with a Proustian, if banal, memory:
That’s such a wonderful phrase:
From the lightless shafts of corporal (sic) memory
or corporeal if you prefer.
What emerges from the lightless shafts of your corporeal memory?
Caveat: if your body is storing and holding unpleasant or painful experiences treat this prompt with caution, make sure you have your safeguards (structure, pacing and containment) in place. Have someone you trust with you, keep it brief.
What are your Proustian moments?
In one of my groups this week we had a grandmother’s suffocating lily of the valley perfume, a bed in a chicken coop and a statue of a crow. And that was just in 15 minutes.
Someone also said that the smell of cloves was the smell of childhood Christmases. Amazing how evocative scents and odours can be.
If Proust doesn’t evoke anything for you, or madeleines are not your thing, who or what is your alternative?
Rosamond Lehmann’s Dusty Answer is a book which evokes my childhood summers.
By the way, India was an almost overwhelming trip. One of the most inspiring places was Ghandi’s Ashram in Ahmedabad.