Whoop Whoop, These Summer Days of Bobbsey Twins and Vintage Gold Glasses

I woke up feeling chipper today. Was it because I was in a state of almost intoxicated sleep where I drifted in and out thinking, here I am getting out of bed now, but there I was, still in that beatific place? Or, was it because my husband appeared suddenly to lift me straight out of bed and deposit me in the bath? I could not tell, but the latter is rare commodity nowadays with Adi wading incessantly through a bottomless pit of work (on his part, the impetus would have been decidedly his morning dose of blended cold coffee).

Strangely enough, it is also one of those mornings when my body feels unaccountably light and frothy, ready to whiz up the intimidating Kanchenjunga (I told you, some kind of foolish and manic goodness this), or even brave the mugginess inside a cheese factory to churn cheese. If you have been inside of one of those, you know it is a feat. If you have not, imagine a steam room where you would not last more than 10 minutes. Or actually, you could just imagine plodding through the streets of Calcutta/Chennai in summer. Strange because it is the time of the month when my hormones do their crazy dance, and I feel far from dancing, more like curling up with a book into a ball of misery.

To not drive my male readers into the farthest corners of the universe, let me get on with the pleasant discoveries of this season. My sister-in-law was visiting us, sans family. She had heard from a friend about the antique towns of New Jersey. Imagine our chagrin. We have been here two years, and yet, we had no blooming idea about their existence.

It is thus that we found ourselves an hour away from home in a town called Lambertville.

Lambertville. When my sister-in-law read its name out loud as an antiquing town upon the Delaware river, my mind started twirling. Intimate cafés, leafy streets, sprawling antique stores, people ambling through a riverside town…We drove into this town that I had conjured in my mind. As delightful as Cirencester in its antiquing prospects. With as large antique stores that made the heart flutter with the anticipation of experiencing past pleasures.

The Lenni Lenape Indians lived in Lambertville before it was colonised. After the land was bought off them, the first resident of the town was a gentleman called John Holcombe. This was sometime in the early 1700s. Why is it not called Holcombeville then? Well, in came a family next. The Coryells. They developed a portion of the town and even started a ferry here, which was subsequently used by George Washington and his men, when they were quartered here during the Revolutionary War. But was it called Coryellville, or even Georgetown, as the Coryells wanted, after one of their sons who served in the New Jersey forces? No sir, no. The honour went to the Lambert family who swished into town a century later, in the early 1800s. The Coryells seethed, but that is all they could have done anyway, stewed in righteous indignation, because John Lambert was a New Jersey governor. And as we know, politicians are politicians for a reason.

The sky was chirping blue that morning, and the sun, it shone with no cares or clouds to mar its radiance. It was the kind of day when the Delaware glistened like a sheet of gently rippling mossy green, in no particular rush to be anywhere else.

People of the ‘Gram, be warned. In Lambertville, you lose your mind.  Historic mansions and brick row houses straddle its tree-lined streets. The architecture is Victorian and Federal in style, at once so classic and lovely that you want to walk in and declare one of them to be yours from this day on. The small churches with their aged visage and stained glass windows evoke awe and even the cafés are housed in period properties along quiet bylanes.

I went batty inside the antique shops. At one, I lay my hands on a pair of gold, wire glass frames. They were delicate, prompting me to picture their former wearer as a twittering old lady with powdery, white hair. Then there were some tatty Bobbsey Twins numbers I grabbed greedily. The chatty woman at the till informed me that they were from an old estate she had been to. She also told the elderly man she was conversing with, “Like this young lady, this generation loves everything old. All these things I buy at auctions, especially books, they are snapped up.” At this point I butted in: “Umm, I am not really as young as you make me out to be.” The man nodded wisely here and said, “Best not to go there.”

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We continued to flit from store to store in a leisurely manner, by the end of which Adi flopped down at a bench outside a cheese boutique selling farm-fresh cheeses — and declared that he was Done. Oh, but were we? After nibbling on some sharp cheeses, we found a Turkish man selling Azerbaijanian, Kazakh and Turkish carpets and bags, and my sister-in-law was stoked by her finds. It was the perfect day for rummaging through interesting wares and cracking good bargains, and may I add, forgetting credit cards behind at aforementioned Turkish shops. Which meant a thunderous husband, and later, Turkish sweets from the man who returned the card to Adi. Here I have to slip in surreptitiously that I also forgot my phone at home. The suffering was all mine. All those photographs waiting to be clicked. Sob. Naturally I have to borrow them from Adi, but he is on a constant stream of calls, so I shall have to leave the beauty of the artist town of Lambertville to the workings of your pretty mind.

