Sunday, January 26, 2014

Letting Go: The Things You Take With You and The Things You Leave Behind

The hardest part about giving up the apartment in Bogota is what it meant to me. It was mine. I didn't actually own it --my mother did-- but I had carte blanche to set it up exactly as I wanted. And I did.

The Living Room: Space, Colour, Light, Proportion.
I painted two walls of the living room red. Bold and bright. It made me happy. The color set off the painting by young Colombian artist Jhon Jairo Jiménez Robayo, a brightly coloured yet dark, seductive cityscape that insinuates both excitement and eternal damnation. It takes up the entire wall and probably only works in the space because of the 10 ft ceiling. The view looking the other way in the living room way is peaceful. An abstract by the same artist, inspired by the sea in San Andrés, occupies the entire opposite wall. The light blue cushions on the wrought-iron couch suggest a tropical veranda. The coffee table in the centre was made by ceramic artist Camilo Torres. The living room was energizing looking one way, and calming looking the other. The overall feeling was playful, like living in a child's paint box; primary red, blue, yellow. It had just the right balance.

The Kitchen
Camilo also made the ceramic countertops in the kitchen. To fit the narrow space of the galley kitchen, the counters on either side are 55 cm deep, leaving 1.10 m in the centre. Just enough room. The counters were also my height. Over the counters and under them, I had as many cupboards made as possible. That way nothing ever had to clutter and disrupt the beauty of the countertops. I had a gas stove, inheritance from Jenny, a refrigerator with the biggest crisper drawers and freezer that would fit the available space, a dishwasher that I got by trading Jenny's old refrigerator to Estela, and a wine rack over the pantry. The ceiling rack for the pots and pans was a gift and I loved the way that the cookware looked on display. I had bought the set of pots and pans during the year that I took off from university between my undergraduate and master's degree and I worked in the Housewares Department at Eaton's Cavendish Mall. It was a cook's kitchen with everything perfectly at hand and I loved it.

My Room
In my bedroom the wall behind the bed was hyacinth blue, with a painting by Ecuadoran artist Fernando Toledo. The painting reflects the colours of the Andes. I brought this painting back with me a year and a half ago. The other walls were white, with two black and white abstract nude photographs by Houston artist Paul Talley, which I will take with me on this trip. The view outside the fifth floor windows looks into the tree tops. I called my bedroom the tree house.

The Boys' Rooms
The boys had a similar sense of appropriation of the space. This was the first place where they each had their own bedroom, painted the colour of their choice. Matt's room was blue, and he always meant to paint a mural on the wall, but somehow it didn't happen. He had a lovely collection of cactuses in the window, several of which were inherited from his friend Diego when he moved to Mexico. William's room was red and yellow. He wanted to paint it bright yellow, which can be a bit strident. We compromised on the shade of yellow in his giraffe sheets, a tone thereafter known as giraffe yellow. Red wall, yellow wall, dark blue blinds: three solid color fields, his room was abstract expressionism.

The Things You Take With You and the Things You Leave Behind

I had already brought many of the most precious things with me: the photo albums, the Christmas stockings and cookie cutters, the 1961 copy of The Night Before Christmas with illustrations by Gyo Fujikawa, the cosy fleece blanket that was the boys' crib blanket and became the nap blanket, a few serving pieces from the Carmen de Viboral dishes, the ceramic vase by Cuban artist Zurina Verdaguer.

Things I Am Taking With Me Now
My good cooking knife from the kitchen.
The annual letters that the boys wrote to Santa Claus when they were little.
The copies of the letters that I wrote home when I moved to Colombia in 1989.
The red and green pepper lights that garlanded the pot hanger in the kitchen. Technically these are Christmas lights but I think that every kitchen needs some festive lights year-round and peppers are a proper culinary motif.
I am having VHS home video tapes transferred to DVD format.

The two Jhon Jairo Jiménez paintings will follow eventually. They are large, rigid pieces and will require special shipping. I am not moving them now because I would have nowhere to put them, but having made the decision that I will bring them one day makes me happy.

Things We Gave Away

Previously, I had already sold most of my books, CDs, and gave away a ton of clothes.

On this trip Matt and I pulled the storage boxes out of the attic and made some hard decisions about what to take, what to keep, and what to give away.

The camping gear: The MEC tent and sleeping bag, day packs, folding camp stools (the latter used more at theatre festivals than camping). My worn hiking stick is actually the item that I find hardest to part with. These and my set of specialized baking supplies, a small collection of odd ingredients, essences and tools, went to Sally, my best hiking, theatre and literary festival buddy.

The Christmas tree and decorations. These went to my friend Estela who had never put up a tree. In keeping with Colombian tradition, she always had a nativity scene in her living room. Now she will have both a tree and a nativity scene and I am glad that the tree has "found a good home."

The wooden train set: Over the years the boys had accumulate pieces for the wooden train set. It had loads of track, a bridge, a roundhouse, and several trains. Matt made the decision to let these go. They are going to the Cigarra daycare centre in the Puertos del Paraíso neighbourhood of the Ciudad Bolívar district in south Bogota. Sally's sister-in-law Carolyn sponsors the daycare. It is so well organized and provides an essential service in a depressed part of the city.
The Fisher Price school bus and cars, the foam alphabet carpet, and assorted baby clothes are going there too. Everything will be well appreciated. I can't think of a better thing to do with these.
My knitting needles. Julie from book club got those. She hosts a knitting and quilting circle. Someone will appreciate getting them.

José Miguel had given me the fondue pot as a Christmas present. It has gone back to him.

Estela and Leonardo had given me the large crystal vase as a wedding gift. It is too big, heavy, and fragile to transport. It has gone back to her.


Sharon said to me, "Don't burden your children with things." She is right. The fact that I feel sentimental about certain items does not mean that my children do. In practice though, Matt is more sentimental than I am. We pulled the boxes out of the attic yesterday and spent several hours sorting through them. The process was hard on me, but I think that it was even harder on him. Letting go of the artefacts of childhood cost him. We appreciate things not for their monetary value but for their symbolic significance. The past is what forms our identity and it is necessary to recognize and value things that we loved and lived. William, at least on the surface, is less sentimental about material things. I am bringing him his giraffe sheets and elefantinho. We packed cow in the box to store, along with some of the childhood books.

Getting rid of things can be liberating, but it is also important to pause and appreciate their significance and ask whether the memento should be brought forward into the present. We are the product of everything that we have lived, and the past deserves respect, if not celebration.

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