• John Diamond-Nigh

How can you write about #mustard?

poster in Florence, 2014. Photo by JDN

Good question. If you’re a painter–#Chardin, or Giorgio #Morandi or my neighbor who paints cold, elysian ceramic bowls–you would paint a jar of #Maille mustard as if it were an emblematical vessel, a small, immemorial, jade grail. Lynne bought a jar of Maille mustard yesterday, and it is half-eaten already because it tastes so good and because it invokes, in a sublime and compulsive way, places and times half-vanished now.

Each year in #Paris we devoted several long classes to #food. A whole afternoon was given over to an ambling #chocolate odyssey. We got behind the scenes. We were glutted. Other days to #pastry, to #cheese, to #wine, to #bread . . . and yes, to mustard. Maille had a store in the leafy, June-shimmering #Place Madeleine where our students could sample ten or so flavors of mustard on wafers so much like #communion wafers the parallel was unavoidable. Our lively bunch grew positively reverential. Most French food is the incarnation of some elusive divinity.

The taste of Maille mustard brings back those mesmeric afternoons in a shock of emotion often too acute and complex to name. How do you write about mustard?

Much now is being said about #nostalgia. A British friend reviles it. He sees it, as many people do, as the core #rot behind #supremacies, #nationalisms, #militias, #lliteralist religions–a reflexive refusal to live within the difficult changes and unspooling tribulations of the #present. Instead we invoke these candy delusions from a powdery, tribal past.

I see his point. I, too, grew up in a culture that abjured #“this world," reckless #haven of sin that it is, and the prime strategy for sustaining such a wacko fantasy was to dwell in an #imaginary past of nearly# utopian virtue and #changelessness. Two books were added to the American Bible–one was called St #Currier and the other was called St #Ives.

Nostalgia is blamed for Donald #Trump and a poisonous rainbow of racial sins and righteous anxieties. (Then again, #Proust’s great novel #Remembrance of Things Past was blamed on nostalgia.)

Fair enough. But have politicos and progressives swung too far in the other direction? Elations I prized were denounced by pals in school; nostalgia was so much butterscotch goop. But in defying all sentimentality have we lost the most tangible thread of our ancestry, the deep, dreamy #feel of our past–fact transmuted into legend; more essentially, have we cut, like some guerrilla storm, the power lines to our deepest psychic stratum–our #souls?

Nostalgia, at its best, arrives like dreams; a gift of oblique, unasked-for, imperative meaning.

#Edmund de Waal: I’m trying to come closer to what it feels like to remember a poem, to carry it with you through the decades, a phrase or an image coming into your life and making the world feel denser with possibility. That fresh density of #possibility is not just the recurrent gift of art or poetry, carried through time in some pocket of our brains, it is a recurrent lesson in how to feel–more deeply and complicatedly. For me they usually blend.

Lynne may say, but sweetheart, it was cold, it was raining, our shoes were soaked. Nostalgia is as mystical as I get. Yes it was raining, but we came around a bend and there in the mist was that stupendous silhouette of a dome and you quoted those lines from Dante that I’ll never forget. And we kissed.

Ojalá, but I think you’re making that up.

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