Edmund de Waal · 368 pages
Rating: (28.6K votes)
“With languages, you can move from one social situation to another. With languages, you are at home anywhere.”
“How objects are handed on is all about story-telling. I am giving you this because I love you. Or because it was given to me. Because I bought it somewhere special. Because you will care for it. Because it will complicate your life. Because it will make someone else envious. There is no easy story in legacy. What is remembered and what is forgotten?”
“The problem is that I am in the wrong century to burn things. I am the wrong generation to let it go.”
“Stories are a kind of thing, too. Stories and objects share something, a patina. I thought I had this clear, two years ago before I started, but I am no longer sure how this works. Perhaps a patina is a process of rubbing back so that the essential is revealed, the way that a striated stone tumbled in a river feels irreducible, the way that this netsuke of a fox has become little more than a memory of a nose and a tail. But it also seems additive, in the way that a piece of oak furniture gains over years and years of polishing, and the way the leaves of my medlar shine.”
“Yangi, a philosopher, art historian and poet, had evolved a theory of why some objects - pots, baskets, cloth made by unknown craftsmen - were so beautiful. In his view, they expressed unconscious beauty because they had been made in such numbers that the craftsman had been liberated from his ego.”
“There is something about that burning of all those letters that gives me pause: why should everything be made clear and be brought into the light? Why keep things, archive your intimacies? Why not let thirty years of shared conversation go spiralling in ash up into the air of Tunbridge Wells? Just because you have it does not mean you have to pass it on. Losing things can something gain you a space in which to live.”
“He stands with his hands in his pockets, well-dressed and self-assured, with his life before him and a plush armchair behind him.”
“Even when one is no longer attached to things, it's still something to have been attached to them; because it was always for reasons which other people didn't grasp...' There are the places in memory you do not wish to go with others.”
“And someone turns out the lights in the library, as if being in the dark will make them invisible, but the noise reaches into the house, into the room, into their lungs. Someone is being beaten in the street below. What are they going to do? How long can you pretend this is not happening?”
“This is the strange undoing of a collection, of a house and of a family. It is the moment of fissure when grand things are taken and when family objects, known and handled and loved, become stuff.”
“Stories and objects share something, a patina...Perhaps patina is a process of rubbing back so that the essential is revealed...But it also seems additive, in the way that a piece of oak furniture gains over years and years of polishing.”
“And rather impressive – I want to be bourgeois and ask how you find time for five children, a husband and a lover?”
“I do not know where Viktor and Rudolf were taken. I cannot find the records. I never Elisabeth or Iggie.
It is possible that they were taken to the Hotel Metropole, which has been sequestered as the headquarters of the Gestapo. There are many other lock-ups for this flood of Jews. They are beaten, of course; but they are also forbidden to shave or wash so that they look even more degenerate. This because it is important to address the old affront of Jews not looking like Jews. This processing of stripping away your respectability, taking away your watch-chain, or your shoes or your belt, so that you stumble to hold up your trousers with one hand, is a way of returning everyone to the shtetl, stripping you back to your essential character - wandering, unshaven, bowed with your possessions on your back. You are supposed to end up looking like a cartoon from Der Stuermer, Streicher's tabloid that is now sold on the streets of Vienna. They take away your reading glasses.”
“The house wasn't theirs anymore. It was full of people, some in uniforms and some in suits. People counting rooms, making lists of objects and pictures, taking things away. Anna is in there somewhere. She has been ordered to help with this packing-up into boxes and crates, told that she should be ashamed of working for the Jews.
And it is not just their art, not just the bibelots, all the gilded stuff from tables and mantelpieces, but their clothes, Emmy's winter coats, a crate of domestic china, a lamp, a bundle of umbrellas and walking-sticks. Everything that has taken decades to come into this house, settling in drawers and chests and vitrines and trunks, wedding-presents and birthday-presents and souvenirs, is now being carried out again. This is the strange undoing of a collection, of a house and of a family. It is the moment of fissure when grand things are taken and when family objects, known and handled and loved, become stuff.”
“So this is how it is to be done. It is clear that in the Ostmark, the eastern region of the Reich, objects are now to be handled with care. Every silver candlestick is to be weighed. Every fork and spoon is to be counted. Every vitrine is to be opened. The marks on the base of every porcelain figure will be noted. A scholarly question mark is be appended to a description of an Old Master drawing; the dimensions of a picture will be measured correctly. And while this is going on, their erstwhile owners are having their ribs broken and teeth knocked out.”
