My Madeleine Moment. January 23, 2014

Boundaries have always had a mysterious allure for me. I remember once driving across the United States with some friends. I was 15 years old at the time. We were a group of five Boy Scouts who had decided to see America in six weeks. We traveled in a red 1947 Pontiac convertible and pitched a tent every night along the way.

1947 Pontiac Convertible like the one that took me 6,000 miles around the USA
When we crossed the Continental Divide, the hydrological divide of all the Americas, where water on one side eventually flows into the Pacific while water on the other reaches the Atlantic, I insisted that we stop so that I could spit into both oceans at the same time.

It presaged another event 57 years later when I went to Uganda. The equator passes through that country and our guides, Cliff and Ben, made sure we crossed it. The three of us sang a song there. Cliff was in the northern hemisphere, Ben in the southern and me in both.

Cliff on the left. Benjamin on the right
I remembered that moment, though it took me a whole day and night to do it. I was on my daily walk when I saw a car pull into a parking place across the street. The nose of the car was parked in Somerville, MA. Everything else was in Cambridge.

Car straddling the city line between Somerville and Cambridge, MA
A wave of sadness passed over me.  Why should that have happened?

I slept on it. This morning I am writing about it. The man on the left side of the photograph is Cliff Kisitu. He is dead, killed in a tragic accident in Uganda while he was scouting new locations. I wrote about it in my book I Married a Travel Junkie. And I have blogged about him here.  If you click on the video, you will get a sense of what a terrible loss his death was.

So here I am looking at a car straddling the boundary between Somerville and Cambridge. A wave of sadness passes over me. I feel compelled to take a photograph, though I haven’t the slightest idea why, not until this morning when I remember the moment when Cliff and I straddled a boundary.

In A La Recherche du Temps Perdu Marcel Proust describes a moment that has become iconic in western literature. It is, of course, the madeleine moment. 

...when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called petites madeleines, which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreay day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake.

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver 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...I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savors
The mind is a funny thing.