Memory and the power of diner food

Yesterday’s Zippy (“The flying bucket on Sepulveda”) took us to Dinah’s Fried Chicken on Sepulveda Blvd. in LA. Today, Zippy continues the narrative with remembrances of diner foods past — rice pudding, creamed spinach, corned beef hash — and their ability to evoke specific moments from times gone by:


The day when Zippy spilled ketchup on his styrofoam shoes at Dinah’s; the day when Dinah’s ran out of rice pudding and substituted creamed spinach; Marcel Marceau’s recollection of May 14th, 1894 in Fresno CA, a memory triggered by just a whiff of corned beef hash.

All of this is just absurd if you don’t know about Marcel Proust, the madeleines, Remembrance of Things Past, and involuntary memory; in case you’ve forgotten, the title, “Remembrance of Flings Past” is there to nudge your memory. All this Proustian stuff comes from high culture, but like other Great Books, Great Art, and Great Music, it’s worked its way into a pop-culture meme that anyone can use for jokes and that everybody’s supposed to recognize.

I’ll get to real Proust in a moment — this is a text that’s worth coming back to every so often — but first a bit on Bill Griffith’s goofing on the side: the styrofoam shoes and Marcel Marceau as a surreal transformation of Marcel Proust.

(Fresno CA is one of Zippy-Griffith’s favorite silly places / placenames, like Ashtabula OH and Lithuania. Zippy-Griffith also has favorite silly foods (taco sauce) and silly commercial products (Valvoline motor oil, which the strip treats as a foodstuff).)

(The date May 14th, 1894 might well have been picked out of a hat, as a date within Proust’s lifetime and the lifetime of the main character of his gigantic novel.)

Styrofoam shoes. Well, not real ones, exactly. There are shoes with styrofoam layers in them, in particular, Adidas Boost Running Shoes:


And there are shoe models or mock-ups made of styrofoam:


But not actual shoes made of styrofoam. That’s Zippy-Griffith silliness.

Marcel Marceau speaks. I don’t think so. From Wikipedia:

Marcel Marceau (born Marcel Mangel, 22 March 1923 – 22 September 2007) was a French actor and mime most famous for his stage persona as “Bip the Clown”. He referred to mime as the “art of silence”, and he performed professionally worldwide for over 60 years.

Proust, Marceau, so long as it’s Marcel, who cares?

Remembrance of Things PastÀ la recherche du temps perdu, also known as In Search of Lost Time. Volume 1: Swann’s Way: Within a Budding Grove.

(#4) From a cartoon version of Proust, called “Remembrance of Things Past: Combray (Graphic Novel)” (1998) by Stephane Heuet

From the Pleiade edition as translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin:

Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, as I came 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 out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull 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, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, 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 on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it?

… And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before church-time), when I went to say good day to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of real or of lime-flower tea. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the interval, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks’ windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the forms of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

And once I had recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-flowers which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like the scenery of a theatre to attach itself to the little pavilion, opening on to the garden, which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated panel which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I was sent before luncheon, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And just as the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little crumbs of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch themselves and bend, take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, permanent and recognisable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, all from my cup of tea.

Proust postings on this blog. Central in some of these is the fact that Proust’s narrator and his madeleines have become a meme, illustrating phenomena of memory and forming the basis for humor, including quite a few cartoons. An inventory:

on 1/16/12, “Things she did”:

[Ann Daingerfield Zwicky’s] scholarly interests in French embraced Old and Middle French, Proust (she worked for a while with the great Proust scholar Philip Kolb), and the 18th-century diarist the duc du Saint-Simon, whose ornate and often remarkable writing style fascinated Ann (Saint-Simon’s language became her dissertation topic).

It occurred to me recently that Proust and Saint-Simon were naturals for Ann: both are spinners of stories, in effect family stories, like the ones the Daingerfields told and in fact like the short stories Ann wrote.

on 6/23/12, “A Proustian moment”: the past evoked by pads of paper

on 7/13/12, “In the comics”: Jack Ziegler cartoon on a Proust theme

on 4/22/13, “Brief mention: the probably unintentional pun”: Morgan Library exhibition on Proust

on 8/17/13, “Lee Lorenz, Matthew Barney, and more”: Lee Lorenz cartoon “Proust orders from the cart”

on 1/13/16, “Fractured Proust”: Zippy strip

on 9/5/16, “A Minneapolis fling”: Zippy title “Remembrance of Flings Past”

on 3/10/17, “Friday cartoon 2: Remembrance of mustard past”: Mother Goose and Grimm with Dijon vu portmanteau

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