But before I leave, it would be amiss of me not to mention the old canal that runs alongside Lambertville’s old railway station. The canal that was laid out by thousands of Irish immigrants in the 19th century till a wave of cholera swept through town. Most of those poor labourers lie buried alongside this canal where people stroll or bike today on long, summery days. Odd to think of these stories that stay concealed behind the most serene facades.

I wish that this was all. For Adi was knackered. But why be satisfied with one bohemian town when there may be the promise of another lurking around the corner? In our case, right across the Delaware and the bridge sitting astride it, was the town of New Hope. Naturally, we were thrilled to bits. Two artist villages for the price of one. We had struck gold.




Antique Hunting in the Wolds

Unworn. That single word inked on the tag hanging off the white wedding dress stared out at me. It was priced at 75 quid and possibly a size 12. I don’t why but it spoke to me of heartbreak, unless no one bought it, in which case it would have been heartbreak for the designer.

The stories that a dress can tell is for the imagination to conjure up. I read this book once, one of those feel-good stories, where a woman inherits a vintage dress shop and finds little notes of stories behind the dress tucked into each ensemble. I was quite struck by the notion. How wonderful would it be to walk into a shop and read about the kind of memories the former wearer associated with the dress.

So I took one more look at the dress, inched closer, careful not to let my bag swipe anything off the tables around (and give the husband an attack of the nerves with a bill of broken antiques) and examined  the satin silk. It really was exquisite. When I pondered about the ‘unworn’ bit with the husband while we were returning home, I swear that he said this: “She was hacked to death.” That just put paid to all my romantic thoughts.

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This post is not about unworn wedding dresses though.

We were in Cirencester (more on the town in the next post), a town in the Cotswolds, last weekend and my favourite part of the day was exploring an antique shop which has been run by the owner for the last 20 years.

It was about exploration as I walked into that old building, full of wooden beams and textured walls. I climbed the narrow stairs past ledges that had rustic vegetable carts sitting on them, some a little askew. The rooms branched off, taking me into further nooks and crannies where more and more old junk popped up. The view from the back of the building was of the church and the graveyard and it was quite so poetic to look up from a random bunch of old postcards and find them in my line of vision. This was it. I had hit jackpot and I could have carried it back home if drab matters such as practicality and price could have taken a hike.

I made a full fledged go for it, stalling in corners and examining old lamp shades, rifling through yellowed pages of beautifully bound books, staring lustily at books sold in elegant piles with faded roses atop them, card boxes from the 1920s, samovars from the 19th century, copper cider measures. Wait, what was an otter doing here? A donation from the Leicester museum? That might sit for an eternity inside the shop. I would have to make someone buy That if I had any plans of acquiring this treasure trove of a shop.

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Nifty little chest of drawers
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The dilemmas of every writer he spoke for in the introductory lines. John Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress.
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Could we get a truck to carry these back home?
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A French card game from the ’20s
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Rusted lanterns. They remind me of the ones we used in my childhood home in Calcutta. They used to shed some light during extensive dark evenings of power cuts.
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See what I mean?
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Isn’t this lampshade so lovely?
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Why would anyone want to spend money on an otter snarling at them?
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A copper samovar circa 1800 as the tag says

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Warm corners, pipe-chugging-and-letter-perusing old men and cider measures

Some snatches of conversation that I could not help overhear.

“When I was in a poorhouse, I had one of those…” (from the corner of my eyes I saw a woman in a neat dress suit walk by as she said these words to her friend).

“Oh, look at this table. Touch the veneer. Rosewood and Victorian. Wouldn’t you love one of those?” (middle-aged man in a blazer with his woman friend as he took a round of the table and ran his fingers over the edge of it). I heard this one as I turned around to a glass case and shuddered. Black and blue bugs stored in several glass jars. And a cheeky one – a skeleton upturning a bottle of alcohol for a few last sips.

“That tie! And wait, is that a tie pin?” This took place at the till where the customer, a man with a shock of white hair and the look of an absent-minded but clean scientist, pulled on the tie of the owner of the centre standing behind the till. “I love the tie pin! Now I would not blame you for pressing manhandling charges on me, sir.” Sir gave him the amiable grin of a seller.

Supreme satisfaction in a single store, guaranteed.