OLD age is partly to blame for this craven desire for attention. (It dates back to 1735.) The main reason, though, is jealousy: I had recently acquired a jewelled Fabergé egg ridged in yellow gold and encircled by coloured garlands suspended from blue sapphires beneath diamond bows. A real showboat. On a personal level, I've had a lot of trouble with a bolshie Hylton Nel china parrot that has been coquettishly toying with the idea of coming between the Fabergé egg and me for months. This morning it fell off the shelf and broke its beak.
Let me confess: I have been involved in a loose but amorous relationship with an 18th-century family rose bowl with a blue underglaze. It has real depth; it's the sort of bowl you could discuss with Nietzsche. To be honest, it's been an on-off affair. I suspect it secretly enjoys annoying me. Once it even fell over in an attempt to solicit sympathy. Then, this morning, it simply fell apart and now has a dark mutilating crack running across its surface.
Which leads me to my point: I don't know if you've noticed it too but the inanimate have become more and more uppity. I think being called objets d’art has gone to their head. I mean, all that French. They are no longer content to sit around on shelves and look pretty, or to extend a cold ceramic kiss, or even swivel in lonely splendour; they've begun to act human.
In a 2014 film by Joanna Hogg called Exhibition the main character is a house.
The two human stars are a couple trapped in their modernist home that has become the third person in their emptily overcrowded marriage, and which seems to shape their behaviour and moods. But the real battlefield is the kitchen. It's where the boys live, brutal chauvinists with a wild scattergun style, and where there are stainless-steel fisticuffs from morning till night. The French (again!) casserole dish just hates being manhandled, no matter by who. It heats up into a frenzy, burns hands and causes blisters. On top of that, they all smoke and love to savage each other. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. In addition, all things are enthusiastic team workers.
This week my computer broke, my cellphone went on the blink and my car collapsed. Why does it all happen at once? It is as though they sense my inadequacy and react in unison, passing secret and destructive messages among themselves. Half the trouble is that objects have never had a fair press. Film stylists can conjure a whole scene and provide subtle assertions and provocative innuendo with the aid of just a few props — a French paperback with the pages uncut, a Turkish cigarette in an amber holder, an espresso cup.
While walking through an antiques market, I came across a small cup and saucer decorated with a dragon with a blunt snout and a forked tail. It was a replica of a cup I had as a child. My head was instantly flooded with the most exact memories of my childhood home in Sri Lanka. It brought back, in its entirety, the dramatic partings that had been part and parcel of my life as well as the complicated, decaying smell of the tropics. Things can be astute hoarders of history.
My grandfather died fighting in France and one of the things they sent back after his death was a beaded rosary he carried with him. I met a man recently who told me these rosaries were unique to his village in Picardy and as we talked, we discovered that his family had sheltered my grandfather. I know I haven't always treated stuff well. I have a drawer full of single earrings. Where are their partners? Will they one day find each other again, garnet drop clasping garnet drop in a deep embrace?
Thoughts like this make me realise I have to tread carefully. Not too long ago, when buying a new saucepan, I asked the salesperson: “Tell me, how emotionally stable do you think this copper-bottomed pan is?" According to Google this attachment to objects is a well-known syndrome. In 2008, a woman changed her name to reflect her love for the Eiffel Tower and now calls herself Erika La Tour Eiffel. She is the founder of OS International, an organisation for objectum-sexual people, that is, those who develop significant relationships within inanimate objects.
I have recently been seduced and abandoned by a Queen Anne table, although on reflection I couldn't really get close to anything with such terrible legs. That said, the time has come for us to take the inanimate more seriously. Is it just my imagination or is that Art Deco lamp giving me the eye?
♦ VWB ♦
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