Our own personal Proustian Madeleines. In this case, an Italian sandwich.
If we’re attuned to it, I think we all have these moments daily. A smell we notice while walking down the street, a new food at a cafe, someone’s perfume, laundry, kitchen. And BOOM — you’re instantly transported into a memory. Sometimes the memory is unclear for me — I can’t pinpoint it, but I can usually assign a time period or location. Late high school. Sometime at summer camp. Ireland.
And sometimes, you know exactly where and when that trigger takes you. That happened to me at lunch yesterday. I was trying to get some work done at the Loveat on Yehuda HaLevi (after having an awesome haircut at Tomer Reshef, I have to mention — best place in Tel Aviv for curly hair — bar none). Lunch isn’t cheap at Loveat, but it’s vaguely organic there (perhaps just the coffee), and with the larger sandwiches, you get your choice of side dish — I had a cup of split pea soup — a real treat compared to what you get at most cafes.
My chicken panini (or gabetta, as they call them here — I’m pretty sure they mean ciabatta; panini would be far more appropriate as that refers to a sandwich often made of a ciabatta; whatever, it’s Israel) was incredible. When I took the first bite, I was transported back to the 2rd floor coffee shop of the Reynolds Club at the University of Chicago. This cafe functioned on take out — basically, all the restaurants in the neighborhood brought their best takeaways — pad thai, pad seeyu, curry and rice, samosas, and tons and tons of sandwiches. I was a vegetarian at the time, and I often got the roasted vegetable sandwich from Pizza Capri (it’s still on the menu!). It was heaven: roasted red peppers, eggplant, perhaps zucchini, perhaps a slice of cheese, and tons and tons of garlic. I can assert to the fact that it had peppers, eggplant, and garlic — the rest is a little hazy.
Although my Loveat gabetta had chicken, the rest of it was very much like my sandwich of yore. The roasted red pepper I think was what took me back. And why is this significant? I almost lived in that building. The theatre was on the 3rd floor, and I think I had 80% of my meals from that coffee shop. I may have eaten more than 200 of those sandwiches over the course of 4 years. When I had my internship at Steppenwolf Theatre, there was even a Pizza Capri across the street — and I ate it once or twice a week that whole summer. The flavor and texture of that sandwich represents the blood, sweat, tears, and every ounce of passion I put into my undergraduate education. It represents the grimy yet super-comfy theatre lounge I hung out at every day, where I ate half my meals, where I caught up and prepped before classes, where I piled onto ancient sofas with friends and collaboratively did the New York Times crossword, where I held weekly production meetings, where I memorized lines, where I read play after play after play, where I played snood and mac-brickout and checked my telnet email account on ancient computers, where I developed and fine-tuned proposals, where I planned my future and dreamed.
It’s almost ten years behind me now. Seems like yesterday, and I can’t believe how far I’ve drifted from what that girl thought she’d be. And that sandwich. Do we go back and try to jump start what we used to love or thought we loved? Is it pointless to try? Is it too late? I didn’t know it then, but it was the happiest time of my life. Sure, I was miserable a lot. But I was also challenged and busy and growing and trying and achieving and failing and was surrounded by some of the most interesting people I have yet known. That sandwich yesterday highlighted my relatively isolated and somewhat stagnant state.
It’s time I announced my intentions: I want to go back into academia. It will be very different this time. Nostalgia will probably play a distracting and not-too-positive role in this. But I’m doing it. It will take time. Part-time completion courses. Maybe a second masters degree in order to get where I would like to be — an excellent doctoral program. Not in theatre. A social science/philosophy type course. Life is horrible, complex, beautiful. I study it anyway. I want to be with people I can speak with, research with, and who have passion for these abstract and seemingly ridiculous and impractical notions. Perhaps I’m sounding arrogant and idealistic here. Probably.
Powerful sandwich, that. Wouldn’t you say?
A fantastic blog article – a picture-laden tour of the University of Chicago — with a particular focus on all its bizarre coffee shops (my fave was not focused on, however — although I am proud to say I frequented ALL of the ones featured).