Saturday, 8 August 2015

Living in the past

I've moved from a modern light-filled apartment in a town to a 36 year-old sombre house in the rural countryside and it's full of surprises from the long-gone past. Houses in France tend not to have any storage at all built in; no cupboards or wardrobes unless it's a very modern building, and even then...

My small personal items that I use each day need somewhere to sit and now they are sitting somewhere hundreds of years old. This week I was reminded that it's the 300th anniversary of the death of Louis XIV the Sun King (5 September 1638 – 1 September 1715); he who built Versailles, aqueducts, waged wars and certainly contributed to the grandeur and prestige France enjoyed for a while.

How odd that my binders and folders, cables and printing paper should find themselves housed in a wardrobe from the beginning of his era (or even the end of his father's - Louis XIII). The planks don't fit together now without cracks but it has all its original  hinges, key, doors. There's a crack in one front door where the Nazis tried to break into it looking for loot. The wardrobe sits beside my desk, oozing history, and I wish I could rewind its story and see all its experiences through the ages. It comes from JC's father's side of the family.

If I look across to the doorway I see something else of historical value. It's a Directorate chair. The Directory was the government of France during the penultimate stage of the French Revolution, administered by a collective leadership of five. It lasted from 2 November 1795 until 10 November 1799, a period commonly known as the "Directory era." It was overthrown by Napoleon. This chair is in good order and is often draped with my cell phone or computer bag.

My books and what's left of my Lord of the Rings figurines are tucked away in an old bibliotheque (bookcase).

The bedroom with my furniture in it contains a wardrobe from the era of King Louis-Philippe (6 October 1773 – 26 August 1850). During this era my French ancestors settled Akaroa, Banks Peninsula - the one and only French settlement of NZ. They arrived in 1840 but would not have been wealthy enough to have had a wardrobe of this quality. It's now full of DVDs and photo albums.

It's all a bit odd having my modern stuff juxtaposed with these historic, antique items. JC's used to having such items - things handed down, things he has bought. One of his ancestors fought in Napoleon's army - there's an ancient 'certificate' to prove it. His house is full of other stuff from the ages of Kings and Empires and I supposed this might still be common in French homes, at least the traditional ones. But no. JC says it's rare now. Most folks in the past had stuff of lesser quality that didn't last. Newer generations wanted belongings that were contemporary. French families are still relatively large and so goods get split between many inheritors.

It didn't take more than a day to get used to living amongst antiques. I enjoy history and it's cool to imagine the stories that could be behind each piece of furniture.


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