I was born a collector, and not only of mens’ hearts, my dear! Long Island, NY was as rural as it got for me being a city kid growing up in Manhattan. When visiting my grandmother out there, I’d make my family take me to yard sales, flea markets, and church sales in this suburbia where people had the space to hoard treasures.
I still have some things I bought from long ago: a beautiful old shot glass I keep rings in, neat jewelry from the 70s or older, an art deco mirror from the 20s, old compacts from the 20s and 30s, furs from the 40s, and so on. I still peruse thrift stores, flea markets, and antique stores when I travel or happen to have free time. Being a cheap thrill, it truly is one of my favorite things to do. One can really get a good feel on local people by looking at their used crap.
My last trip to New Orleans this past summer was filled with last rites crucifixes. A funny item to notice, but being a connoisseur of flea markets and thrifting from Paris to the rural American South, I had never seen so many all at once and everywhere. I believe my focus on these religious items and my fascination with them is due to the fact that I was raised laissez-faire Presbyterian in liberal New York. Basically, my early religious influences were not very influential at all. I snuck out of a service or two as a teenager to make out with a boy at an unsupervised apartment while our parents were still in church, but that was as intense as my “religious” upbringing got.
Being raised with a very WASPy idea of religion, you know, midnight mass on Christmas Eve when everyone’s drunk on eggnog or martinis…religion was more mandatory weekly routine and social versus fire and brimstone. There was definitely a Christmas mass where the whole church went silent, minus me hiccuping. But, let's get away from those tame protestant Christmas Eve masses and back to my odd fascination with Catholicism and their neat accessories.
My mother was raised Irish-Catholic and gave me her old rosaries as a kid. Who knows why she did this (probably too superstitious or sentimental to throw them out) but I became sort of obsessed with Catholic items and ritual. I asked her all sorts of questions as this seemed way more supernatural and riveting than being a boring protestant! Confessional? Incense? Nuns?Totally exciting! I could write a whole piece on my fascination with nuns alone.
Anyway, this gets me back to last rites crucifixes. Due to my peculiar fascination with Catholic rituals and neat accessories, I was thrilled to be surrounded by all these last rites crucifixes during my New Orleans trip. If you don’t know what they are, they’re large wooden crucifixes where the top slides off the bottom base and exposes a hidden compartment that is designed to store holy water and candles. One is supposed to stick the cross in a middle groove to keep it upright and place candles in the holes that frame the cross.
Last rites crucifixes are a portable altar, if you will. It is my understanding that Catholics used to break these out when someone was very ill and/or dying hence the name “last rites” or “sick call” crucifix. I don’t know of anyone who has ever used one except some guy who said he used to stash weed in one as a teenager.
It seems to be a practice of days long gone. So wandering around antique stores in New Orleans I got to fantasize about their French Catholic roots (and last moments) as I browsed through antique and vintage treasures heavily mixed with Catholic relics. I’m usually on the hunt for jadeite, Order of the Eastern Star rings, vintage native American turquoise jewelry, Tutmania-inspired jewelry from the 20s, and things that resemble whatever winds up on my Etsy favorites list.
I am familiar with most of the typical wares that wind up being sold second hand as I have been treasure hunting this way for ages but I like to sniff out the rare and unusual as I get a taste of the local culture. Another way I like to get a feel of the local culture is by going to local grocery stores, or Wal-Marts in America, which are great for people watching...but that’s a whole other blog. Let’s just say that I find pharmacies and army surplus stores in Europe really neat. Did I mention that I took anthropology in college? I truly have a deep fascination with people and culture.
I guess my interest in peoples’ backgrounds, histories, ancestry, and stories are part of why I enjoy this vocation so very much. I get to interact with a great cross-section of people from all over the world and I love hearing your stories. I have a deep fascination with the history of those who cross my path. One of my favorite activities, especially growing up in New York, is looking in people’s windows. I must admit that I am a sexual voyeur and this turns me on greatly. But my main motivation for being a peeping Tom was more about my curiosity regarding what others had in their homes.
What color did people paint their walls? Did they still have vintage wallpaper up? Was their tenement kitchen remodeled or was the tub still in there? Are they hoarders? I would wander the streets and wonder about the status of people unknowns’ rent stabilization. I especially love prewar apartment buildings in New York with their moldings, light fixtures, and glass doorknobs (swoon).
For several years after college I was a geriatric social worker in lower Manhattan with home-bound elderly. It was fascinating stepping into time warps daily. My clients ranged from Park Avenue spinsters, Holocaust survivors, WWII vets who liberated German concentration camps, to Stonewall rioters. I got to see and hear it all. Social work was the ultimate window into people's lives and homes. Second best are estate sales, which are really neat for this nosy prurience as they really let you get a handle on who a person was (or who they wanted you to think they were) based on their lifetime of materialism.
So if we ever go on trip together, know that I will desperately want to go antiquing. I love museums but antique stores are more thrilling as you truly get a feel for lives past. In an uncertain future, materialism has become less important to me. I am satisfied with what I own and I am grateful to not be plagued by the soul-sickness of wanting and coveting. I feel blessed to not suffer in this way currently. I got the ’78 Honda 550 I wanted for years, you know? I am grateful for what I have and I want what I have. I sometimes fantasize about a tall black Chanel cerf tote but trust me, I am able to go about my daily life without it. The problem with making more money is that one’s tastes become more expensive. That said, I still have no interest in Harleys!
At this point, browsing markets is more of an anthropological study and curiosity than it is a desire to acquire more belongings. That material hunger is mostly satiated. What I long for currently are experiences that I have wanted to do for years, such as explore Japan or experience the areas of Great Britain where my ancestors lived or go on a ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat. Maybe exploring Tantra and Kundalini more or doing Forte Femme women’s dominance weekend with the venerable Midori.
Of course I would love to share experiences like traveling to Asia, caroming around Ireland, or jetting across endless uninhabited country on the Trans-Siberian Railway with you. I love trains and road trips as I find looking out the window a rather dreamy experience when not stuck on some boring American highway. I definitely prefer back roads and going off the grid. So, feel free to start fantasizing about a Ramona excursion and we’ll see if we can make it a reality. I'm passport ready, so start packing your bags...
Funny, I was going to write an entry about collecting records (part of why I am desperate to go to Japan) but this entry took a whole other turn…hope you enjoyed it regardless!
Your Wanderlust Mistress,