“It makes me wonder what belonging to a place means. Charles died a Russian in Paris. Viktor called it wrong and was a Russian in Vienna for fifty years, then Austrian, then a citizen of the Reich, and then stateless. Elisabeth kept Dutch citizenship in England for fifty years. And Iggie was Austrian, then American, then an Austrian living in Japan.
You assimilate, but you need somewhere else to go. You keep your passport to hand. You keep something private.”
“There is something about that burning of all those letters that gives me pause: why should everything be made clear and be brought into the light? Why keep things, archive your intimacies? Why not let thirty years of shared conversation go spiraling in ash up into the air of Tunbridge Wells? Just because you have it does not mean you have to pass it on . Losing things can sometimes gain you a space in which to live.”
“And I'm not entitled to nostalgia about all that lost wealth and glamour from a century ago. And I am not interested in thin. I want to know what the relationship has been between this wooden object that I am rolling between my fingers - hard and tricky and Japanese - and where it has been. I want to be able to reach to the handle of the door and turn it and feel it open. I want to walk into each room where this object has lived, to feel the volume of the space, to know what pictures were on the walls, how the light fell from the windows. And I want to know whose hands it has been in, and what they felt about it and thought about it - if they thought about it. I want to know what it has witnessed.”
“It is a discreetly sensual act of disclosure, showing their pieces together in public. And assembling these lacquers also records their assignations: the collection records their love-affair, their own secret history of touch.”
“You just hope, if you make things as I do, that they can make their way in the world and have some longevity.”
“The vitrines exist so that you can see objects, but not touch them: they frame things, suspend them, tantalise through distance.”
“There is something about the burning of all those letters that gives me pause: why should everything be made clear and be brought into the light? Why keep things, archive your intimacies? Why not let thirty years of shared conversation go spiralling in ash up into the air of Tunbridge Wells? Just because you have it does not mean you have to pass it on. Losing things can sometimes gain you a space in which to live.”
“course, and were part of his life with Jiro.”
“You see in his Le pont de l’Europe a young man, well dressed in his grey overcoat and black top hat, maybe the artist, walking over the bridge along the generous pavement. He is two steps ahead of a young woman in a dress of sedate frills carrying a parasol. The sun is out. There is the glare of newly dressed stone. A dog passes by. A workman leans over the bridge. It is like the start of the world: a litany of perfect movements and shadows. Everyone, including the dog, knows what they are doing. Gustave Caillebotte, Le pont de l’Europe, 1876 The streets of Paris have a calmness to them: clean stone façades, rhythmic detailing of balconies, newly planted lime trees appear in his painting Jeune homme à sa fenêtre, shown in the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. Here Caillebotte’s brother stands at the open window of their family apartment looking out onto the intersection of the rue de Monceau’s neighbouring streets. He stands with his hands in his pockets, well dressed and self-assured, with his life before him and a plush armchair behind him. Everything is possible.”
“I liked the way that repetition wears things smooth, and there was something of the river stone to Iggie’s stories.”
“Charles bought a picture of some asparagus from Manet, one of his extraordinary small still lifes, where a lemon or rose is lambent in the dark. It was a bundle of twenty stalks bound in straw. Manet wanted 800 francs for it, a substantial sum, and Charles, thrilled, sent 1,000. A week later Charles received a small canvas signed with a simple M in return. It was a single asparagus stalk laid across a table with an accompanying note: ‘This seems to have slipped from the bundle.”
“Melancholy had its place. A café.”
“Kövecses radiated the sense of self-sufficiency that comes about when there are lots of children in a big house.”
“propulsion, spewing out smoke, and three-wheeler taxis,”
“Austrian Republic established after the war gave an amnesty to 90 per cent of members of the Nazi Party in 1948, and to the SS and Gestapo by 1957.”
“It would always be a put-on, high school or not, for the whole rest of the world, for the rest of our lives. You couldn’t ever guess who someone was by the way they looked because, good or bad, the way they looked was always just a costume or an act. It was Halloween everyday, for most people anyway, just to feel like they weren’t alone, to belong, just to keep being happy maybe.”
“Sometimes, we have to give birth to our children twice....Once your child becomes the "garbage" other parents are afraid of, you never look at any teen, or yourself, the same again. All you see is the child they once were.”
“No wonder tragedy wields the only hammer stout enough to crack the resilient bubble of complacency”
“It seemed the world was divided into good and bad people. The good ones slept better [...] while the bad ones seemed to enjoy the waking hours much more.”
“First ambitions are best. We are less brave later.”
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