The best and most beautiful things

Marcel Proust in Swann’s Way explains how a cup of tea and a madeleine allowed the narrator to get back to his childhood and to remember things long forgotten, the sensory experiences triggering all kinds of flashback.

“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. 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 on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.”

Marcel Proust – Du côté de chez Swann/Swann’s Way.

The tea/tisane is obviously the key to this remembering process and this got me thinking about what I would remember and why.

This is where some of my fellow Teatraders might try to step in and say that I am wrong or that I lost my mind while thinking about this topic and that I probably never found it as the first thing that came to my mind as I thought about what could be my madeleine, is a former tea that is no longer sold, Indian Spice (a black tea flavoured with red fruits and cardamom), one that I drank as an adolescent and that conjures the taste of Krisprolls, the cardamom little Swedish breads and the pictures of a warm place into the middle of the winter. I am not even sure that these memories are really one thing and that I am not mixing different moments into one (something that can happens with memories from old times).

Why did I start this research on myself? Why am I speaking of this? Because I lived something very special a few days ago and one of the things I am sure that will make it remember (even if no one can know for sure what will make him/her remember something) is the tea.

Not any peculiar tea but an instant tea too much sweetened and quite often served with a not hot enough water. Why do I think I will remember this? It is simple enough, it was given with all the heart of the world by people wishing to please me for no peculiar reason, simply because we were there.

And no, I wasn’t in a hippy community of any sort.

It made me think about what we call good tea.

I know like most of you that a good quality tea is made of leaves, must be served at the right temperature and steeped for the right time to allow all the flavours to come out in your mouth… but without the intention behind it, it is not worth a cent and something that I would not consider drinking if I were alone in my home can become a great memory if it is meant to make me happy and shared with great people.

The context and thus some subjectivity allows us to enjoy specific things and to remember way after.

This is why, I still think of Indian Spice as a great tea (even though I would probably nowadays never taste it if given the opportunity) or of this sweetened instant tea as a nice memory.

These examples are just there to show us that as Helen Keller said “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”

We are all able to experiment new things, things that we might at first sight consider bad/not worthy of our attention but what is really important is how we are touched by them.

So next time, you are offered a “bad quality” tea by someone and you know that this someone intents his/her best to please you, stop to be a snob, behave and be nice, who knows what might come of it?

It is the end of this post and I know that some of my fellow readers will disagree with what I wrote but don’t worry, any opinion is welcomed and if I speak like I just did, it is because I thought for a few moments about memories, what I had just lived and why I still miss this Lipton tea.

To quote a famous movie, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Don’t be shy, try the chocolate.


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