Our own Morgan Meis in French Culture:
I first opened Swann’s Way on a train. This is more than twenty years ago, Amtrak heading from New York City up the Hudson and finally to Montreal. It was a nine-hour train ride, the way I remember it. I remember stepping off the train in Montreal and wondering where the hours had gone.
Of course, I’d been in Combray for those nine hours, strolling through the sun-soaked gardens and the rich object-laden rooms of Proust’s childhood. Proust’s great aunts are teasing his grandmother again, poking at her with their relentless barbs. Then the book wavers and twitches in my hand. My head lolls back into that specific nook between the train-seat headrest and the window. The giant trees of the Hudson River are flickering past. The morning sun slides across the water, sparkling as tiny waves lick at the light. A morning yellow that isn’t even quite yellow yet. The presaging of yellow. The train car is quiet with morning readers, morning nappers.
Proust is trying to get to sleep again. Only, the wandering of his thoughts and memories will not let sleep come. Or is it the other way around? Maybe he’s been pulling the dream world so completely into his waking life that he doesn’t know how to be fully awake anymore. The train has reached full speed and rocks like a metronome slowly side to side even as it plunges ahead, north, north, away from the city and into the forests and rivers of another world, the world of Frederic Church and Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School of painters who tried, again and again, to capture the roundy, orange-tinged leafy luminescence of the landscape along the river.