Back in the Days with Jay McInerney

Even when I’m not reading about memory, I find I’m suddenly reading about memory.

In the October issue of Vanity Fair, Jay McInerney visits El Bulli, “the world’s best restaurant,” run by chef Ferran Adrià. Before El Bulli closes to the public, McInerney got his chance to enjoy a 34-course meal. I read the article because I wanted to know what a 34-course menu would look like. Three paragraphs from the end, McInerney writes:

“At some point a single honeysuckle blossom arrives on a small plate and we are instructed to pull off the stem and suck it. We can’t help laughing. In fact, we laugh through much of the meal. The honeysuckle teases forth memories of childhood. The nectar of the blossom is almost certainly enhanced, more intense than I remember it from those long-ago summers, though when I ask him about it later Ferran is uncharacteristically cagey about what was in it. The marinated rose petals with artichoke foam were not a complete success. They tasted exactly the way roses smell, but I learned that I don’t really like rose petals. A good thing to know, perhaps. The sprig of marinated pine, on the other hand, was delicious. Since my last, unpleasant experience eating a sprig of pine, some 45 years ago, back in the days when I tasted almost everything I encountered in a spirit of childish open-mindedness, I didn’t think I would ever want to eat one again. But I was wrong.”

Childhood memory is referenced in the unlikeliest of places. Then again, since it seems to creep up absolutely everywhere, childhood memory is referenced in the likeliest of places—creative nonfiction writing. The chef enhances honeysuckle, and the author enhances his description of it with a dash of childhood memory. Given that taste and smell are strongly related, and smell is a powerful trigger of memory, McInerney’s experience isn’t surprising. Hmmm… new experiment! If I hadn’t given up eating most meats, I might try kielbasa tonight.

Despite the fact that my own “back in the days” statements must refer to tween and teen years, I love to read what happened to others “back in the days.” It’s such an inviting phrase. Back in the days. It could be one of my favorite memory phrases. That and “for the life of me.” Love that one.

Rose petals really do seem to be an unpleasant snack. I imagine it would be like eating soap. Or drinking a room spray. Or chewing on potpourri. As for honeysuckle and pine, I am most curious if anyone else ate them as kids?

For the rest of the article, click here.