In search of lost time…

Loving the tome that is In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust is at once a fairly alienating pursuit and also one of empathy and connection.

It’s alienating because, quite frankly, next to nobody wants to hear you talk about what’s going on in the quest for Remembrance of Things Past, unless they’ve read it too (I’ve been reading on and off for over a year and I’ve only ever met one person who has read past the first volume).

Especially once you get past volume one. With volume one you have the element of novelty on your side, your friends aren’t bored of hearing you talk about Marcel describing a nice set of trees he saw and what that made him think of, yet. Volume one feels like a long time ago. I’ve just finished volume three and before I even finish the monosyllable that is “Proust” eyes are rolling and already half glazed over.

It’s also a task of empathy because I feel like choosing to read Proust has enriched my life greatly. It’s beautiful, funny, and thought provoking. I feel as though Proust has been very contributory to my development and ongoing attempts to be a “thoughtful” human being; his ideas, themes and fascinations occupying my thoughts frequently since I started reading, shaping the way I think about my life and the people, places and things I’m around.

It’s hard to create a digestible reason why I love the novel so much and why I’d encourage people to pick up Swann’s Way. I just got out all the volumes I’ve read so far and put them in a pile. This was both to read some quotes from my notes and to feel a bit smug about having made it so far.

When I picked up Within A Budding Grove (part one, volume two) a postcard fell out. It’s of a Lowry painting from the exhibition the Tate Britain hosted last summer. Like Proust’s madeleine, the postcard brought me back to summer time last year and reading that particular volume. On the reverse of the postcard is a note I had made.

PAGE 106 – RE: GILBERTE’S HAIR
“To a section of them, even infinitely minute, what celestial herbary would I not have given as a reliquary.”

Oh yeah. That’s the bit about where the narrator is bloody obsessed with Gilberte. I flicked to page 106 and read the full quote:

“… Gilberte’s plaits used to brush my cheek. They seemed to me, in the fineness of their grain, at once natural and supernatural, and in the strength of their constructed tracery, a matchless work of art, in the composition of which had been used the very grass of paradise. To a section of them, even infinitely minute, what celestial herbary would I not have given as a reliquary. But since I never hoped to obtain an actual fragment of those plaits, if at least I had been able to have their photograph, how far more precious than one sheet of flowers traced by Vinci’s pencil!”

And that is exactly why I love reading Proust.

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Gilberte Swann

Portrait of the Hon. Emily Mary Lamb
1803, Sir Thomas Lawrence

In November – December time last year I would spend hours reading in the National Gallery. I’d sit in the Whistlejacket room. Take a right up the stairs through the main entrance, through the impressionists – Gaugin, Renoir… Rousseau’s tiger and the big Manet, guns pointing towards an execution. A turn left past Delaroche’s Execution of Lady Jane Grey and you’ll find yourself in a long room. It’s room thirty four, to be precise.

There are two comfortable big deep red leather chairs in that room. I call it the Whistlejacket room because Stubbs’ Whistlejacket is huge and is the center piece; amongst Turners, Hogarths, Constables and Gainsboroughs. My seat of preference is facing the Whistlejacket side of the room on the sofas closest to the Lady Jane Grey room, although I was never adverse to sitting at the other end of the room, facing the other way from Whistlejacket and looking at Turner’s seas.

If you sit in my favourite seat, you sit opposite this girl. The honorable Emily Mary Lamb by Sir Thomas Lawrence. I would sit in this room on Fridays in the late afternoon and evenings, with the gallery closing late on Fridays. It was interesting to see the passing crowds thin out and the gallery become quiet past six, or even five pm. The stillness of the emptying gallery is extremely beautiful. Especially when you venture deeper into the heart of the building, into rooms with Rubens – Samson slumped over Delilah as she cuts his hair, and deeper still into rooms with the Dutch masters – Claude’s Narcissus bowing over the water with Echo looking on, or Rembrandt’s ominous, creepy cloud piercing Belshazzar’s Feast. You can be entirely alone (plus room guard) amongst these masterpieces. The National Gallery is a treasure we are blessed with in London.

Sitting across from Ms. Lamb, I was reading. At that time, I was reading volume two of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Volume two is titled Within A Budding Grove, and it’s divided into two parts. I was reading part one. Reading Proust in the gallery was a wonderful experience. Descriptions of the alleys, avenues, buildings, people, places and things are so vibrant in the novel and you’re so plunged amongst beauty in the gallery that it’s effortless and easy to assign meanings and memories of your own to the paintings – and for me, I couldn’t help but link them to Proust. For me, Ms. Lamb became Gilberte Swann. The daughter of the titular Charles Swann of the first volume (Swann’s Way) and Odette Swann. Young Marcel is transfixed by her, since his first glimpse amongst the hawthorns on a beautiful sunny day. The narrator’s love (or rather, infatuation) of her commands the first part of Within A Budding Grove, just as Proust commands your life as you read him. Everything becomes Proustian, everything reminds you of the book. You look at things more closely, appreciate things more deeply and reflect on things differently. He permeates everything and if you go a day without reading him, you miss his voice.

I’ve finished volume two now (I took a little break and read Pale Fire, some Rilke, a Woolf and through it all I missed him) and I cherish the time I spent reading Within A Budding Grove in the gallery. Now, whenever I am there I recall the time I spent in those rooms last winter, the way I was feeling and the thoughts I was thinking at that time – and the places I went with Proust. Swann’s house, Balbec, the alleys, avenues, the Jardin d’acclimatation. It’s impossible to read Proust and not reflect upon your own life and relationships and, even though it was just a few months ago, having now since finished the volume and the seasons changing (and lots of things happening between November and now) it seems quite distant, but my memories and feelings are tied in amongst the paintings and those rooms, trapped there, forever.

“… the better part of our memory exists outside itself, in a blatter of rain, in the smell of an unaired room or of the first crackling brushwood fire in a cold grate.”
- Proust, from Within A Budding Grove

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Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt

A few weeks ago I put on a show for Waxahatchee at Dalston Roof Park. It was a really sweet evening and I loved Katie’s solo set. She picked Badlands as her movie choice which was totally perfect. The night was super and definitely one of my favourite roof shows of the 25+ we’ve done.

Waxahatchee – Brother Bryan by Don Giovanni Records

I also got to see a full band show, with drummer Keith and bassist Katherine, a few weeks later at Rough Trade and it ruled. As ever, I still hate describing the way music sounds so there is a link above to one of my favourite tracks. The song washes over you in a really beautiful way.

Katie, Katherine and Keith are awesome; I feel lucky to have gotten to set them up a show, they’re one of my favourite groups I’ve encountered for a while. The new record ‘Cerulean Salt’ is out on Wichita Recordings now!

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Austra – Olympia

The new album from Austra is out now! It’s called “Olympia”. Katie’s voice sounds absolutely amazing and it’s a fantastic record. Sari co-wrote the lyrics with Katie, and both she and Romy sing throughout the record.

This is the last track of the record; Romy sounds incredible on this track especially…

Austra – Hurt Me Now by Domino Record Co

Band are back in November and play Koko. I’ve seen them play a lot of times over the past few years, and I also saw Katie and Maya play a set by Victoria Park four years ago now… I can honestly say they’re a brilliant live band who have gotten better and better over the years. They played at Hoxton B&K recently and it was pretty fantastic!

Checkitout!

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Mt. Royal

 

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