When I had to give up medicine, after many years of training and as many working as a doctor, because of an ever-worsening eye condition, I thought my world had ended. It did not. Instead, I discovered a whole new world to inhabit as a writer. I was especially grateful that I would be able to continue writing even if my sight fails completely. This last year, however, taught me a new lesson. I might be able to continue writing even if I cannot see, but I cannot write when I am in pain.
Eleven months later, I find that I have to start writing again, pain or no pain, to keep the depression that invariably accompanies chronic illness at bay. Maybe not a book as such, but I think I could manage a couple of blog posts. So I have decided to start a new series on my blog called “I am grateful for…” Listing everything in my life that I am grateful for twice a day and thanking God for every item on my list has helped me cope with not only the pain but also the uncertainty of not knowing whether the next treatment will work, whether the next operation will get rid of the pain…or make it worse.
Being grateful is one of the most empowering activities that I have ever encountered.
Sharing what I am grateful for today will also help me to figure out who I am now, since I most certainly am no longer the same person as I was a year ago.
In this first post in the series, I want to share with you my passion for all things vintage and antique. I love old things, things with a history: old houses, old cars, old jewellery, old paintings, old porcelain, old linen and especially vintage clothes.
I would much prefer to wear an ancient piece of jewellery, especially if I am lucky enough to know who the previous owners were, than a brand new designer piece. I am lucky enough to own a couple of such pieces, but my most favourite is a bracelet with two sapphires that was created during the reign of Queen Victoria. I know exactly who it belonged before it belonged to me: three powerful women whom I have an enormous amount of respect and admiration for. I always wear it, it makes me infinitely happy to see the sun flashing blue on the stones, to feel the solid weight of it on my arm, to know that the three strong women who wore it before me survived and even thrived in situations much more challenging than I have to do.
Just so that there is no misunderstanding (and in case my husband reads this,) I have no objection to new things as presents. Admittedly, I am not willing to sacrifice quality for age, that is no doubt why I only have a small number of treasured pieces.
I also love vintage clothes and because I am vain, I prefer designer vintage wear – from the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and even 50’s. During the daytime, I have spent many happy hours in vintage shops this year. My favourite vintage shops in Toulouse has got to be Le Grenier d’Anais, Groucho Vintage and The Vintage Family. In Bordeaux I frequent Jolie Mome, Arsenic et Vielles Dentelles, Blue Madone and Marcelle. At night time, I visited similar shops online. In the early hours of the morning, pain management often consisted of reading vintage blogs, joining vintage Facebook Groups, visiting online auction sites and browsing Amazon for books on how to create or improve a vintage wardrobe. This has resulted, for the first time in my life, in a very distinct personal style – I now even buy vintage horse riding trousers and boots, when I can find them!
I am profoundly grateful that I also have access to some irresistible places in cyberspace. My nights would have been much lonelier if I did not.
For my 25th birthday, I was given a red Fiat Bertone X1/9, from 1975. Not an exceptionally expensive car, but I loved that car, passionately and eternally. I owned it for 12 years and during that time, became intimately acquainted with all its working parts as it was a temperamental beastie, liable to come down in a fit of the vapours at just about any time and just about anywhere and for absolutely no reason at all. I loved it anyway, devotedly, because when it ran smoothly, driving it was pure bliss. One day, I hope to find a suitable and worthy replacement, but not too soon, because searching for it is so much fun.
During all my adult life, I have lived in old houses. I could never live in a new house, nor in a house that has been restored to within an inch of its existence and surely resulting in the total loss of its soul. My soul would suffocate. I don’t think I could even be friends with someone who lives in a such a house. I am very grateful that the house I live in now nourishes my creativity, even though it still needs a fair bit of renovation. I sometimes run my hands along the 400-year old beams, now black with age, and I wonder about the original owners. Hundreds of year ago, some brave young man must have built this house for his precious bride, with the help of the whole village. He must have loved her very much, the evidence of his love still visible today in the thoughtful additions he added to make her life easier: somewhere for her store the salt, safe and dry, in the inglenook fireplace, bringing water from a nearby spring into the house, a state-of-the-art bread oven accessible from the kitchen, but outside the house to reduce the fire-risk, small windows to the south so that she will not be too hot in summer and a solid wall to the north so that she will not be cold in the winter…sentimentally-afflicted, I know.
Sometimes I walk through the house and marvel at how easily our furniture has settled into this essentially foreign environment. Unavoidably, each piece of furniture in this house has a history. Some pieces have travelled extensively: old trustworthies dating from the end of the 19th century, created originally to grace the interior of an elegant Cape Dutch farmhouse, nearly as old as this one. Other pieces once adorned the interiors of English castles and have now nestled in under rough but solid oak beams, their fine woodwork made even more exquisite by the contrast. For the grand piano, we had to clear one whole room, just because it deserves it. Pictures of our families jostle for space with my husband’s ancient book collection, dating from the Edwardian era. More than once, I thought I saw my husband’s great-grandmother standing at his side, a hand on his shoulder, while he plays. Must have been mistaken, can’t always trust my eyes.
I also have a thing for vintage porcelain and linen. In the summer, I while away many a Sunday afternoon at an annual flea market or at a local brocante or antique shop. I love the indestructible feel of heavily-starched table linen just as much as I love the lavender smell of pure cotton embroidered bed linen. Don’t even get me started on old porcelain (preferably Limoges) and embossed silver cutlery. How many times have I stood, fixated on the spot in the merciless summer sun, with a gorgeous silver cake slicer in my hand and wondered who “DT” or “VHK” or “MvdA” might have been?
Furthermore, collecting vintage words makes me absurdly happy – any all the languages I am privileged to speak. Take the word “scurryfunge,” which means to quickly tidy your house between the time you see a neighbour and the time she knocks on the door. Isn’t it absolutely adorable? And ” condiddle,” which means to convey away secretly. “Callipygian” means having a well-shaped or finely developed backside and “chatillionte” which means delightful. It comes from the French chatouiller – to tickle. I have an extensive collection of these and nowhere to use them! but reading them and pronouncing them does make me smile, so I am always adding some more to my old word-file.
I do not collect old books, but I never buy new books anymore either. I always buy secondhand and I return the books to be resold once I have read them. Buying books from charity and thrift shops satisfies my need to pay it forward. It is so much easier to spend money in a charity shop because I know my money is going towards a good cause. As I said in my last blog post, gratitude is not enough. It needs to be accompanied by generosity to reach its full potential and expressed as creativity, which is the reason why I am writing this blog post.
Is there something that you love as much as I love old houses, cars, clothes, porcelain, linen and words? Something that could help you through difficult times and make challenging situations easier to bear? Focussing on the happiness that my vintage treasures bring me makes me grateful, and being grateful empowers me. Defining what makes you happy, what you have to be grateful for, can empower you too.