Monday, September 1, 2014

A Sense of History defines some Individuals

I have been doing a great deal of soul-searching in the past year and having been called quite a few negative names by an individual who really is not qualified to judge me, I still tried to ascertain if I were guilty of any of the slurs.  First and foremost, there is the term 'hoarder'.  It is a rather popular catchname now, to the extent that it has sparked television 'reality' shows. 

Is it really fair to lump together the serious collector and the person who saves every plastic bag and bit of paper as well as haunting junk shops in order to find more 'treasures'?  I am not going to make a judgement there, although I do collect all plastic bags for reuse in cleaning my Cats' litter boxes.

It was the discovery, however, of yet another damaged silver spoon in the house that prompted this post.  The person who damaged it tends to be very hard on cutlery in general and spoons in particular.  He has come into some money of late which has made him more arrogant as well as even less appreciative of the intrinsic value of objects.  In fairness, he does have some aesthetic appreciation of beauty and fine things, but this is overshadowed by an erroneous belief that one can destroy anything and then use money to replace it.

What created the enormous divide between his attitudes and mine?  I think it is something that originated in early childhood.  He had no sense whatsoever of his family history, apart from general ethnic history.  Neither on his mother's side nor on his father's side was he given ANYTHING from which to view his own heritage in character or history.  I, on the other hand, was given a rich and colourful tapestry of a sense of aristocracy on both sides of my family.  Not simply aristocracy either but royalty even, albeit a connection that was centuries old and possibly a little tenuous, if truth be told.

The actual genealogical tree, however, is less important than the early BELIEF in this anchor of identity, although I did spend a number of years wondering if all of it were truth or if truth, exaggerated a little.  I know realise it is quite irrelevant.  They called me 'Princess' in school.  They called my daughter 'Princess' in school.  Something in both of us resonated to that sense of aristocracy, which is an almost intangible quality, quite different from having money  or living in luxury.   It is a belief that one is somehow special, although not a superior sort of 'special' to any one else with any sort of unique history.

On my mother's side, we are descended first from Charlemagne and later from the De Conde family.  The De Condes originally were Muslims who settled in Europe and who later became Huguenots.  The name has been spelled as De Cande and De Conde.  I met a member of the De Cande family in Paris when I was at University.  She was Muslim.  There was a De Canda at the battle of Karbala, named in the roll of 72 martyrs who stood with Imam Husayn.

The De Condes later became part of the royal court of France when Henri IV ascended to the throne.  Their history is interwoven with that of the Bourbon family but de Conde history from this point onward is extremely colourful but rather scandalous.  There was a taint of madness that ran through the family.  The Duke de Conde who lived during the reign of Louis XIV had a habit of going to his roof to bay at the moon like a wolf when it was full.  A rather famous French film with Gerard Depardieu named 'Vatel' is based on the life of the chef of the Prince de Conde, Louis II de Bourbon.

My maternal family can claim to be directly descended as well from the Montcalm family through the sister of the Marquis de Montcalm who demonstrated heroic resolve in his defence of Quebec.  These are some of the tales that were as much a part of my early childhood as Snow White or Sleeping Beauty.

On my father's side, there is a claim of being connected to the Kings of Italia.  2nd Cousin to the King of Italia is the way we were told of the connection.  The royal family of Italia did not have a very long history.  Considering the fact that my own father was born at the end of the 19th century,  the stories of HIS grandfather have to have been set in the early 1800s.  It is said that, during a period of economic depression, he allowed the peasants to farm his fields, taking none of the harvest for himself.  For this act of generosity, he was rewarded by the Pope with the Order of the Golden Spur...This is how I remember it, in any event.  My father died when I was 13 years old and my parents had been divorced since I was 5 years old.  I did listen to my father's stories with great attention.  I saw his diplomatic passport and a medal he had received from the government of Italia for some kind of heroic act during the 1st World War when he served in the cavalry.

When he died, nothing remained for my sister and myself.  My half-sister was the only member of the family who had access at that point in time.  My mother would not take me even to say farewell to him.  When I spoke to my half-sister years later, she claimed that everything had been stolen by a person or persons unknown, but I somehow doubt that.  She concluded by stating that it would be better to forget about him and his history.

It NEVER is better to forget these things because they are at the very foundation of personal identity for better or worse.  That is why I now believe that the specific factual details probably are not as important as the tales we were told and remember still.  It was those tales that made us the individuals we are.

