30 November 2003 - 9:23 AM
Lords and Ladies of Byzantium
I've spent the last several days trying to reclaim my home from the boxes and chaos. I've made some progress -- the boxes are emptied and collapsed, and the packing paper is folded to go to recycling -- but much remains to do.
It would all be so much easier if I liked bric-a-brac.
By bric-a-brac I mean objects which exist solely to be decorative. It is not that I do not appreciate beautiful things, but that I have taken William Morris' advice one step further. I want nothing in my home which is not both beautiful and useful. Having a figurine or other gew-gaw sitting on my tabletop or shelf for the sole purpose of being dusted occasionally strikes me as singularly pointless.
My definition of a useful object is fairly broad; it includes candlesticks (of which I have an elegant sufficiency, thank you) and flower pots (though those tend to attract houseplants, for which I, like many gardeners, have little use. More about that anon). I do not class paintings and other things which hang on walls as bric-a-brac either, since they require little attention once they're on the wall, and cats do not kick them over.
The trouble is with the alabaster ladies and non-food-safe ginger jars and other such baubles which have swarmed in recently. Grandmaman loves such things, the richer and more ornate the better. Perhaps the best example of the kind of object I am struggling with at the moment is the flower arrangement which Grandmaman kept on one of the shelves of the corner cupboard. The petals and buds are carved from semiprecious stones, wired together into permanent blossoms, and set into a basket like Yeats' bird, of hammered gold and gold enamelling. Unlike the bird, however, it does not sing to me of what is past, or passing, or to come.
It doesn't sing at all. It sits, smugly artificial, on my dining table, collecting dust and reminding me how heartless such things are. I am not much for houseplants, as I said, but I do like cut flowers indoors. The texture of a rose, the scent of a lily, the mathematical curve of a tulip engage the mind and senses beyond mere sight. My golden basket of artfully arranged rocks, however, does not.
Nor does it inspire a sense of urgency. The rose, the lily, the tulip last their allotted span of days and are gone. You must stop, right now, and look at them, because tomorrow they will be finished and you will have missed them. Sodalite and rose quartz do not wither or wilt. There's no need to stop right now and enjoy the arc of the stems or the fragrance of the flowers. The arrangement will look exactly the same tomorrow as it did today, with perhaps a few more dust molecules. Perhaps, fitted with a music box, it would serve to keep a drowsy emperor awake. Perhaps, roused from his nap, the emperor might step outdoors.