Proust’s macarons

Every so often, a moment comes along that one knows is going to linger in the mind. Such as some years ago when I took my teenage kids to Hawaii in a last-minute late-December holiday, and a catamaran diving trip to Molokini turned for home with a deck-side barbecue and a blast of Alana’s Morisette’s “Isn’t it Ironic” – a song so ridiculously over the top that happiness exploded.
Today was another one that I’m sure will make for memory node in my mind. I spent the morning meandering through Venice’s back lanes with a charming and knowledgeable guide, then popped back up the Grand Canal on a vaporetto to San Marco. Afterward, uncharacteristically, I plunged into the seething mass of polyglot tourists that cover every square foot of the Piazza to take lunch at Caffé Florian, the world’s oldest café (1720). Over its nearly three hundred years, its tables have played host to customers as varied as Goethe and Dickens, Byron and Hemingway. There’s a band that plays Hit Tunes from the Forties, and winged bandits hovering overhead on the watch for abandoned sandwich crusts. White-clad waiters cruise the tables, dodging clueless tourists with their heavy-laden trays, speaking (apparently) every language under the sun.
It was Mother’s Day. The sun was shining. The pile of gilded architectural frou-frou that is the San Marco basilica was smiling its enigmatic presence at the end of the square. The coffee was good. And as several thousand lives were taking place all around me, my mind was spinning around the ideas that the morning’s outing had planted: that unmistakable sensation of a book burrowing down and taking root, down there beneath where I could see.
Then I placed one of the Florian macarons into my mouth.
Proust might better have written about one of those than about his near-flavorless madeleine. A perfect balance between crisp outside and moist interior. The perfume of pistachios, or coconut, or raspberry. A cappuccino with exactly the right amount of crema on top, and (so civilized!) a flask of water to go with it.
Ten minutes of perfection: sun, a busy mind, a happy mouth.
At the end of it, I was forced to tell my waiter that I was sorry I had ordered his macarons…because they were so perfect, I could never order macarons from any place other than Florian’s, ever again. He had spoiled me for macarons.
And yes, his English was good enough that he laughed.

Posted in ,


  1. Julianne on May 15, 2017 at 5:27 am

    Wonderful! A book would be great! ❤️ your impressions of Venice!

  2. Jan Clemson on May 15, 2017 at 6:51 am

    Macarons beat madeleines hands down – haven’t tried Florian’s but I’ll take your word for it that they are excellent. Trouble is the spell-check insists they are macarOOns which are entirely different.☹️

  3. John A Wallach on May 15, 2017 at 9:36 am

    Summer, 1978. Piazza San Marco, Florian Cafe at sunset, the band is actually playing “Summertime in Venice”, and seated alone at his small table, a young man from the slums of the Bronx is surreptitiously pinching himself to prove he’s not dreaming.

  4. Stephanie on May 15, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Beautifully written snapshot of a perfect moment. Of course, poor Mary will be dragged away from those delectable macaroons and coffee just as they arrive by the sight of a mysterious suspect emerging from a side door of St Marks…

  5. Bill Edwards on May 15, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Outstanding! Wish I were there.

Leave a Comment