A small one-week feature on what happens when we clean our houses. What bubbles to the surface. What reveals itself to be true. What our junk says about our current state and next steps. What the season does to us.
Yesterday was the first day of Spring, and accordingly, because our temperaments wouldn’t allow us to do otherwise, we “cleaned house.” I’ve put that in quotation marks because I refer to a rearrangement of our personal effects that had to do as much with mental health and domestic peace as it did with uncluttered space. Families are messes, by definition, and every now and then you, as a collective, have to try to redefine yourself if only temporarily.
In the process, I located a basket of “small things” I have been keeping for years. These things are mostly books—small enough to fit in the palm of my hand—which have a certain significance to me. One is about live oak trees. Another about Dutch tulips. One is the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. Another is an antique pocket manual of the arrondissements of Paris. There is also a keychain of great symbolic, personal importance. And a deck of cards—Le Jeu de Marseille.
My husband gave me this deck of cards some time ago, knowing that I was interested in Tarot cards. I don’t do Tarot readings, nor do I ask for them, but I am fascinated (as an observer) by the pursuit of the metaphysical and by the very graphic—often beautiful—iconography associated with it. The Jeu de Marseille was the re-invention of the Marseillaise Tarot deck, by André Breton and other surrealist intellectuals, who were in exile in Marseille during the 1940’s. In March 1941 they “re-drew” the traditional colors/categories with the flame, the black star, the bloodied wheel, and the keyhole which signified (in order):
These were the abstract forces that seemed most important to them at the time, and I write them here, apart, because as I see the words isolated in white space, I realize that they are also the words of our time and our current struggles.
The face-cards (royalty) were replaced with historical or literary characters of importance to the surrealists in the group, each of whom was responsible for choosing and designing two. Instead of Kings, Queens and Knaves, there are Génies, Sirènes et Mages (genies, sirens and wizards) and they include Baudelaire, Freud, Hegel, and Pancho Villa. (I wonder who we would choose, if we were to re-draw this deck today?)
Wikipedia gives a detailed explanation of these cards, their origin, and their deeper significance (in French). But what interests me is the power of such objects to inspire an immediate reaction in me, even if I don’t understand them fully. They speak of a past that seems present. Of concepts that have only gained in importance. Of desires and ideals that remain unfulfilled. And of the immense role of chance—despite our best efforts—in creating both destruction and delight in our lives.
I am also stunned, sifting through these cards and the other objects that occupy the basket with them, that the detritus of my life, once thoroughly American in origin, is now a mix of American (in the broad sense), French and Italian, with references to my year in Amsterdam and my own roots in the American South. To be continued (as all house-cleaning is)…