Thursday, January 27, 2011

A La Recherche - A Very French Cocktail

Food and drink have the potential to summon up memories and sensations from previous experiences. Our sensory memories are inextricably bound up with the threads of our experience. We tend to "recall" visually, but some feel that our deepest, most profound impressions are formed through smell or taste or even touch. And the aural sense has its advocates, too. For myself, I believe that we tend to memorialize memories of memories, constructing sometimes elaborate, or simplified, versions of events that, initially, made a deep impression, but which, given the tendency of mental data to fade over time, we preserve through frequent recall, until, eventually, we're no longer remembering what we actually experienced, but an overlay or replacement template of the original.

But certain tastes and smells and sounds may have the power to penetrate down through layers of accrued memories, summoning up truly vivid embryonic instances. This is the kind of touchstone which Marcel Proust described in his classic seven part novel A La Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time, or Remembrance of Things Past, or The Past Recaptured). Almost anything can function as the key to a specific moment or occurrence from the past. Proust's madeleine will do, but there's nothing magical about a French cookie. The important thing is that it create a vivid impression in the mind, when it occurs, causing us to be re-minded of the case whenever the trigger is pulled.

As a general rule, food doesn't inspire memories for me. Nor do alcoholic drinks. Perhaps the overpowering omnipresence of repeated eating and drinking prevents me from preserving my sensual experiences--maybe they just get buried. Is the present too present for some of us? Do we bury our memories too deeply to be retrieved? There are supposedly ways to revisit memories--hypnosis, certain drugs, the face of someone not seen for decades. It may involve the relaxation of some emotional tightness which restricts access, or provide a sort of secret door or passageway through to a previously closed precinct of forbidden experience.

In any event, one's fondest memories may bring tears or a warm smile in recollection. I can distinctly recall my first day in Paris, as we stepped over the threshold of the elegant B&B one bright Spring morning, into a narrow street on the Ile de St. Louis, I felt so liberated and free that I did a little dance, before we walked up the lane to a boulangerie for a coffee and croissant. I don't have any recollection of the taste of the croissant, but the cool air, the bright morning light, and the quiet, as we sat facing the back side of Notre Dame cathedral, watching the numerous dog-walkers parading along the quai of the Ile de la Cité, I will probably never forget.

I have no object to summon this moment in my life, though the memory of it remains as clear and pure as the experience itself. Or perhaps it is, as I have said, a recreated version of the moment, selected and polished like an old agate in the tumbler of time, improved and hardened into a poetic keepsake.

Such is memory. Here is a delightfully delicate and enticing cocktail mix which I have christened A La Recherche, not because the drink brings back any memories, but because it has a French quality. I'm not a Francophile, though I took several years of French in high school and college, and can barely make my way through a commercial transaction in it; but I can be as romantic as the next person about the City of Light, except perhaps when it sizzles, or when its cold grey dampness penetrates to your bones. Like anything else, familiarity tends to dampen or suppress our sense of novelty, and if I were to reside there for any length of time, it would surely lose much of its charm. But imagination often functions vicariously, and the sweetest inventions may be made from excelsior, or the delicate scintillation of a perfect cocktail.

Here's to Paris, and fine Spring mornings.

The recipe, by proportion:

1/2 Part limoncello
3/4 Part freshly squeezed "sweet" yellow lime

--gently shaken (or swirled), served up in a chilled cocktail glass.

One could certainly substitute any regular gin, or use rose water in place of the St.-Germain, or an ordinary lime for the sweeter variety, but a little subtlety would be lost. The best delicate gin concoctions--as with finer vodkas--must depend to a greater degree upon the quality of the goods, than upon any exotic additions.

Perhaps we may deliberately choose to create inspiring moments. They mayn't be accidental, after all. One wants certain moments to be memorable. Thoreau's advice was to live deliberately, by intention. As if that were ever possible!


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