Saturday, September 22, 2012

of madeleines, bread, and Beethoven

Today's soundtrack:
"Aberdeen" by Cage the Elephant
"Welcome" by Hey Rosetta!
Ninth Symphony by Beethoven, performed by London Symphony Orchestra

Now, I write this having never read any Proust.  Yes, I know this is to my great shame, but I have been rather busy with the 18th century for the past 6 years, and Proust isn't going anywhere fast... although, for that matter, neither is the 18th century.  Anyway, all I know about Proust is that the entire Remembrance of Things Past collection is the result of biting into a madeleine and being suddenly transported back in time.  The sensation of involuntary memory isn't uncommon, but the memories are utterly unique to each of us.  Some memories are small and simple.  For example, Beethoven's Ninth sends me directly back to that sunny, August day in Nanaimo, driving home along Hammond Bay Road in my parents' old green Caravan, getting to that hairpin corner when you can see out over Piper's Lagoon and over to the Coast Mountains on the mainland.  But it's not just the warm sun and beautiful chorus I remember - it's that feeling of complete contentment.  In the midst of getting ready to move two provinces away and starting grad school, and all the emotions that get caught up when leaving adolescence completely behind, there was this moment where everything stopped and it was just me, Beethoven's Ninth, and the Strait of Georgia.

This brings us to my current bread-making extravaganza.  Sort of.

I don't know if Mom or Dad ever made bread at home.  Cookies and loaves, sure, but I have no memories of homemade bread.  And even though my great-grandfather was a baker, I don't remember anyone in the extended family making bread either.  Not that they can't all cook other things.  Mom makes a mean turkey dinner, and Uncle Don's Kraft Dinner (complete with hotdogs) puts us all to shame, but the first time I remember eating a slice of homemade bread was at my friend's grandmother's house during that brief, miserable period that we lived on the mainland.

It goes without saying that for as socially awkward as I am now, I was ten times worse as a child.  Stating that I was a difficult child is putting it lightly.  I had - and still have - a very rich inner life, which can be problematic when having to, you know, talk to other people.  Most of my time was spent either reading or imagining I was a character in the books I was reading.  So when we moved to the mainland, making friends was near impossible.  Of course, it didn't help that I argued with the Aryan poster-child in my grade four class about whether or not women could go to university (she believed that we could only get married and have babies, though not necessarily in that order), thereby alienating myself to the ranks of the freaks and geeks.

But while I didn't have friends at school, there were some girls in my grade that were fine being friends outside of school.  So I took what I could get and ended up spending a fair bit of time with the other Kate in my grade.  Kate's grandparents lived nearby, and one afternoon, we spent a few hours there.

Her grandparents were from somewhere in Scandinavia, possibly Norway, so like my grandmother, they spoke with accents.  But unlike when we went to visit my Nana*, her grandmother had a freshly made loaf of bread sitting on the counter, alongside a jar of Nutella.

Now, I remember asking Mom to buy Nutella at Claytons (although it's possible that I had only asked her in my mind.  Rich inner life, you see) and her scoffing at the notion (again, possibly only in my mind) of something so sweet for bread (this from the woman who taught me pumpkin pie is a complete and healthy breakfast, provided there's whipped cream on top).  Nutella was an extravagance, and foreign, and a foreign extravagance.  We were peanut butter and jam people.  So when Katie's grandmother sliced the still-warm bread, spread on the Nutella, and passed me the plate, it was the first time I remember eating something markedly other.

And I don't even remember how it tasted.

All I remember is that feeling of stepping into something new, something different, and not being bothered or anxious.  Just like with Beethoven all those years later, everything stopped and became an endless, sunny summer's day.  So now, as I sit with my freshly made sourdough bread with Nutella, I don't remember the miserable, isolated years on the Sunshine Coast.  All that comes flooding back is that bright, warm day in Katie's grandmother's kitchen and having, at least for the afternoon, a good friend to share it all with.

* I should note that in lieu of bread, Nana has an endless supply of pecan rolls, date cake, and waffles - all homemade.  I'm not complaining at all.  In fact, now I'm a little homesick for Nana's pecan rolls, date cake, and waffles.. preferably all at once, please!

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