Thursday, December 16, 2004

The enigma of arrival - or - how it all began . . .

For me it is quintessentially French . . .

from - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FandIWomen/message/7123 9-17-04

From In Remembrances of Things Past, here is Proust's description:
...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 molded 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. When could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savors...

And . . .

From the French Country Kitchen by James Villas, pp. 3-4: "The novelist and essayist V. S. Naipaul has written persuasively of what he calls " the enigma of arrival," a cogent psychological concept used to describe how sudden exposure at a young age to a new surrounding, a new people, and an altogether new culture can reveal a mystery within ourselves that defines our true nature while remaining unresolved. This experience was exactly mine over 30 years ago when, after crossing the Atlantic aboard the old Queen Elizabeth and taking the boat train from Cherbourg to Paris, I had my first French meal with two other excited but rather frightened students at a bistro called Allard.

Inside it was warm, tables were very close together, and we could barely read the menu scribbled in purple ink. People around the long zinc bar were laughing, drinking a strange yellow concoction, and speaking the language I was yearning to master. The aromas of food and Gauloises and garlicky breaths were like none I'd ever known. The old waiter in a long black apron shuffled across the sawdust floor and placed a basket of bread on the table. I ate a piece, then another, and another, only to realize that the wondrous crust had torn the roof of my mouth. Our waiter finally smiled, and when the time came to order, he simply took over as we stumbled along in miserable French. I recall every dish: escargots de Bourgogne, jambon persille, paté de campagne, coq au vin, gigot aux flagelots, canard aux olives, smelly but wonderful Camembert cheese, and small shiny apricot tarts served with a silver bucket of crème fraîche that was slightly sour. We drank red wine, Beaujolais, which the waiter chose and replenished automatically, I was ecstatically dumbfounded—by the foreign chatter around us, the sense of joyous abandon, the exotic odors, the sensuous new flavors. The only problem was that, for a while, I felt I didn't really belong in this incredible place, that none of us yokels could ever belong here, that we were strangers whose vicarious participation in this alien environment had to be fictional, like something we'd read about back home, in Sartre or Hemingway. Then, just as I was savoring another luscious bite of apricot tart and trying to avoid the boring academic conversation of my companions, someone to my left touched my arm and uttered, "C'est formidable, n'est-ce pas?"—pointing to the tart—"Oui, c'est formidable, formidable!" I responded fearlessly and proudly. Nothing more was said, but suddenly, with the bittersweet taste of apricot in my mouth, and the consoling remark, and the sound of myself perfectly imitating the pronunciation of that strong word, I knew almost instinctively that an important transition in my life was about to occur, that I was moving into a world that was forbidden but had to be explored. The enigma of arrival."

When I married 10 years ago, my husband introduced me to living history. We started out as a buckskinners, now we do French Colonial reenacting. We even moved out of Western Idaho to the Midwest so we would be closer to French sites. It's been a wonderful journey back into time--come, join us!

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