Sunday, January 29, 2012

Decorating With Stories

Perhaps more so than in other professions, people in the Foreign Service tend to visit their co-workers houses when they are overseas.

As an example, when I was in DC, I visited one person's house in a total of four years. I've been here six months, and have already visited four. Plus the Marine House. And I will visit another next week.

There are two reasons for this.

First, you want to see what kind of housing they got. We get very limited input into our housing. You generally tell the housing board kind of what your needs are and they try to assign you to one from the housing pool that meets those needs. Whether you like your house or not, chances are good you will live there for your entire tour.

So with my house, I told them I wanted to be in the city. I wanted to be able to walk to work. And it had to allow pets.

I got all that. And aside from the fact that I hate my (lack of a real) kitchen, I love this place. And since I don't really cook, I can deal with it. Because everything else is great...underground parking, walking distance to the Old City and the Embassy and tons of cool places to see, restaurants, etc. Seriously love it. Even the quirky artsy glass wall has grown on me.

But you still want to see everyone else's place, to make a mental assessment of whether they got a better deal. (I'm four for four...all my colleagues have aspects of their housing that I like better than mine, but none is a total package that I would chose over mine. Big score!)

The other reason is to see where they have been.

One of the cool things about the homes of those of us in the Foreign Service is that the decorations tell a story. We all have the same drexel heritage boring furniture. So we make our houses into homes with the stuff we bring. And what you generally see in other folks' homes is a little from where they are from and a lot from where they have been.

M and I went to a friend's last night for pizza and cards. And to see all the stuff she got from her last tour. She has just tons of interesting nicnacs plus this cool coffee table that rises up so you can use it like a tv tray. Her house, like all of ours, is a record of where she has been.

Ours, for example, has lots of carpets from Azerbaijan. Plus some paintings we got there, including the famous (to us and our friends) cow painting. M and I walked into a gallery in Baku and basically didn't agree on anything. Except this one painting. She thought it was loaves of bread...and upside down.

I said, no honey, its cows.

After some debate, she agreed with me that is was cows...we both liked it for its whimsy. And the PAO there, who was also an artist, proclaimed that it was meant for us to have that painting. so we took it home. In the states, it hangs over our fireplace. You can see it in the picture below. Here, it gets a prominent place in the living room.

Like that painting, each thing has a story. The carpets remind us of shopping in the Old City, drinking tea with the merchants who were willing to let you take the carpet home and see if you liked it in your room before you bought it. The butcher block table with the Armenian tile-work inlay that I had custom made by the Armenian artists in Jerusalem brings up stories of walking that table through the Old City of Jerusalem, and of working with the tile maker to make it just perfect. There is a Palestinian tile tray my local staff in Jerusalem gave me, or the carpet we picked up on a vacation in Turkey with friends from America. Like these things, most everything that decorates our home has a story. And like our home, most everyone in the Foreign Service decorates with stories.

I got a new story to decorate with this week.

Our local guards each come with interesting stories of their own. One studied at the Moscow Conservatory and is a gifted musician. And another is an artist and Reiki master.

To look at him, you might just think he is an old grandpa who has been a guard his whole life. But this week, our CLO organized a showing of his work. He described his work with Reiki and how he uses the energy he sees and feels in his artwork, drawn in beautiful pastels.

And one piece particularly appealed to me. It was a smaller piece called "Ullatus" or "Surprise." The bright yellow orb surrounded by flowing purples and radiating pinks and blues just drew me in. The picture doesn't do it justice.

It currently sits in my office, and no doubt at my next post, will be one of the stories I decorate with.


Nomads By Nature said...

So true and beautifully written!

The Warpiper said...

I laughed at the comment about your kitchen, because we have had numerous seasoned FSOs and spouses say that our kitchen here in Vietnam has to be the smallest they have ever seen in the FS! It is literally a closet. We should compare pics. (I can get my whole kitchen in one snapshot, no panaoramic needed!) That said, the plusses of our housing far outweigh the negatives. Besides, in Vietnam, if you are inside your housing long enough to ponder how small your kitchen is, you just aren't taking advantage of this place. (Of course we do have 365 days of summer.)

Digger said...

I can get my kitchen in one shot too, though the room it is in is gigantic. It is an open concept apartment, so the kitchen, living room, dining room and foyer are all one open space. The kitchen is on one wall. It is pretty (the owner of the apartment is an artiat) but not super functional. And very little storage.

Digger said...

But that is all the more reason to eat at all the great restaurants here and eat the leftovers later (since we do have a small mixrowave)

breemarie said...

We can really relate to this post too! Some of our stories are framed photographs by Elia Kahvedjian and khanjars from Saudi.

Mara Rae said...

Great post, and something to keep in mind when we move. It's tempting to just put everything in storage, but I know we're going to want SOME stuff that reminds us of home. And of course some stuff that will help compensate for the FS furniture!