Birdcage art doll by Sandra Evertson.
Despite my steadfast rule about "one thing comes in, another goes out," I have collected lots of treasures, with too little space to house them. Lately I've started to feel suffocated by all the "things" around me, beautiful as they are. So in a quest for more space - and room to breathe - on Tuesday, my friend Di Overton is coming over with a van and we're going to fill it with items, possibly for her Ghost Furniture line or for whatever use she sees fit.
Among the items departing are four stained-glass panels (from a circular stairway in a 19th-century Paris apartment building); two tall wooden folding screens; an Art Deco chair; a Napoleon III table; a Directoire table; an English Arts & Crafts table; a small wrought iron daybed; a child's wooden Windsor chair; a wooden stool; a large mirror; four lamps and assorted curiosities. Many of these items have been stored in the cave (wine cellar); taking them away will enable me to move furniture - that I want to keep - from the apartment to the cave.
I must say seeing all these things grouped together awaiting pickup is a bit disconcerting. And I'm reluctant to bid farewell to the Art Deco chair and the Directoire table. At the same time, I feel as though a burden has lightened - it's freeing to let these things go.
For many years I lived like a gypsy, traveling from place to place as a journalist. Very few things went with me - clothes, jewelry, toiletries, a few favourite books, music and framed photos. That's the way I liked it - easier to move around, without worrying about the fate of expensive treasures. In the US, whenever I started to feel too comfortable and settled, I'd sell my furniture and move.
In 1993, I left nine suitcases behind in Jordan. Having traveled to the US to visit family, I'd intended to return to retrieve the bags. Then I was planning to move to London with a man with whom I was involved romantically. But he disappointed me; instead of returning to Amman, I flew to San Francisco. I expect someone took advantage of our left luggage, wearing our clothes and using our things (I do regret losing Jordana's childhood collection of about 30 Barbie dolls, although she later collected a few more).
During the 1989 earthquake, I was living in San Francisco for the first time. I'd sold my furniture and all my precious and sentimental things were packed up and stored at a friend's apartment, in preparation for returning to the Middle East on assignment. Two days after the earthquake, a colleague went to the Marina district to retrieve whatever belongings she could in the few minutes allotted (as the structures were considered unsafe). She'd loaded her car and started the ignition, ready to drive away when a policeman motioned for her to come over.
As she started walking towards him, an electrical pole crashed down on her car, flattening it and destroying everything inside. Of course her attitude was that she may not have her material things, but she had her life.
One New Year's Eve, friends in Virginia had gone to bed early and taken night-time pain medicine for aches and pains of the flu. About 2 a.m. they were awakened by someone pounding on their door. They stumbled downstairs, still drowsy from the cold medication. Just as they opened the door, a stranger grabbed them and pulled them off their porch, shouting, "Get out, get out, your house is on fire!"
At that very moment, the roof collapsed and the house burned to the ground, taking all their possessions, including some special art pieces acquired during their postings around the world. The stranger - who was lost, driving through the wrong neighbourhood - stopped when he saw flames licking the roof of my friends' home. His intervention literally saved their lives.
So I tried to embrace that "at least you are alive to tell" philosophy months later, when on assignment in the Middle East, my so-called friend in San Francisco disappeared, taking my valuables with her (or maybe she gave them away). I was distraught about losing my grandmother's quilt, some special gifts, photographs and love letters. Since then, I've tried not to get too attached to things. I frequently give things to Jordana or to friends. I give clothes and household items to charity. My decor is ever-evolving, although a few old favourites I hope will remain.
But I don't count on that. I think about the monks who spend 15 years building a magnificent temple, then destroy it and start another. I think about refugees around the world who are driven from their homes, forced to flee conflict and war. I think about the victims of natural disasters, such as the flooding in India or the hurricane currently bearing down on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast - a cruel trick for an area still recovering from Katrina's devastation.
I think about the beauty of our hearts and minds and that material things can't hold a candle to nature's wonders. The reminder is it's the journey - what we DO along the way and how we touch people's lives - not the things we have collected by the end of our own.
The heart-shaped tomato on a tea towel was found at a local greengrocer's.