They are coming tomorrow, the charming antiques dealers with passion for provenance and beauty. As I survey the spilling-over cabinet de curiosites that my apartment has become - in preparation for the dealers and their checkbooks - I find my eyes welling with tears.
Tears for the white ironstone collection that never got displayed in a glass-doored black wooden cupboard; a sob for the 1930s chandeliers that were never suspended over a dining table or a bed and the 19th-century lithographs that were never hung on walls already crowded with art offerings. And especially, tears for the children's games, toys and baby things that there's simply no room to keep for future grandchildren. All these collectibles have been thwarted by the lack of space in this tiny Paris apartment.
I know; I know in my heart, that these are just things. And material possessions don't matter. But when I found these particular things - here, there and yonder - in flea markets and brocantes and antiques stores - I allowed myself to imagine the house these one-of-a-kind treasures might grace. I envisioned finally having a home; actually living in just one place; feeling "safe" (even though I don't believe safe havens exist); becoming intimately familiar with the creaks and moans of a building.
I didn't expect to live in the same tiny apartment for ten years, constantly searching for creative ways to enhance our very limited space (albeit in a wonderful neighbourhood).
In part because of my over-active imagination when shopping - or changing style preferences - I've given away furniture to a friend in England and three friends in France. I've loaned furniture to another friend. Still, what remains is too much for this tiny apartment and I don't expect our next space in Amsterdam to be all that much bigger.
As I've gone through my collections and contemplated selling or giving items away, I recognise a familiar pattern: years of living out of a suitcase, traveling from place to place, always moving. Every time I felt too "settled," I'd sell my furniture and move, taking only my clothes, books, dishes and favourite art and my daughter's clothes and toys or putting everything but the essentials in storage.
Once we left nine suitcases in Amman, never to be retrieved. Long story; let's just say a friend charged with their safety proved negligent. Another time I went to the US for two months, leaving two boxes and two suitcases with friends who worked for the UN. I returned to find these "friends" sold my things, including three original oil paintings that were gifts from the artists! No, they didn't give me the proceeds and seemed genuinely surprised by my indignation.In 1989 in San Francisco, I left precious belongings with a friend, while I went to the Middle East on assignment. She vanished, taking my things with her. So I have become accustomed to possessions disappearing (and so-called friends taking advantage of my good nature).
There's something in me that longs to be settled; to finally unpack all those bags (real and virtual) and stay in one place. But there's another part of me that is panicked at the prospect - which is why I sell things for a song, in order to move. That's why I have nearly 40 suitcases in the wine cellar, testimony to my conflicted nature: love of travel, as well as acquisition/nesting. Many a trip I've returned bearing an extra bag to carry shopping finds. I've also loaned bags to friends visiting Paris whose shopping finds exceed their luggage capacity.
While I still don't have that home, I find myself wanting less things and more space. Yes, there are books and photographs and treasures I'm holding onto, no matter how small the space I inhabit. But the things that are important to me are the tools I need to create and communicate: my computer; my cameras; my lenses. All the rest is just window-dressing. And I learned long ago I don't need any of it to survive and even thrive.
Photo above shows a small portion of a "sewing" table, ready for the antique dealers.