_____The section called "Place-Names: The Name" begins with ... a meditation on place names. Well, actually, it begins with the narrator thinking about the Grand-Hôtel de la Plage, at Balbec, and his
desire to see a storm at sea, not so much because it would be a beautiful spectacle as because it would be a moment of nature's real life unveiled; or rather for me there were not beautiful spectacles except the ones which I knew were not artificially contrived for my pleasure, but were necessary, unchangeable -- the beauties of landscapes or of great art.He's in search of "those things which I believed to be more real than myself," things "most opposite to the mechanical productions of men." A pretty good definition of the Romantic temperament.
Place names embody what he's searching for:
Even in spring, finding the name of Balbec in a book was enough to awaken in me the desire for storms and Norman Gothic; even on a stormy day the name of Florence and Venice gave me a desire for the sun, for lilies, for the Palace of the Doges, and for Saint-Mary-of-the-Flowers.
Names have a synaesthetic effect on the narrator:
Bayeux, so lofty in its noble red-tinged lace, its summit illuminated by the old gold of its last syllable; Vitré, whose acute accent barred its ancient glass with black wood lozenges; gentle Lamballe, whose whiteness goes from eggshell yellow to pearl gray; Coutances, a Norman cathedral, which its final, fat, yellowing diphthong crowns with a tower of butter....... and so on. It's a passage that links Proust with Rimbaud, who colorized the vowel sounds in "Voyelles":
A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles,
Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes.
A, noir corset velu des mouches éclatantes
Qui bombinent autour des puanteurs cruelles,
Golfes d'ombre ; E, candeurs des vapeurs et des tentes,
Lances des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d'ombelles;
I, pourpres, sang craché, rire des lèvres belles
Dans la colère ou les ivresses pénitentes ;
U, cycles, vibrements divins des mers virides,
Paix des pâtis semés d'animaux, paix des rides
Que l'alchimie imprime aux grands fronts studieux;
O, suprême Clairon plein de strideurs étranges,
Silences traversés des Mondes et des Anges:
-- O, l'Oméga, rayon violet de Ses Yeux !
Unfortunately, when the narrator's parents give him the opportunity to travel, to visit Florence and Venice, which he imagines in terms derived from Ruskin (whom Proust translated), the excited youth falls ill and, on the doctor's advice not only has to cancel the trip but also miss a consolation prize: going "to the theater to hear La Berma; the sublime artist whom Bergotte had regarded as a genius."