Of Marzipan and Memory

December 31st, 2008 — 4:14pm

I just finished re-reading Phillip Pullman’s brilliant trilogy, “His Dark Materials”. They are remarkable, mysterious books, and even after my third re-reading, I’m still trying to figure out what he means by dust, daemons and angels.  What I find most moving in his writing is his insistence on the truth and beauty of the body; that God, or Spirit, is here on earth, not in heaven (because there is no heaven); and all that is good and real and true is in what we can experience through our present, embodied lives.

This is particularly touching to me as I continue working on my own book — a food and eating memoir.  Throughout my life  I have tried to tether myself to time and place through food. Like Proust’s famed madeleines, a taste can bring universes back. Here’s a quote from Pullman from “The Amber Spyglass”, the last book of his trilogy:


“And at half past nine in the evening at that restaurant table in Portugal,” Mary continued, “someone gave me a piece of marzipan and it all came back. And I thought: am I really going to spend the rest of my life without ever feeling that again? I thought: I want to go to China. It’s full of treasures and strangeness and mystery and joy. I thought, Will anyone be better off if I go straight back to the hotel and say my prayers and confess to the priest and promise never to fall into temptation again? Will anyone be the better for making me miserable?

“And the answer came back—no. No one will. There’s no one to fret, no one to condemn, no one to bless me for being a good girl, no one to punish me for being wicked. Heaven was empty. I didn’t know whether God had died, or whether there never had been a God at all. Either way I felt free and lonely and I didn’t know whether I was happy or unhappy, but something very strange had happened. And all that huge change came about as I had the marzipan in my mouth, before I’d even swallowed it. A taste—a memory—a landslide…”

Isn’t it miraculous that with just one taste, you can live an entirely new life, entering an entirely new universe?

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