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ARTICHOKE DIP

Автор Добавил в Колонки | Tara Bond 16 февраля 2015 г.

Proust and his Madeleine, oh boy did I trudge through that book never wanting to hear about it again. Yet now I think back, perhaps I was just not mature enough to fully grasp his meaning when I read the tome Remembrances of Things Passed. To this day if anyone even serves me a madeleine, in my opinion a rather dry and unexciting cake (perhaps I should try it dipped in tea as Proust served his) my whole body bristles at the tedious effort of ploughing my way through a rather dull piece of literature. I was trying to impress a French boyfriend, who obviously thought this work was one of those superior pieces of literature we must all read in our life. I found it a drag and was mightily unimpressed, however I lied to impress the academic Frenchman and expounded Proust’s obvious brilliance on memory. Ah what we all do for love…

 

Skip forward many years and I am at a fashionista event, felling very glammed up with excruciatingly high heels on. I was asked if I wanted to go out to some ‘do’ the next night.

 

Although it sounded fabulous, I had to admit I was already engaged and I felt rather embarrassed to say why. You see I have a dirty secret, I belong to a Middle Aged Book Group, and even worse, I love it.

 

At school or university there are simply so many things that you have to read, it is rare to take the time to enjoy a book. After my studies were complete, I always had a book on the go but without direction. I would choose my next book on subject matter and the cover art also has a larger impact than I would like to admit. However, over the years I have enjoyed many books, biographies, fiction, historical novels that lit the past from a different point of view and many more. They all interested me and I increased my knowledge and I happily went to bed and read a few pages. However, sometimes I had to get through the tough or boring bits or would abandon them half way, as despite the interesting nature of the subject, the writing was often turgid and I had to fight my way through passages.

 

Then last winter my husband read Charles Dickens and truly enjoyed it. I decided to try out Dickens again, an author I had not read since school and I loved it. What beautiful writing, what great story telling. Books came back to life for me, literature was enjoyable for the first time in many years, the pattern and rhythm of words that unfolded into such marvellous tales kept me enthralled. So not long after, when I was asked to join a book group, I eagerly accepted.

 

Books that I would never have chosen came up and I enjoyed them. We have not read 50 Shades of Grey (which a friend always teases me that any middle aged book group should read), and our only foray into anything sexual is the highly disturbing, yet brilliantly written Lolita. The format is that each member takes it in turn to propose a book for the next meeting and the variety has been fantastic. It has taken me on written journeys I would never have taken alone. We have read the biography of an american footballer, a tale of love in the Biafran war, about aid work in the Pamirs, subjects and writing styles that have inspired debate and discussion. What is truly enjoyable is the range of opinions the members of the group have. It is so refreshing to meet in a scholarly fashion. It is hardly a great academic enterprise, but with a glass of wine in hand, rather than the usual social chit chat, we can all let loose our thoughts and challenge our ideas. It is enlivening to disagree about motivations and argue about characters. After all most of us have been trained to analyse literature, yet this is a skill we tend not to practice and it’s so revitalizing and fun to take it back up again.

 

It is the sharing of the experience of reading that brings me such pleasure. Something we can all do by ourselves is given much greater importance by the act of togetherness. All different cultures and religions have traditions and they bring meaning to our lives because they involve community. The traditions of Christmas, Easter, Eid, Nauryz, New Years and many others that come from religion or culture enrich our lives. These massive festivals that make you endure hours of cooking, shopping and preparation are the ones that stick in your mind when you think of tradition. Their sheer enormity can make them almost overwhelming, but the memories that they produce by bringing people together make them worthwhile. But it is the smaller more personal traditions that we create that give our everyday lives a greater richness. So whether you like to read, hike, ski or drink fine wines it is the process of sharing these experiences that truly brings meaning to them.

 

Middle Aged Book Group always starts in the same way, a single book to discuss and artichoke dip. As we all gather pleasantries are exchanged and bottles of wine are opened, but it is the dipping of bread into a bowl of warm artichoke dip that signals the start of our discussions. I wouldn’t swap those evenings easily, the culmination of a months reading and the chance to take my thoughts a little further brings me great pleasure. My derisive naming of the group reflects my initial prejudices at these sorts of activities, but I can only recommend them having taken the plunge and joined in. I am middle aged no matter what colour my hair is or however up to date a dress I buy, so it is a group I can belong to.

 

My memories of this group are filled with great happiness and I look forward to making more. I am not in a Proustian state filled with involuntary memories at the bite of a madeleine but in many years to come, I might ironically find myself having exactly those with one taste of artichoke dip. The lingering aroma might lead me straight to a living room in Almaty, filled with discussion, curiosity, friendship and wine. At that point I might wish I was middle aged again.

 

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