29 Nov 2010

Little Treasures (Part 1)

What I am about to show you here are a few examples of what I call 'little treasures'. Now I will be straight from the outset and, in doing so, I might disappoint a few romantic expectations. The little treasures in question are no hypothetical family jewels, precious stones, gold coins, antique figurines, Ming Dynasty ware, muskets, coveted paintings or other items associated with mythical pirate booties, royal collections, museum displays or inheritance gains. My little treasures have no monetary value (I am pretty much sure of that) despite the fact that most pottery pieces exceed 100 years old.

So how did pottery (crockery) - as that's what it's about - end up the way it did, in smithereens? Your guess is as good as mine. In the context of yesteryear, maybe because the pottery was already chipped, cracked, unusable as such, or unwanted (a minor house clearance of sorts that could include some monstruous-looking vase inherited from an in-law or a departed grandmother's unwanted chamber pot, who knows...).

I wouldn't dare to add that some items ended up downhill and down the pits solely because they had gone out of fashion. In those days and up until post-WWII, only the affluent could justify any form of consumerism translating into the regular purchase of 'replacement' items, as often households would make do and hang on to their belongings, make them last, not replace them on a whim because they had gone out of fashion.

So apart from the unfortunate accident, those final broken pieces would result (doh!) from intentionally throwing out/ smashing a breakable object down the back yard, the side alley, across the path, just outside the house even, wherever. In the old days, waste per se was limited, compared to our modern rubbish-generating throwaway culture: no wasteful plastic packagings, styrofoam cups and the ever-so ecologically-unconscious individual unit format.

Meanwhile country folks were virtually self-sufficient, living off their land, cultures and farm animals. The only waste they actually generated apart from organic waste was those chips of pottery and glass. Everything else was recycled, reused, repurposed, from strings to bits of metal or wood. Mémé's grandma had patched up her old everyday skirt so many times that she was unable to recall the original material! This gives a whole new dimension to patchwork activity, doesn't it?

Having said that, I wouldn't want to rule out the possibility of some of these pieces resulting from house lootings, especially throughout the second part of the 20th century, when Corsican villages suffered from further human exodus, with local populations moving to town or to the French continent for work (if not much further afield), and  reluctantly leaving those old family homes 'to meet their own fate' (shut in effect for 11 months of the year, or just slowly falling into neglect and oblivion as maintenance costs proved too much to bear). I will have the opportunity to discuss this thorny issue in more detail on La Baguette Magique in the coming weeks.

We're all familiar with the saying 'Someone's junk is someone else's treasure', and these little fragments of junk are my unlikely and unassuming treasures. Starting as a child I came across these sometimes beautifully-colourful, delicately-adorned, or rather plain - depending on the catch of the day - scattered fragments of pottery, without even looking for them, plainly visible or just about visible, found while gardening or shifting some stones, in our tiny garden, on the hamlet grounds or just walking down a mountain path.

Everytime I would try to imagine what those pieces would make up if assembled together, that is if a strike of good fortune would enable me to trace all the fragments in the first place, which has never happened. Clues gave me a little insight as the motif on some pieces was the exact replica of an existing crockery collection that we owned, helping me to ascertain that the piece in question related to tableware or even sanitaryware (washbasin, washpot), for instance.

The more rustic glazed plain pieces (brown-coloured on at least one side, see above) are kitchen earthenware: coffee pot, stew pot, bowl etc. Some of those unassuming pieces fetch hundreds of years in age (sadly not hundreds of £ in value, maybe one day!). (to be continued)

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