Monday, 19 October 2009

Voyage autour de ma chambre

I study moden languages part-time and spent the weekend preparing a presentation I had to give in class. I decided to base it on the 1794 bestseller “Voyage autour de ma chambre” by Xavier de Maistre. The latter decided to poke fun at the earnest travel journals of his day and write a 700 page book describing his travels around his own drawing room. In honour of M. de Maistre, I wrote a 700 word essay on a journey around my living room. The highlights of the tour include: a 19th Japanese wedding kimono, tea-cups and saucers from the 18th to the early 20th century and a discussion of tea ceremonies in Japan. Favoured guests are allowed to put on the kimono and have their picture taken in it. They can also handle an 1815 blue and white transfer-ware English teapot. Whenever I pour from it, I imagine its original owners discussing Napoleon and shaking their heads as they wonder what on earth he was up to on St Helena, following his defeat at Waterloo; a small vase from Vietnam which lay at the bottom of coastal waters for 500 years until the shipwreck was excavated in the 20th century; a group of scallop shells, found underneath some paving stones, which I like to think workmen consumed for lunch as they built my house in the 1850s but which my friend likes to imagine were left by pilgrims on their way to the great medieval abbey, which once existed along my road;. a part of a marble pillar which I also came across in my garden; paintings by a Czech artist, who was friends with the protestor who daringly painted a soviet tank pink following the Velvet Revolution; Tsarist silver coins dating from my family’s flight from St Petersburg at the height of the Russian Revolution, which legend has it that my grandfather, being but a small child, fled across a river mounted on the broad shoulders of an adult relative or were my family confusing our story with that of the Christ child and St Christopher?; a modern copy of an antique tapestry, identical to one in front of which Jonathan Rhys Myers pouted prettily on the Tudors; a beautiful 1920s Chinese silk shawl sold to me at an antiques fair by a vendor who, despite not knowing me from Adam or the fact I had no identification on me, allowed me to take it home and pay for it by cheque which I later posted to her, fearing all the while that I would be run down and killed and with me her trust in the human race would also perish ; a tiny 18th century wooden nutmeg holder designed to hold a single inordinately expensive (at the time) nutmeg and containing its own grater. Most of the things I own are not particularly valuable but I have assembled them over the years as my version of the Cabinet of Curiosities of old, containing all the weird and wonderful things the owner could proudly show off to his guests.

Essay update: I wrote my presentation in the form of a play and persuaded fellow students to enact the roles of guests on the tour. The tour ends at the café attached to my living room (a.k.a my kitchen). I handed out home-made lemon cupcakes to my audience on the premise it would be impolite to ask me questions with their mouths full and particularly rude to ask searching question to someone who has baked a mouth watering treat just for them.

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