Monday, February 15, 2010

Rave: Chamber of Wonders

By now, readers, you will be quite acutely aware that I am a special breed. My many rants and raves should have alerted you to the fact that it takes a unique man to play house with someone like me.

Enter the Resident Manimal (RM). This delightful young man (whose moniker reflects his half man, half fearsome beast genetic makeup) has, for the past 10+ years, deemed me worthy of shacking up with. This photo series proves exactly why we are perfect for each other:

This is how we behave when left alone near a display of viking helmets.
The Manimal:


Obviously, in order for anyone to find living with me feasible, they must have some strange quirks themselves. The Manimal does perform strange old-man stretches in the shower, he also wears ladies slippers and loves nothing more than wrestling men with fungal infections in his free time. Aside from these foibles, however, the RM is a doyen of respectability and glamour. He has an eye for the finer things in life.

Our palatial pad is his canvas; within its confines he has been toiling on his chef d'oeuvre, the jewel in his crown: the Chamber of Wonders.

The RM's quest for a Wunderkammer all began a few years ago, when we were visiting the fair city of Baltimore. Nestled within Charm City's gritty bosom is The Walters Art Museum. The RM and I were wandering around this edifying institution (he actually enjoying the art, me surreptitiously planning a heist of the Lalique collection) when we stumbled across a room that would change the course of our decorating lives forever:

According to the internet, "Cabinets of curiosities (also known as Kunstkammer, Wunderkammer, Cabinets of Wonder, or wonder-rooms) were encyclopedic collections of types of objects whose categorical boundaries were, in Renaissance Europe, yet to be defined." Back in the olden days, instead of defining himself by rolling on dubs, or buying some bolt-ons  for his lady friend, a man was defined by what he could collect and display.

The more curious and demented an item, the more money, power and social connections a man obviously had. Not everyone could procure a Unicorn (read: Narwhal) horn, or a mummy. The only requirements of a chamber of wonders-worthy knick knack is that it either demonstrates human gumption, or is a natural cynosure.

This perfectly explains the credo which underpins our own personal "theatre of the world". It is within our own living room that my husband has amassed his own collection of curios and oddities. Indeed, each one certainly defies categorical boundaries. I will detail them below.

Firstly, our collection is confined to our living room, specifically the set of shelves that Manimal constructed with his bare hands.

Looks like your average, deer pelt-adorned living room, no? Well, look a little closer and you'll see some objets nonpareil.

First up: a 100,000,000 year old dinosaur tooth! Yes, this Spinosaurus Aegypticus was nice enough to donate his chomper to the Wunderkammer. T-rex or someone should have furtively slipped old Spiney some Whitestrips. Yikes, cut down on the coffee dude!

Next is an old camera with one of those flash bulbs. I'm sure the Manimal could tell you what type of camera this is. This is one of those items in the CofW which will become increasingly more "wonderey" with time. When we can take pictures with our robot eyes, people will look upon this as an adorable relic of simpler times, like dignity or being able to read.

This next item caused both an argument, and a particularly uncomfortable 5 hour drive. The Manimal first peeped this "find" at an area yard sale in our nation's capital. In a perfect storm of concurrence, the RM was deep in the bowels of a maritime fixation. He had been tirelessly ploughing through the entire Patrick O'Brien series, and was casually dropping nautical terms into everyday conversation.

Clearly I was not present when he ran across a full-sized ship's wheel in someone's driveway. If I had been, someone might have been able to ask stupid questions like, "Where the fuck will we put a giant wooden ships wheel?" Anyway, the RM not only purchased this lodestar to folly, he also persuaded our free ride to cram it in to his hoopty, contributing to a painful journey home.

After floating around some display ideas (ranging from a "medieval chandelier" to a "door adornment" (?!) ) the RM finally settled on mounting it on one of our walls where it stands today as a valued member of the Chamber.

The RM also has a bizarre fascination with old farm machinery, office furniture and musty prosthetics. Unfortunately, his collection of fake limbs and his Ebay-sourced glass eye remain in our storage unit awaiting a day when the CofW moves into a room which I do not walk through daily. However, you may feast your eyes on a pair of old shears which serve as a nod to the RM's brief foray into farm life (ie. he wrestled a sheep).

On the wall adjacent to the ship's wheel is the result of some big game hunting. Also, the Manimals' childhood armor acts as a perpetual reminder of the need for constant vigilance and chivalry in these modern times.

This bull whip was given to me as a gift by my step-father. He originally presented it to me to use at work to keep the kids in line. I think I'll wait till I'm tenured to give that a whirl. In anticipation of that great day, it resides in the Chamber.

And, finally, I have saved the best for last. This little gem is no longer available for purchase in my beloved homeland because it has been deemed "tasteless". For those of you unacquainted with Australia, this is like England saying something is too repressed, or my Dad refusing to eat a cheese because it's too stinky. It simply does not compute.
We invented vulgarity and tastelessness. Our Prime Ministers, the elected leaders of our country, have vacillated between setting world records for speed drinking, to groping the Queen's bum.

*An aside.
Allow me a brief digression, readers.
When I was growing up, Australia's politicians used to be awesome. One I allude to above is the Hon. Robert (Bob) Hawke who, while at Oxford, drank 57 ounces of beer in 11 seconds (!), a record which he still held while being our Prime Minister.

Another excellent Prime Minister was none other than my favorite politician of all time: Paul Keating. Sir, you are welcome to cameo on this blog anytime you wish; your rants are astonishing. The fact that they were most often unleashed during Parliamentary Question Time elevates you to God-like status in my mind.

One of my favorites:

"Now listen mate," [to the Minister of Sport, who was proposing a 110 per cent tax deduction for contributions to a Sports Foundation] "you're not getting 110 per cent. You can forget it. This is a fucking Boulevard Hotel special, this is. The trouble is we are dealing with a sports junkie here. I go out for a piss and they pull this one on me. Well that's the last time I leave you two alone. From now on, I'm sticking to you two like shit to a blanket."

Shit on a blanket! Oh Paul, what a simile!

Keating also said this of political reporter Laurie Oaks:

"Laurie Oakes [is] a cane toad."

Which is a great insult, and segues beautifully back to the last item in the Wonder Chamber.

So, as I was saying, Australia has no basis by which to deem anything unsavory. It is who we are, dammit. This item is far from unsavory, in fact I would deem it aspirational.

The RM and I procured it while on the search for the ugliest souvenir we could find, whilst on a jaunt to the Southern Hemisphere. In Sydney, we walked in to one of the city's many tourist shops completely unaware that we were in the presence of the greatest item in the entire world.

As I mused over the inherent hilarity of kangaroo scrotum coin purses, Sacha stumbled off toward the back of the store. Amongst the dusty lanolin creams and emu jerky he locked eyes on to this:

No your eyes are not deceiving you, that's a stuffed cane toad clutching a miniature bottle of Johnnie Walker with one arm, and a jazzy cane in the other. This photo only hints at his distinguished bearing, and his regal countenance which permeates our apartment with an air of sophistication.

We almost did not get him, as the man at the shop, who kind of looked like this:

seemed very reluctant to part with it. I still think one day I will clean the toad a certain way causing it to come to life and grant me wishes, eventually exposing my greed and destroying my life.

However, Manimal remained calm, palmed the guy an extra fiver, and became the proud owner of the keystone of his collection.

And so ends the tour of the RM's favorite diversion. The beauty of this agglomeration is that it preserves some of the universe's best bibelots. In the future, I hope we will still take a moment to tether our bubble cars and inspect the memory theaters of great men like the Manimal.

Hic sunt dracones

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