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A Toast to a Madeleine
I groaned when I saw Marcel Proust named in the first sentence of
Michael Balchunas’ “A Cupful of Memory” (Fall 2005). So universally is Proust’s madeleine evoked by anybody who writes on memory that I long
ago vowed never to mention Proust, madeleine and memory in the same
bite. Balchunas’ Proust was not fingering a madeleine, however, but a
piece of toast. Toast? “When Marcel Proust dipped a piece of toast into
a cup of tea ...” is the way Balchunas’ essay begins. Now toast is
another kettle of fish, and where on earth had it come from? A dip into
the Web (God bless Google) provided fascinating results for any who
might think toast is not significantly different from “the small light
sponge cake, molded in a special pan to resemble a fluted scallop shell
and eaten like a cookie” that a madeleine is. To some of us, the
discovery way back there in the 1960s that we could not only find
madeleines at any patisserie in Paris but actually make these little
cakes ourselves, once we’d bought the necessary pan and followed Julia
Child’s directions, was a revelation not unlike Proust’s revelation of
“the whole of Combray.”
My attempt to discover how cake could become toast uncovered undreamt-of
realms of speculation. At first I thought it might have been Lydia
Davis’ new translation of Remembrance of Things Past as In Search of
Lost Time. But no. There’s no way you could get a piece of toast out
of “one of those squat plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines’”
that the narrator’s mother offers him and that reminds him of “the
little piece of madeleine” he tasted on Sunday mornings in Combray. Then
there was Edmund Levin’s search in his essay “The Way the Cookie
Crumbles” for the exact madeleine Proust experienced, only to discover
that real madeleines don’t crumble. That led to Joshua Landry’s claim in
Philosophy as Fiction: Self Deception and Knowledge in Proust
that Proust had no special relation to either madeleines or toast
because in 20 volumes of correspondence he mentions neither.
The mystery was solved, finally, by Lydia Davis, who cited Proust’s
early version of Swann’s Way, titled Against Sainte-Beuve,
in which the narrator is given “a piece of dry toast” to dip in his tea,
which produces not only a “bit of sopped toast” but a complete recovered
And thus I pass the afternoon instead of completing the work at hand as
a deadline looms and words come and go, happy to be distracted by
“Windows on the Mind,” another splendid issue of Pomona’s magazine,
where I scrutinize every word, aware that my crumbling memory is turning
into toast. I think it’s time for a cup of tea.
—Betty Harper Fussell ’48
New York, N.Y.
While sipping Balchunas’ “Cupful of Memory” (Fall 2005),
it hit me.
Only clean straightforward nuggets—
generous gifts you send.
Explaining why yours are savored,
while the pandering pedantry sent
from a certain Eastern ivy smothered U,
enticements for Rolex, annuity or condo on the Charles,
is recycled unread.
—Nancy Farr-Sekijima ’69
Thanks so much for all the wonderful articles on cognitive science (Fall
2005 PCM). I didn’t know what to major in when I arrived at Pomona in
1981, so I took one literature course, one music course and Bill Banks’
Sensation & Perception course in psychology during my first term. Bill
won, hands down. From that one experience, I devoted my career to
cognitive science. There is nothing in the world that compares to the
pleasure and complexity of understanding the human brain and mind. I’m
the first in my half Puerto-Rican family to have attended college, so
academia was like being stranded on the moon. Bill encouraged me and
gave me many special opportunities to learn; he mentored me throughout
my undergraduate years and into UCLA where I got a master’s and Ph.D. in
cognitive psychology. I’ll never forget him explaining to me that I
could specialize in this area as an actual career and even get paid for
my intelligence. Who knew!?! I’m now a professor of psychology myself,
teaching a variety of cognitive science and human neuroscience courses,
including Sensation & Perception.
—Janet Jones ’84
at a Time
The article on the establishment of Pomona Valley Low-Income Services,
“One Life at a Time,” that appeared in Pomona College Magazine (Spring
2005), begins by recounting the frustration that one student, Michael
Gechter ’05, felt regarding his fast to protest our country’s war
against Iraq. He thought that he was accomplishing nothing, with which
his friend David Henderson ’05, agreed. In fact, Gechter’s fasting had
several positive effects.
First, it made clear that Gechter opposed the war; even if he did not
change a single mind, he showed that support for the war was not
unanimous. Moreover, he made his point in a dramatic but peaceful
way—not by inflicting suffering, as the war was doing, but by
voluntarily assuming it. Furthermore, if the fasting was manifested
publicly, for example, as part of a vigil with people holding placards,
it also helped to keep alive our First Amendment rights of freedom of
speech and freedom peaceably to assemble (if the peace action generated
counter-demonstrators, although they can be annoying, one needs to
concede that they too helped to ensure the vitality of the First
Amendment). Finally, the most tangible, though indirect, achievement of
Gechter’s action was inspiring Henderson to help Gechter refocus his
energy, resulting in the creation of Pomona Valley Low-Income Services.
Gechter’s fast was quite productive, and I’m grateful for it.
—Jim Missey ’57
Stevens Point, Wis.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article on the “Ladies of Pooh Corner”
(Fall 2005 PCM). They certainly have set a record for close friendships,
and their regular get-togethers are unique and have been long admired.
However, I am not sure that they knew how their idea would be used by
others in later years—I mean, of course, the PCPS ’48 bunch (Pomona
College Perennial Sophomores, Class of 1948). Seven of us thoroughly
enjoyed our Pooh Corner (two singles, one double, one triple) more or
less underground and eating a lot of scrambled eggs prepared in the
rudimentary kitchen there.
