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The tea cups are what I remember. Those damned tea cups. They were glass cups sitting in metal exteriors and all in all were a disaster for the one who likes to hold their cups of tea without getting burnt. Yet there they were, year after year for my life and who knows how many years and lives before me.
She loved to host, especially in the front room, so who can really say how many lips have pressed against those glass rims, with fingers burning, holding. The windows were old, not double glazed but that didn’t matter that a slight breeze could enter because you were never still. Boredom was a fantasy beyond the reach from ordinary people in that room. Boredom was impossible when tea was poured, and conversation was flowing. She used to say politics, sex and art were the only things worth talking about and she very rarely swayed from that belief.
The room was lined in paintings, all originals, oil on canvas painted by her colour-blind father. She spoke with a tone that wasn’t proud but more demanding you to understand the facts of the feats. Bragging wasn’t necessary, just present the facts and let them speak louder. The books all sat on the shelf spanning the length of the wall, only broken by the small gas heater. The books were alphabetical and without reading them individually, told the tale of a life of a woman on a quest for knowledge that held strong with her beliefs for what was interesting in life.
The building's core would shudder and shake as a bus or tram outside would rumble by. The walls were yellow from too much smoke. She had recently painted a wall with the original white paint, but now it stood out and she said she had to smoke more to apply the true colour for her room. She was a firm sentimentalist with no regard for the modern. With her fingers she ripped the filter from the cigarette and smoke it raw.
She would have to pour the cups over the rug because the pot leaked at the joining point between the pot and nozzle but nothing as minor as that deterred her. It was not broken and didn’t damage the rug.
Ina’s accent was thicker than the smoke of the cigarettes that curled into the air. With a pointed finger she dissected modern society without fear of modern repercussions. Sitting tilted in her arm chair, leaning on her right elbow and holding the cigarette in the same hand. ‘You see, Wim, he died the right way. It was one night after a meal in Paris that he went in his sleep. That’s how I want to go. On my 80 th after a big meal, fall asleep and..’ she moved her hand in a way to indicate the finality of her statement.
‘How old are you now?’ I asked.
‘So we still have a few years then.’ She looked at me and smiled with an air of derision.
‘That is the way to go though, and he knew,’ She started again, ‘it was a five-course meal by a lake. Tourists wouldn’t know it, but I do. We had five courses and Basher sat under the table, taking all that we dropped for him. That night Wim went to sleep, the dog on one side and me on the other. No hospitals, no doctors just how it should be. I couldn’t be sad, how could I?’ Her eyes were stern and her voice held steady and it almost made me sad to think of the strength the Dutch believed they had to maintain. I have lived a war, she would say, and it was as if the war had destroyed all sense of romanticism within her. Life was just a frank existence that bore out in front of them. Magical as life was, it could only exist within the constructed box. However, there is something about her, about the way she recalls her memories. It is as if she is stirring the settled dust of a life that she now considers complete. She had found her true love and lived it, and now it was over and that was that. There was to be no second love, no partner inside this life beyond Wim. For her love was the memories she held of a life that no longer existed and that was okay because it was a life she lived, and it was her memories that dominated her thoughts and conversation.
‘I always say to Ans, you can’t die til after I have gone’ continued Ina, laughing as she did, ‘because there is too much stuff in this house. This has been the home of Wim’s parents and they bought it back in 39’ before the war. Well over the years it has changed but it is our house. I can’t bear to throw out something because of the memories. When I am gone the building has no meaning, but while I am here I have the memories.’ She pressed her two fingers that were holding the smoking cigarette to her temple as she said this. ‘Ya, it’s true that when these pieces are in the second hand shop someone might look at them and think, that is nice, to my furniture, but the memories live with me.’
I nodded thoughtfully at the sentiment with a brief consideration to the true unknown history of the world that was concealed within the inanimate objects that surround us. A world of concealed secrets held to a code that was unique to the holder. Materialism existed in attached memories, not in the objects worth, but the personal that was attached. This made it transcend its material use and instead hold the memories that we may forget. One glance and a wealth of thoughts and visions would be spurned from the settled dust and come alive once more. The tea cups were more than just glass cups with metal trims. They were an existence that passed with every conversation, every film on television or newspaper reading. They were an extension of a life well lived.
Ina always talked about the
great men and women of history
and what they had achieved.
The words fell from her mouth
with such a precise ease that
told me she truly revered the
accomplishments of the known
as a success.
I would much rather go down
in history unknown and with the
love Ina had. To have the luxury
of sentimentality attached to
worthless pieces of furniture
was the telling of a story that
life had not been wasted.
Those damned tea cups.
Alexander is a writer and photographer. As an artist, Alexander strives for truth in whatever form that takes. Minimal if any editing to his photos and writing as honestly as he can, he hopes his art will inspire those to slow down and appreciate the life they live. With a masters in Ancient History - Archaeology and Research loves to immerse himself into different cultures and understand them.
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