Day 10: A Farewell Tableau

I think I’m going about this in the wrong way. I’m too focused on the literal and thematic, and I’m missing out of the stories they could tell if I only let them. The items in my cabinets and drawers don’t only just occupy a physical space. They’re not just members of a particular class of objects with common characteristics, such as the shirts I packed up yesterday. When I brought them into my house they joined a collection of other objects, each with a history and character and a calculus of value. Each bears the infinitesimal traces of the persons who have touched it in the course of its existence.  Together they form a cast whose members in varying degrees and compositions are called to participate in a range of scenarios, including the one that contains their own annihilation.

Tonight I’m eating in, alone. I fix myself an oversized salad and boil some eggs, I listen to Stromba’s Tales from the Sitting Room, a downtempo dub album that Dimitris, a connoisseur-salesman at a local record store whom I befriended, turned me on to. I dump the salad in a deep white bowl, one of two Matthew and I had bought after we became enamored of Japanese soups after a trip to London, and though we didn’t make soup all that often afterwards, I’ve found it the perfect bowl for the heroically portioned salads I now eat as a single man. I pour myself a glass of the wine that was left over from yesterday. I had corked with it a reusable bottle stopper from a sommelier kit that Alex, who used to work for me, once gave me for a Christmas present.

Daniel Spoerri, Repas Hongrois, 1963

Daniel Spoerri, Repas Hongrois, 1963

All the objects speak of loss: the store Dimitris worked for went out of business two years ago; Alex was fired (which I’m now confident was actually the best thing for him); and we know what happened to Matthew and me. Even the cloth napkin I laid out when setting the table is a witness to loss; it’s from a set we had bought from Habitat.

There’s a story there. Which makes think: what if I disposed of objects in the form of tableaux, still lives of disparate but not randomly selected personal objects, the decaying Fallenbilder of memory that are about to be stripped of their history, de-personalized and discarded, the final performance of a tableaux of objets perdus (or about to be lost, anyway), suggesting a story even if the text doesn’t need to relate it. A photograph would do.

But I’m not a photographer. Nikolas is, but I haven’t told him about this blog yet. I don’t know why. I usually share practically everything with him. Perhaps I don’t think it’s serious enough. After all, it’s just about things.

I think about Sophie Calle’s photograph album Le ritual d’anniversaire. Each year from 1980 to 1993 when she ended the project, she would invite a number of acquaintances (and one stranger) to a birthday gathering. The number of guests was equal to the number of years she was celebrating. She photographed a selection of the gifts they gave her. She set them on shelves in a free-standing cabinet, almost as if it were some repository of gifts to a sacred power or a display case in some vast Borges-like archive of memory. They are celebrations of objecthood. They not only contain artifacts of culture but also witness the pleasures that infuse our lives and the insouciant trifles that make us smile and keep us from taking ourselves too seriously. Among the gifts Calle photographed for 1984 include Marguerite Duras’ L’Amant, a black nylon kimono, a box of chocolates from the Sprüngli confectionery in Zürich, a restaurant menu from Le Malakoff in Paris, and a bouquet of twenty roses.

I’m inspired to prepare a similar collection of objects, but a collection that will not be acquired but rather disposed of.

Alex, Matthew and Dimitris never met one another, though they accompany me this evening as I eat dinner, if only in memory. I could make a farewell tableau, but I’m not ready to discard the Japanese bowl. Too useful. Or the wine stopper. I always seem to have wine left over.

Instead I select three objects whose source is a mystery. At the back of a top kitchen shelf sits a painted plaid box. It contains two heavy glazed ceramic balls the size of oranges. One is sky blue, the other navy blue. They were a gift to Matthew and me, but I can’t remember who gave them to us. They’re too perfectly spherical to be paperweights, so I suppose they’re supposed to be good luck charms. When I pick one up and hold it in my fist, it feels like a weapon. With enough determination and force, I could certainly knock someone out cold. It was either a very stupid gift or a very prescient one.

I come across two terracotta figurines, each with a somewhat unnerving expression of rapturous self-contentment and a headdress the height of the entire lower body. I have no idea how these arrived in the house. Matthew must have had them before I met him. There’s a hole in the headdress, through which presumably you drive a nail to affix the figurine to the wall. Not that I would. I find them spooky. They’re the kind of figures that in other contexts would be talismans or curse-bearing poppets.

In the kitchen fireplace, the one I never light, stands a bundle of long sticks of cinnamon bark. Matthew must have bought them, though I can’t remember where. They’ve been perched there for years. I break off a bit from the end and I’m surprised by the pungent scent of cinnamon it releases. The bark looked so lifeless sitting there. I had no idea it was still so potent.

I break the bark into quarters and gather the pieces together in an ax-less fasces that serves as a bier for the figurines and blue balls. It makes for an uneasy Abschiedstableau. It’s silly, I know, but suddenly I don’t want this in my flat anymore. I quickly put the bark and figurines and balls in a clean garbage bag and bring it down to the dumpster.

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