books / Proust & Me Blog / learning through memory

Learning Through Memory

March 12, 2013 | By Marie-Camille Alban
Marie-Camille Alban © Kathryn Hamilton

Marie-Camille is a student at Sciences Po (Paris), a reviewer for literary blogs and a former intern at the Book Department of the French Embassy. She has recently embarked on a six-month trip to Asia.


The first time I heard of Proust, I didn't even know we were talking about him. I was about 11 years old and my mathematics teacher told us the story of this guy who stumbled over a paving stone. It reminded him of a moment, years before in Venice, when he had faltered the same way on unequal slabs of stone. I understood that this unexpected memory got him out of an unbearable melancholy. 

My teacher at the time, Madame Raizin, told us this story for a specific reason. She tried to associate each lesson with a different sensation to help us remember what she was talking about. Sometimes, she wore a red sweater and she would say, "Pythagoras' theorem will always remind you of this red color, and vice-versa". Sometimes, she did it with smells, images, gestures… But she was forced to stop the day she played loud music in class and the professor who was in the next classroom entered angrily, saying he could not teach properly with the noise. 

Years later at university, as a literature major - despite my teacher's efforts, I had finally chosen the arts - we studied Proust: reading excerpts, criticisms, watching adapted movie versions. Suddenly, watching Raoul Ruiz "Le Temps Retrouvé", I saw this man stumbling over a paving stone. Time stopped. While he was remembering Venice, I was remembering Madame Raizin and her red sweater.


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.

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