We let some years go by after graduation amusing ourselves with careers
and children until 1979. For the past 25 years, we have met once a year
somewhere for 5 to 7 days of hilarious good times. PCPS started out with
29 women and is now down to 22 stalwart members (four of them one-time
Pooh Corner residents).
You can’t join (there is no membership process), there are no dues or
bylaws or officers, and in general, it embodies organized chaos. We have
a glorious time, eating, drinking and sightseeing and always include an
educational activity. This year it was planned around the life,
condition and habitat of the hairy-nosed wombat (our Australian member
is checking out the wombat reserve at Adelaide). We have also studied
interesting natural and cultural phenomena in such places as New
Orleans, Yakima Cambria, Victoria, BC, Cabo San Lucas, Oaxaca and Hot
Springs, Va. This year, in San Diego, we did put up a class banner
(which someone had found after 55-plus years) during the cocktail hours.
Just had to brag a bit about PCPS ’48 and pay tribute to the original
Ladies of Pooh Corner.
—Saralei M. Farner ’48
Santa Monica, Calif.
Reading in the Pomona College Magazine (Fall 2005), we were interested
in challenging the “four temperaments” thesis of David Keirsey ’47. All
four temperaments supplied by Keirsey are Appollonian or are oriented
toward social usefulness and logical ends, and the “outsiders” are not
dealt with. While at Pomona (1947–1951), while majoring in art with a
minor in classics, I had the good fortune to study with Dr. George Karo
and with Professor Harry Carroll in classes covering ancient Greek and
Cretan history, language and culture. In reading about these four
temperaments, I felt strongly that I did not belong to any of them and
wondered why. This is what I think: In Greek mythology there were
thought to be two opposing forces—that of Apollo and that of Dionysus.
Apollo’s camp represents order, beauty, ideal thought, the
rational—things that make society work. The Dionysian camp represents
feelings, illogical things like dance, and things that have no social
purpose. (Dionysus was the god of wine, but by “social purpose” we do
not mean “socializing”.) Dionysus represents “spontaneity”—the impulsive
and unplanned activities of life. Obviously Dionysus doesn’t care a whit
about strategy, tactics, diplomacy or logistics.
In sorting artists, for instance, we might classify as “Apollonian”
Rembrandt, Marcel Duchamp, Dalí, Georges Braque and Andy Warhol. And as
“Dionysian” we might mention Oskar Kokoschka, Van Gogh, André Derain,
Matisse, Soutine and Raoul Dufy.
We feel, in other words, that there are probably more than the four
temperaments worked out by Keirsey.
—Margot Ide Andrews ’51
As a community member who received Pomona College Magazine
(Spring 2005), I must disagree with your answer of the question on
whether Pomona once owned or controlled all of the water in Claremont. A
Pomona College Board of Trustees meeting was held in 1888 where Trustee
T.C. Hunt offered the then-fledging college an already built hotel, the
land around it and 250 buildable lots. Since a significant land boom in
Southern California had just about busted, donations for the College
were diminishing, and the early administrators wanted to open as soon as
possible, the offer was accepted.
The offer was from The Pacific Land Improvement Company that had planned
and platted the town of Claremont with an officially filed tract map in
Los Angeles County in 1887. In that day, it was implicitly understood
that when the map was filed that water rights were included. In the
offer to Pomona College, water rights were also included and since the
College controlled the land it purchased in 1888, it did indeed own all
of the water in Claremont.
The Town Meeting form of government was chosen for Claremont by the
small band of Pomona College New Englanders because Claremont was too
small to be able to form an official California form of government until
1907. It had a water committee that reported regularly to the body. The
Town Meeting contracted with the Union Water Company to “provide”
(meaning engineering—getting the water out of the ground and
distributing the water) in 1898. Pomona College still controlled much of
the water in the town. The Town Meeting later formed our own water
company, The Citizens Light and Power Company, in 1902, and it wasn’t
until 1929 that Southern California Water became Claremont’s water
Local historian and former Claremont mayor
For the Love
Thought you’d like to know that The Washington Post Book World of Oct.
16, 2005, praises Dick Barnes in a review of his poem “Up Home Where I
Come From” found in his A Word Like Fire: Selected Poems. Robert Pinsky
writes: “This is the work of a masterful poet, restrained and bold in
the right places and the right ways.”
I read the Post article and the next day received, to my delight, the
Pomona College Magazine (Fall 2005) containing the article about “The
Genius of Dick Barnes ’54.”
My A Little Treasury of Modern Poetry book is worn from years of
continuing to read the poetry of ee cummings, T.S. Eliot, Marianne
Moore, W.H. Auden and
Dylan Thomas. Thanks goes to Barnes for instilling a love of poetry via
my freshman English class!
—Anne H. Griffis ’59
Perhaps as one of the most cross-cultural of all 47 sightings, I pass
this along to you …
Upon the return of a colleague of mine, Patience Boudreaux, here at
Pomona College from an adventure into the central lowlands of Scotland,
her thoughtful postcard arrived in the mail. The first thing I noticed
was the “47” on the stamp affixed. Forty-seven pence … the exact amount
needed to mail a postcard from Edinburgh to Claremont.
—Erika Gamst ’01
Long Beach, Calif.
We welcome letters from alumni and friends. Letters may be edited for
length, style and clarity.