16 Jul 2010

Priceless & Homemade

There are some things that money can't buy. For everything else, there's card, cash, gold bars, Travellers cheques, or bank of mum & dad... The things that money can't buy include those little treasures, allegedly insignificant family heirlooms at large that risk a death sentence with the passing of every generation, memory-ladden hand-me-downs that appear so trivial to those outside the family circle, objects devoid of a price tag, a clear/ obvious monetary value benchmarked against carats, gems, the fine antiques market, artistic worth, art movement, exclusivity etc.

At least two of the three objects I am about to describe here are commonly found in old Corsican homes, including mémé's house, and sadly likely to be overlooked by the younger generations. These artefacts are likely to fare poorly in terms of hard cash on the BBC Antiques Roadshow, nonetheless they are priceless to me, for they embody my family heritage (and that of hundreds of other local households) in its most simple aspect: the humble testimony of a pastoral tradition, of everyday life like it would have been, in its bare simplicity. These objects may 'only' appear to be a disparate collection of wooden bits that some consumerists couldn't wait to relegate to the dustbin (or in a last minute bout of empathy sell off at a jumble fair), but they are likely to 'talk' to sociologists and ethnologists. And for me, their 'talk' is (familiar) music to my ears.

U Spurtellu: a small yet sturdy, rounded and perfectly formed basket, handmade using either myrtus or chestnut wood twigs. My grandma's spurtellu is, I reckon, at least 150 years' old and not a single grey! This little unassuming basket had a clear purpose back in the day (and mostly until just before WWII): used by land-owners and peasants picking olives from their trees, as the first process towards the production of olive oil. The spurtellu was also used as a measure, enabling these local/ cottage industry olive oil producers to keep track of the quantity of olives they had picked. Ingenious and simple, all the same! More recently our spurtellu has been used to bring back fresh chicken eggs from a cousin's garden, or to pick peaches from the tree. It also had its hippie moment in the 1970s, holding an arrangement of dried wild flowers!

Planche à Découper (chopping board): unfortunately I never asked my grandma for the Corsican translation of this mundane wooden kitchen utensil. This one however was clearly hand-crafted using local wood, as opposed to a run-of-the-mill smoothed-down version from the shops. Here you will notice the rusticity of the finished product, the pencil markings and the lack of symmetry of the curves. These imperfections make this unique piece even more endearing indeed! Despite not being a keen carnivore, I cannot help but wonder about all the beautifully fragranced tasty pieces of locally-produced meat that got carved on this block of wood by my ancestors, throughout the last century or so...

Cuillère Souvenir (souvenir spoon): an unassuming example of local decorative craft aimed at visitors and the very first tourists, and designed to be hanged on a wall. I am no antiques expert but would be tempted to date this piece back to the early 1900s. This one holds the particular merit of 'advertising' the village of Rogliano, indicating here some sort of exclusivity as it is quite difficult to find decorative artefacts with village names on. Finding vintage objects bearing town names like Bastia (see close-up of the trinket box, top), Calvi or Ajaccio is much more common. Sadly this little spoon has lost some of its curvature along the years, but in my eye it has retained all of its character and quirkiness. It used to belong to Claire, mémé's dearest auntie, and I would never dream of parting from it.

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