Many authors have written about heirlooms. Nicole Krauss—well known for The History of Love—for example, tackles this subject in fiction. In her latest book, Great House, she traces the adventures of a desk. Reading this story, we span generations of fictional characters, following the movements of the desk across continents and historical periods. Author, Edmund de Waal choses to tell his own family history through the history of a collection of Japanese netsuke, miniature sculptures, which survives World War II and which he eventually inherited from his uncle. As his interest grows in the collection, so does his curiosity of the Ephrussi family and their history as the wealthy bankers who emerged from Odessa and made their way to Vienna and Paris. de Waal, turned the story of the netsuke into the best seller, The Hare with the Amber Eyes.
La Tienda, is my bookcase or library. I dubbed it, La Tienda—The Store, for it's original function. The story of this enormous bookshelf in our family dates back only about a decade. How old is the piece, I'm not sure. An antique expert may know, but my guess is that it is at least 50-100 years old. In the brief ten years the bookcase has spent in my custody, it has already managed to acquire a great story. I thought it would be fun to document it's most recent tales in a two part blog post.
My husband and I, love collecting original art works as well as antiques. We are far from connoisseur . Our philosophy is to purchase objects that call to us, object we like. We don't spend a lot of money. We buy student paintes, or pieces from our artist friends we believe in. Our collection is eclectic and quite rustic. Our purchases are not made with investment in mind. Rather, we enjoy decorating our living space with pieces which survived the trials of time and were not mass produced.
Ten years ago or so, we went on a family trip to Puebla. Located about an hour and a half from our home, Puebla is a colonial Mexican city, known for it's numerous churches, it's Mole (a delicious dark, chocolate based sauce) and it's antiques stores. We had just completed building our home and we excited with the idea of buying some furniture. We stumbled upon a quaint hotel/restaurant, which was decorated with Mexican antiques. Jacqueline, my husband's aunt, heard about our outing and recommended the hotel she stayed at, Meson Sacristia de la Compañia both for it's delicious food and fantastic store. We enjoyed the typical Mole and decore and noticed that all of the unique pieces in their collection were not only decorative, but also for sale. There were two beautiful bookcases on display in the dinning room and we fell in love. When we asked about the furniture, we were told that it used to be a "Tienda" or a storefront. Well, not exactly a store front, more like the display case, behind the counter in an old fashioned Mexican general store. When you examine the bookcase closely, you can see that one drawer is labeled, Plumas or pens and another, Estrellas or stars (for star shaped pasta). One of the drawers even contains the original glass, retained the small compartment at the front of the drawer to be filled with beans or pasta, which made it easy to mark the content of the drawer. There are concave sections which functioned as a rest for the front of class containers filled with assorted dried goods.
|The bookshelf as it looked in the hotel|
dinning room when we discovered it. (Click to enlarge)
What we had in mind was converting the bookcase into an entertainment set. Unsure which of the bookcases would fit our family room, we decided to return to Cuernavaca and measure. We took the hotel information and agreed to call back with the measurements. When we examined the space, we realized neither bookcase would fit and agreed it would probably be a crime to remove some shelves to make way for our large screen TV. We called the store and after measuring and remeasuring, on our part and theirs, we ordered the larger of the bookcases for our formal living room instead. Despite the hotel's good reputation, I was quite nervous about ordering a large piece of furniture. After all, this was Mexico, and I was accustomed to at least watch the store pack-up my purchase and send it on it's way, before I left the premises. Yet, we took our chances and purchased what we felt was a bargain Mexican antique. A new piece that size, would have cost three or four times what we paid, and certainly would not have had half as much personality.
|La Tienda, in our Cuernavaca living room. (Click to enlarge)|
To our relief, the bookcase arrived promptly, in two gigantic pieces. It required four men who climbed two ladders to mount the two halves together. To our surprise the bookcase did not fit, it was too tall for the space! Luckily, our trustworthy handman, Don Miguel, found a solution and was able make the necessary adjustments by shaving a layer off the top molding. He also added four decorative lights. Once put together, there it remained, in our Cuernavaca living room for many years, where we enjoyed it mostly as a decorative piece.
By the way, if you like these type of Mexican antiques, I highly recommend the Meson Sacristia de la Compañia. Puebla is well worth the visit. They ship all over the world and are quite trust worthy, so you can even order on-line.
During the summer of 2010 our family relocated to the Boston area. At first, we rented a furnished home, and left our own furniture in Mexico. A year later, when we bought our home in America, we shipped some of our belongings. Deciding what to bring, was not an easy. I knew we needed bookshelves, and it seemed that our Puebla antique would be ideal for the office. The bookcase, which measures about 9x11feet is quite large for most American homes, but the third floor office had space to spare, both height and width wise.
The bookcase arrived with the international movers, in May of 2011. It was one of the last pieces to come off the at the back of the truck. They removed the two carefully packed, bulky halves from the container and asked me to direct them to where this piece of furniture would go. When I replied the third floor, the all shook their heads to the contrary. The foreman explained that what should have been plainly obvious to me from the start. "There was no way, this bookshelf would clear the staircase", he said." He then continued: "Even if it cleared the stairs, it would never clear the two corners in it's path to the office".
|The staircase leading to my office and a view|
of the narrow hall and corner the
bookshelf had to clear.
(Click to enlarge)
The stairs! I had forgotten about the stairs. I was so excited that the office ceiling was heigh enough for this enormous piece, that I didn't take into account the narrow stairs. The movers who detected my distressed, questioned if the bookcase would come further apart, which I confirmed it would not. They even suggested bringing it through the window, but when we looked at the tiny dormer windows, this creative possibility was immediately nixed. Disappointed, we made a quick executive decision and left the two large parts of the bookshelf, packed and stacked against the back of our new garage.
Once we settled into our new home, we debated what to do with the Tienda. Maneuvering around the gigantic package in the garage was extremely tight and uncomfortable. I called upon a family friend who is very handy and good with carpentry to examine the problem. He took one look at the antique furniture, and highly advised against trying to disassemble it. "The old wood" he explained, "was held together by antique nails. Don't touch it," he said and suggested we sell the bookshelf.
The bookshelf did not fit anywhere in our new home. Shipping it back to Mexico was very expensive and out of the question. Sadly, I therefore resolved to part with the bookshelf. I sent an email to all of our family, friends and acquaintances informing them I was looking for a home for this special antique and offered them first dibs and a low price. I posted on facebook and listed it on eBay as well as Craigslist. When that didn't work, I called consignment shops in the area. When they heard the dimensions they all declined the bookshelf, claiming no one wanted such big furniture.
We were stuck!
To be continued.....