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A Proust Moment

Harold Augenbraum is an American writer, editor, and translator. He is currently Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, member of the Board of Trustees of the Asian American Writers Workshop, and former vice chair of the New York Council for the Humanities.

One of my favorite Proust moments: In 2004 I went with twelve other American Proustians to Paris, Illiers-Combray, and Cabourg. In Paris, in order to “re-experience” the pissoir scene from In Search of Lost Time, we went to an underground pissoir in the Place Madeleine, which had been built in 1905, its décor wooden swirls of art nouveau. You reach it by descending a curving staircase. At the bottom was a middle-aged attendant. I asked, “Do you mind if I read a passage from Proust?” “What?” she asked. “We’re a Proust study group from the United States,” I said. “Do you mind if I read a passage from Proust?” She shrugged. I read the pissoir scene aloud. Everyone nodded approvingly. Several people used the pissoir, and then we left. As we ascended the staircase, I looked back at the attendant. She was staring up at us, as if to say, “What the hell was that?”


Air France is a proud sponsor of 2013: A Year with Proust, a year long festival organized by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.