My father was the youngest child in a large family.  In Italia, there was the law of primogeniture, which means that only the eldest son inherited.  My father being the very youngest had to make his own way in life.  After serving in the 1st World War, he joined the diplomatic service and travelled through the world for the Italian government under a diplomatic passport.  These are facts.  What is not so clearly fact are his descriptions of his childhood home where there were over 20 bedrooms and each had its own fireplace.  After the divorce, he promised to take my sister and myself to that house and to give us a pony and carriage. 

It is all very 19th century but then, my father was himself a product of the 19th century.  Very little remains from him but I never will forget his handwriting.  It definitely was the handwriting of an educated gentleman from Europe.  No one writes like that now.  No one has written like that for over a hundred years.  It was gorgeous calligraphy.

Fueled by my admiration of that handwriting (his signature scrawled in two books by Alexandre Dumas) and messaages written both in Italian and English on little postcards to me as a young child), I studied calligraphy myself, but never achieved his grandeur.  In fact, though, I evidently inherited my 'sinister' attribute from him.  He was ambidextrous but probably was born left-haneded.  In those days, children were not allowed to use their left hands in writing and he therefore would have been taught forcibly to use his right hand.  Whoever did that succeeded admirably as his calligraphy showed none of the telltale signs of a lefthanded person attempting copperplate or other cursive writing.

For me, on the other hand, writing with the right hand always proved difficult and clumsy.   It was impossible even for me to achieve perfection in any of the traditional right-slanted cursive hands such as copperplate.  Italics was another matter, suiting the left-handed writer as well as the right.

What does all this have to do with a silver spoon? 

Having been brought up with a very profound sense of personal history and intrinsic self-worth, irrespective of income or contemporary social standing, I tend to give the same values to objects in my life.  It does not matter where or how I obtain an object if it is beautiful and has some sort of sentimental or intrinsic value, whether that is as a precious metal or gem or because of its history or beauty.

I bought a set of long spoons at auction because the man who destroys spoons loves to eat with long spoons.  I believe they sometimes are known as iced tea spoons.  They are very pretty and probably are about a hundred years old.  As the set was incomplete and an odd number to boot, they did not cost that much.  Nevertheless, they are very pretty spoons and deserve proper care.  They are silver with a lovely pattern.

Although I bought them less than a year ago, two of the seven spoons have been bent to a point where they are almost deformed.  Obviously they have been used to serve ice cream that is too hard for them to tackle.  A careful person would use a different spoon or even an ice cream scoop to serve the stuff, then use the long spoon, if desired to eat it.  This individual is the opposite of careful, however and appears even to take a perverse pleasure in destorying objects, especially those for which he did not pay.  When he pays for an item, it has some worth in terms of the price tag that was on it.  When I buy an item or otherwise obtain something, it has NO worth in his estimation.    There is no historical component in his life whatsoever and I believe that is where the gulf was created between his perception and mine.

If I found a silver chalice by the wayside or unearthed it from a cave, it would be priceless, not only for its history and the amount of silver it contained but because of the 'romance' of the discovery.  There would be no way to replace it were it then destroyed, stolen or lost.  If he decided for any reason that he wanted a silver chalice, he would use a credit card to purchase it.  After that, its value would depend upon the amount paid.  Full stop.  It is not that he could not appreciate its aesthetic beauty or any other identifying quality.  It is rather than he would believe that he could destroy it with impunity and then buy another if necessary.

I know that there is a certain freedom in that attitude and that I am shackled by my sentimentality and my romantic character as well as my desire to surround myself with beauty.  Rich has nothing to do with aristocracy and in fact, not having spending money as a child has nothing to do with the amount of money my parents had or did not have.  We simply were not given pocket money at all.  Neither my sister nor I ever learned how to deal with money in an intelligent and practical fashion.  I admit this failing.  The man who destroys objects with careless indifference, on the other hand, has made a science of spending, especially when his spending involves imaginary, intangible items such as stocks.  To me, that is contrary to living.  What is the point of money that serves no purpose and does not increase the quality of life?  To see my total income fluctuate on a daily basis would drive me mad, apart from the idea of investment in firms that are hawking products that act on people's lives in a negative fashion.  Into this category I place the manufacturers of military equipment and cigarettes.  If one can have no influence on the firm in which the stocks are held, one has to consider carefully how one invests the funds in the first place.  Again, the individual in question is concerned solely with the 'bottom line', which is the amount of profit he can make.  He is certainly not alone in this... but again, I wonder if this is somehow connected to that fundamental difference between us.  To him, money is money.  A spoon is nothing more than a spoon that can be replaced.  

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