The provenance of things

This morning I woke early with a feeling of horror. What? What? And then I remembered. Yesterday was our provincial election and contrary to every pollster and general opinion, the promised NDP (majority) win didn’t materialize. Instead, the Liberal party — but not a party like the federal Liberals; this lot is really a coalition of so-called free-enterprisers from the old Social Credit party as well as homeless Conservatives and yes, a few true Liberals — won a big majority, in part by running a very negative and aggressive campaign.

I’ve voted NDP all my adult life. Most of the reasons still feel right. NDP stands for New Democratic Party and in Canada the party occupies the political Left, though it has become increasingly moderate over the years. We have the old CCF Party — the NDP’s parent, under the leadership of a true visionary, Tommy Douglas — to thank for our universal health care in Canada. We have the NDP to thank (and to encourage) for its stance on human rights, agrarian reform (I first became a supporter when I was still too young to vote but attended a meeting at Sancha Hall in Sidney, B.C. in 1972 and heard Dave Stupich outline his vision for the protection of agricultural property in B.C. against increasing urbanization and development of fertile land), trying to increase minimum wage to keep pace with the true cost of living, and increasing the corporate tax rate. The NDP’s focus on workers’ rights, social assistance to those who require it, foreign policy based more on humanitarian aid and peace-keeping than military intervention, made sense to me then and it still makes sense.

So my province feels like a strange place to me this morning. The majority of people want something different than I do, it seems — though at least our riding returned our excellent NDP MLA, Nicholas Simons. And I fear for not just the disadvantaged — our child poverty rates are a disgrace to us as citizens in a wealthy culture — but also for the environment as Premier Christy Clark ran on a platform which was evasive on the proposed increase to oil tanker traffic on the part of Enbridge and Kinder-Morgan and her corporate supporters are not exactly green. Though, speaking of green, acclaimed climate scientist Andrew Weaver was elected last night as the first Green Party member to the Legislative Assembly which is positive. Though there’s only one of him and many more who don’t share his strong advocacy for our planet.

But before the news coverage of the election results came on the television, I watched some of the Antiques Roadshow program which preceeded the news. There were some fascinating objects — a huge Acoma water jar in beautiful condition, a Georgian filligree and amethyst necklace, an unpublished (and signed) preface written by Albert Einstein for a book written by a participant’s grandfather, and three prints given to a couple by Sol LeWitt. Of course the appraisals of the pieces were interesting in themselves, what I found more intriguing were the stories told by the owners of the items. Sometimes the stories, lovingly told, didn’t match the actual provenance of the objects. A big green etched glass bowl, thought by its owner to have come from China, was in fact a piece of art glass made by Steuben in Corning, New York.

While I was watching, I looked around our living room at the bowls and pictures, and I thought of other things we own (and love) which have come to us over the years in strange and often wonderful ways. The Minton bowl I found at the thrift shop in Sechelt last summer and wrote about here, for example:┬áThe Sheffield silver plate coffee pot given to John’s parents as a wedding gift in 1947:

sheffield plate coffee pot

This little plate, brought by a house guest from Turkey, and made by an old potter she said lived in a village enroute from Istanbul, where Maya’s family lived, to the Bosphorus, where they had a summer home. She said she always bought a little piece from the potter on her journey to the Bosphorus, which sounded so exotic to me:

maya's dish

And to take these photographs, I had to turn on the dining room light, which we asked our artist friend June Malaka to make for us in 1989 as a gift to ourselves for our 10th wedding anniversary. Colours, she asked? Design? Something beautiful, we said, with daffodils and Siberian iris, and this is what she made:

june's lamp

So maybe it’s time for a book of household items, each with its story, and a photograph. Not to publish but to pass on to my children. So often the value of something is in its story and how easily those are lost, forgotten. So that a bowl that sat unwashed on a shelf in a thrift shop or a coffee pot with a monogram — did John’s mother friend, who gave the gift, find the pot in an antiques shop with the monogram already engraved or did she arrange for it before the wedding of John’s parents? — enter our lives only partially told, partially complete. I have a small book on Sheffield plate, given me by John’s mother, so obviously she was trying to complete the story of the pot too. And while there are images in the book which are similar to her (our) silver pot, nothing is exactly it.

I bought this book last summer and put it away in a drawer, waiting for the right occasion. It’s from India, from a fair-trade workshop, and its pages are lovely handmade cotton paper, strewn with flowers. A book for the provenance of things. And maybe this morning, the awful memory of how the electorate in my province chose to vote still raw and fresh, is a good time to begin.

the book of the provenance of things