On my morning walk around Lake Avondale today, I found myself thinking about the summer of 1974. That summer, I took my first trip out of the US. I had saved all my birthday and babysitting money for years to travel to Spain with a group of fellow high school students to spend most of the summer living in a dormitory at the University Complutense in Madrid. We had Spanish classes in the mornings, roamed the gritty city in afternoons, and in the evenings discovered sangria and discos with the oh-so-sophisticated Spanish college students that shared the summer campus. In July of that year, Francisco Franco fell ill, and we spent several anxious days on emergency standy-by to leave; our group leaders worried that his death would spark campus riots and nation-wide upheaval. That August, we sat up late one evening to watch President Nixon speak, and resign. We were stunned and then mocked by our Spanish Professor the next morning. “ You are tired today? Americans, so strong!” he said curling his cardiganed arm and pumping his fist.
It was not the much commemorated anniversary of that resignation that sent me into nostalgia today, but rather Holland Cotter’s great piece in the New York Times today in which he “curates” a show of the art and architecture that changed his way of seeing through the years. In “A Lifetime of Looking, Magically Recovered,” he imagines gathering all those discoveries in an exhibit chronologically arranged according to his life, beginning with Vermeer’s The Concert, a painting he discovered at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston while he was a college student, a painting which sadly was stolen in 1990 and is still missing. He takes us on a tour of the African masks, the Haiga Sofia, the installations and sculptures and other finds that shaped him, ending with a description of the Great Mosque at Djenne, Mali seen in changing light through a day and into the night.
So, as I walked around the lake this morning, I began to think of what I would collect in such an exhibition, but perhaps since I have been a gatherer of thrift store items and market finds rather than an art critic for the New York Times, my thoughts turned to the summer of 1974 when I first travelled and purchased my first travel souvenirs. That summer, aside from gifts, I bought a damascene pendant that I believe is scratched but is still in the bottom of my jewelry box, a now spotted white embroidered shawl which I am certain is in a trunk somewhere, a set of six etched wine glasses (three of which survived my college years), and a talavera plate and cup. The cup now holds pens and such on my desk, and the plate is stacked in a cabinet with other plates and platters more recently collected and more recently used. These were very serious purchases, chosen with utmost care and teenagerly consideration of what it meant to own such things, to be judged by these choices. I remember acutely the feeling that I was defining myself by these early purchases, that I loved them, and that I had begun the adult process of making a home by choosing these objects on my own.
Thankfully, I learned to take myself and my purchases much less seriously, but I do recognize that the summer of 1974 set me on a path of travel and shopping that has enriched my life these last 40 years and more than filled my house.
So, dear readers, dear fellow collectors, what were your first adult purchases? Do you still have and use them or have you cast them off and begun again? — Ann