Of Memories and Madeleines

Reconstruction of a person’s past life is not something to be left to biographers or psychoanalysts. Many famous people of the past actually didn’t want a biography to be written about them, most notably George Orwell. (Yet almost half of his complete works consists of letters and articles which more than make up an autobiography and have provided valuable material for the spate of biographies that have come out since that momentous year, 1984).

Interpretation of a person’s life, rather than reconstruction, is the sticking point prompting the dislike of biography for many eminent personalities. One could get round this by writing one’s official autobiography, of course, which is the standard apologia many politicians use to avoid being cast into the black book of fate.

Interpretation can be useful on a personal basis: why did one reach that decision? Why did one land up here? What happened to cause this situation? These are questions guaranteed to keep one awake on restless nights.

I like to sift through my old photographs and, looking at them, try to ask these same questions (and a few more). The photographic archives of my life until round 2000 contain just a small fraction of the pics since that date, thanks, of course, to the development of digital photography with its ability to take many more photographs much more cheaply and to be able to actually preview what one is about to photograph (although my earliest digital camera, which I still possess, did not have this facility. Here it is: a Kodal EZ200 in all its glory of 640 x 480 (high quality) pixel resolution:)


In the prologue to winter, when things slow down and the earth goes to sleep in this part of the world, I especially like to look at “oldies”. You may have noticed that a few of my posts do not relate to something which happened yesterday but several years ago. I always attempt to keep to the same month, if not the same year, and try to make it clear whether I’m dealing with now or some previous era.

Going back to October 2005 I find these pictures of an exhibition that took place at Lucca province‘s only Medicean villa at Seravezza. I remember the feeling of seeing these paintings, which was one of lightness and delight. Even today, looking at them I can recapture those feelings, for the colours are so vibrant, the brushstrokes so playful and the subjects evidently such happy ones.

The problem is I can’t remember who the artist was despite doing some internet research. And that takes me to other archives; paper ones where, somewhere, I hope to find out their name.

Why didn’t my blog begin at least as far back as 2005? Then I might have recorded the name. The blogging concept, however, wasn’t with me then and, besides, my internet communication was primitive and remained so until last year when I progressed from a telephone modem to Wi-Fi broadband. Perhaps I have further archives in old email? Not very much since the new version of Hotmail has completely wiped out my old emails! Then I should rely on my memory and accounts of friends?

There are many ways of re-capturing the past but the best remains that of evocation through the senses, whether it be a voluntary or involuntary capture. Proust’s famous madeleine dipped in tea is a prime example of the latter:

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me…Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. …..The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.

(Perhaps for me it might be more a case of dipping a cantuccino into a glass of Vin Santo..) It is my sense of sight that evokes the joy of these pictures and the involuntary joy of that “primeval” age eight years ago when, in our “innocence”, we were discovering this wonderful part of the world for the first time.



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