Of timelessness and things


I’m painting my living room, so my wife made me empty it first. Whatever. And so I discovered things that had become invisible. Things from the past, things with a story. So forget painting, I’m diving into stories past.

An old carriage clock. Not my story. It tells of in-kind payments for unpaid bar bills before the war. My wife’s aunt who passed away at 96 worked the bar in her father’s pub and during the depression they took items for payment. Antiques now. Her story.

A Buddha statue. Where did I  get this one? I have many. This one came from a Chinese shop in Malacca, Malaysia. It’s made of bronze and it has clay inside. Something about the owner putting new clay in when they receive the statue. I haven’t changed it so I guess the last owner is still residing there.

A silver bowl with lid. Very thin silver and hand beaten and decorated. My mother grew up in Indonesia when it was a dutch colony and as a 9 year old she received this from a Maharajah as a gift. I grew up with this bowl and the reality that this was the only item that she managed to keep when she was interned in a Japanese concentration camp in 1943. She passed away 2 years ago and with her an entire epoch of war memories.

I polish the bowl regularly and see her smile reflected in it.

A paper mache candle stick from Srinagar. It’s worthless and not even pretty. But it reminds me of travelling in Kashmir in the 80’s before civil unrest and kidnappings closed that areas for a long decade. We had arrived from the heat in New Delhi, suitably dressed in shorts and t-shirts. It was -5 degrees and a blizzard welcomed us. Our first stop was at a market to buy rough Kashmir woolen jumpers. Then we took a Shikara to a distant houseboat on Dal lake. We were given 1 hours worth of wood for a stove in our room and couldn’t sleep because of the impossible compromise between cold and the weight of 6 blankets. Two weeks of suffering later, spring came and people literally lit up. This was without question the most beautiful spring I have ever seen.

Chinese war horse statues. Business trip to China. They’re all the same. I can add to that a tea caddy from Montreal or a porcelain statue of lady writer from Hong Kong. Business trips leave no imprints on me. It just about beats going to the office, is all.

There is a green pot from Vietnam. It got smashed during a removal but the insurance agreed to restore it. I don’t think it is worth much and I suspect that the antiques restorer in London, who normally works for the British Museum must have wondered why we bothered. My wife bought the pot in Saigon when we adopted our son. Another priceless memory.

I could go on. I could write about the painting my father’s best friend painted for him. A harbor scene in Bombai. This adopted ‘uncle’ was my hero. He was always on the move. I’m not sure he is still alive but if he isn’t chances are he’ll come back. He’s like that.

I didn’t really want to paint the living room but with the water damage, it really needed doing.  If it wasn’t for this, I wouldn’t have seen these invisible items come to life again. Stories past. Stories present. All it takes is a bit of presence. And a paintbrush.


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