We do not remember days; we remember moments. ~Cesare Pavese, The Burning Brand
One of my favourite books is Remembrance of Things Past (À la recherche du temps perdu). It is a wonderful novel by the French writer Marcel Proust. The underlying theme is “involuntary memory.” What does this mean? For Proust it is the moment when a normal experience involving a sight or a sound, a taste or a scent brings back a memory. In the book this comes from a madeleine. A madeleine is a small cake.
Whilst eating tea soaked cake, a childhood memory of eating tea soaked cake with his aunt is "revealed" to the Narrator. This prompts a rush of other memories - the house where he lived as a child, and his hometown. Throughout the novel, sensations constantly remind him of previous experiences.
Here in the UK, November is a month steeped in the traditions of the past and full of memories. We gather together for Bonfire Night and Remembrance Sunday.
Of course when I was a child Bonfire Night was just that – one night. One glorious night when we built a bonfire lit sparklers and drank steaming mugs of delicious tomato soup. The memory of tomato soup reminded me of the time when I was living in North London.
In those days I expected November to be noisy because it usually coincided with the beginning of Diwali –the Hindu Festival of Lights. Diwali (which means row of lights) is a five day festival involving the lighting of lamps filled with oil which represent the victory of good over evil. Families decorate their homes with lights and candles and gifts and sweets are handed out. The festival always ends with lots of fireworks. I remember my local newsagent telling me that his children were getting very expensive. “I said to them, you’ve had Diwali, but no, now they want to have Bonfire Night as well. What can I do?”
I was faced with a similar dilemma this year when my teenage daughter decided to go to a Halloween party dressed as a sexy she-devil. Personally, I’m not all that keen on Halloween (children demanding sweets with menaces) but what can you do? I needed to put my foot down.
Me (sounding suspiciously like my mother) “You are not going out dressed like that!” Daughter (sounding suspiciously like me at her age) “But I’ve got nothing else to wear!” So, anxious not to ruin her childhood memories, I ended up buying her a whole new wardrobe. I blame Proust.