Thursday, October 23, 2014

My rather unfortunate armoire (part 2)

In our house we watch a lot of documentaries and docudramas about WWII in Europe…or perhaps I should say that these shows are on because someone else is watching them and I am not paying much attention to them because I am cooking, knitting, or doing something more interesting.

These shows often feature the requisite scene of Nazi officers in the occupied chateau or manor, sitting around the dinner table drinking the owner’s grand crus and smoking his cigars. Less often they show noncommissioned officer and barrack scenes, but in quest of authenticity, these scenes do sometimes appear; after all, the Wehrmacht was not solely composed of high-ranking officers wearing Hugo Boss.

Recently, while watching these barrack scenes; I began to have doubts about my beloved armoire. Fleeting glimpses of furniture in the background looked suspiciously like the corner of my bedroom.

Not having a French version of the Antiques Roadshow to which I could drag my armoire I did the next best thing: I went online and began searching…and searching…and searching.

 I typed any number of combinations of “ww2 armoiremilitaire allemand” and found pictures, lots of pictures. My formerly so-cute-full-of-history armoire had become a Wehrmachts Spind…yikes!

This armoire for sale has been fitted out with carved butterfly panels, much like the carved ships on my armoire, to hide the vents on the doors.

Back of the armoire with the butterfly panels. Note the military mark just below the vents

Back of my military mark but same vents...

Interior of the armoire for sale, note the piano hinge on the door.

 Interior of my armoire, same piano hinge on the door.

Latch detail on the armoire for sale.

Detail of my armoire where the original latch has been replaced with a decorative key lock. (which, according to the placement of the holes left behind, looks to have been similar to the latch on the armoire for sale)

After the German defeat, the French appropriated the things left behind by the Wehrmacht. I've seen blockhouses of the Atlantic Wall turned into museums, garages, living spaces. Why not?

Now I know that my armoire has a history, it is just isn't the history I originally imagined.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My rather unfortunate armoire (part 1)

One day, shortly before moving into our apartment in the Villa Parisienne in September 2009, I decide we need an armoire. The apartment has no closets, I grouse, how about driving up to the Braderie de Lille after we move in? The Braderie de Lille, held the first weekend of September, is reputed to be the largest citywide flea market in Europe; surely I can find an armoire there. But then I broke my foot and the thought of walking for hours on crutches to find the perfect armoire is not very appealing.

So by a warm, end-of-August Sunday we drive to the Puces de Vanves, a flea market I far prefer to the Puces de Clignancourt. Its rather friendly size is certainly easier to do with crutches. But after hobbling the length of its two streets and not finding the armoire of my dreams I am ready to head back to the car. We pass a dealer who is taking things out of a van parked on the corner.

Then I see it. It is reasonably sized, it is quite battered and it calls out to me. It is MY armoire.

I casually sidle up as best as I can on my crutches; no need to seem anxious, it can drive up the price. The armoire is stained dark brown. The doors are decorated with carvings of ships.

Deep scratches run down the front of the right door.

 I imagine the armoire belonging to a sailor, the scratches from his parrot as he clambers to perch on top of it. On the back of the armoire a faded card is thumbtacked: “Mle Cailleux, 44 rue de Belleville, Paris 20e.”

The dealer sees me examining it and mentions that the scratches can be easily covered with “brou de noix” (walnut stain). No, I say to myself, the scratches, the stains, the imperfections, these are what make it unique. This armoire has a history…little do I know what kind.


Cent cinquante euros.

I look it over one more time and offer a hundred. He counters with one twenty-five but only if I pay cash. The armoire doesn’t fit in the car but he offers to hold it for a couple of days, until we pick up the van we’re going to rent to move our things to the apartment.

So for three years, in the Villa Parisienne, the armoire holds our clothes. When we move to La Luna, the armoire first holds sheets and towels. We now have the luxury of real, albeit small, closets for our clothes. I buy other armoires for our linens and decide to fit this one out for accessories and sweaters. I wonder if I should refinish it, I wonder if I should paint it, I wonder if I should put new fittings in the interior. After all, the bar for hanging the clothes is rather oddly placed and not very practical…

(to be continued)