Even when our errands lay in places behind the church, from which it could not be seen, the view seemed always to have been composed with reference to the steeple, which would loom up here and there among the houses, and was perhaps even more affecting when it appeared thus without the church. And, indeed, there are many others which look best when seen in this way, and I can call to mind vignettes of housetops with surmounting steeples in quite another category of art than those formed by the dreary streets of Combray. I shall never forget, in a quaint Norman town not far from Balbec, two charming eighteenth-century houses, dear to me and venerable for many reasons, between which, when one looks up at it from the fine garden which descends in terraces to the river, the Gothic spire of a church (itself hidden by the houses) soars into the sky with the effect of crowning and completing their façades, but in a style so different, so precious, so annulated, so pink, so polished, that one sees at once that it no more belongs to them than would the purple, crinkled spire of some sea-shell spun out into a turret and gay with glossy colour to a pair of handsome, smooth pebbles between which it had been washed up on the beach. Even in Paris, in one of the ugliest parts of the town, I know a window from which one can see, across a first, a second, and even a third layer of jumbled roofs, street beyond street, a violet dome, sometimes ruddy, sometimes too, in the finest “prints” which the atmosphere makes of it, of an ashy solution of black, which is, in fact, none other than the dome of Saint-Augustin, and which imparts to this view of Paris the character of some of the Piranesi views of Rome. But since into none of these little etchings, whatever the discernment my memory may have been able to bring to their execution, was it able to contribute an element I have long lost, the feeling which makes us not merely regard a thing as a spectacle, but believe in it as a unique essence, so none of them keeps in its thrall a whole section of my inmost life as does the memory of those aspects of the steeple of Combray from the streets behind the church. Whether one saw it at five o’clock when going to call for letters at the post-office, some doors away from one, on the left, raising abruptly with its isolated peak the ridge of housetops; or whether, if one were looking in to ask for news of Mme Sazerat, one’s eyes followed that ridge which had now become low again after the descent of its other slope, and one knew that it would be the second turning after the steeple; or again if, pressing further afield, one went to the station and saw it obliquely, showing in profile fresh angles and surfaces, like a solid body surprised at some unknown point in its revolution; or if, seen from the banks of the Vivonne, the apse, crouched muscularly and heightened by the perspective, seemed to spring upwards with the effort which the steeple was making to hurl its spire-point into the heart of heaven—it was always to the steeple that one must return, always the steeple that dominated everything else, summoning the houses from an unexpected pinnacle, raised before me like the finger of God, whose body might have been concealed below among the crowd of humans without fear of my confusing it with them. And so even today, if, in a large provincial town, or in a quarter of Paris which I do not know very well, a passer-by who is "putting me on the right road" shows me in the distance, as a point to aim at, some hospital belfry or convent steeple lifting the peak of its ecclesiastical cap at the corner of the street which I am to take, my memory need find in it some resemblance to that dear and vanished outline, and the passer-by, should he turn round to make sure that I have not gone astray, may be amazed to see me still standing there, oblivious of the walk I had planned to take or the place where I was obliged to call gazing at the steeple for hours on end, motionless, trying to remember, feeling deep within myself a tract of soil reclaimed from the waters of Lethe slowly drying until the buildings rise on it again; and then no doubt, and then more anxiously than when, just now, I asked him to direct me, I seek my way again, I turn a corner...but...the goal is in my heart...
Even when our errands lay in places behind the church
Submitted by Jeff Drouin on Sat, 11/09/2019 - 09:31