Monday, November 24, 2014

Once Upon a Bag

I love this bag, I stumbled upon it at a small obscure shop in the heart of Pune. I'm a sucker for nostalgia. That's why I like period dramas so much. In my old cupboard, in a cozy little balcony-turned-room, back home, I have a bagful of memories - trinkets like handmade jewellery, painted stones and shells brought home from beach-trips, photos, notes about and from old crushes and newspaper cut-outs of my favourite stars, among other things. It's my childhood at-a-glance. There's also a small collection of quirky buttons, because I thought stamps and coins were too passé. Then there's the still growing collection of bookmarks. In that cupboard there's another paper bag from when I first went make-up shopping with my sisters and stored in it are all the greeting cards I've ever got. Can you imagine, I have a bunch of friendship bands from way, way back when, pages from sappy old diaries and snippets of fabric cut and saved from favourite old clothes. I was a cheesy kid, awfully romantic. That girl is gone, but like I said, I'm a nostalgimaniac (just made it up) and kind of a closet hoarder. I like to believe objects store memory. And one of my pet hobbies is fantasizing about history.

I'm also a sucker for bags. Not dainty purses, huge - ginormous - bags. I have about ten at the moment, which for someone who rarely steps out of the house to buy stuff, is a lot. My nostaligimania (yes, I love this word) is one of the reasons I bought this bag. It was perfectly wistful, wonderfully odd and just made me want to find out more. (It is chunky but prettier than in the photo.) The bag has earned the strangest of looks, much to my amusement; but it does get quite a few intrigued compliments in college, which make me realize how in-the-right-place I am here. I mean, today at the train station, this guy called me over just to tell me he liked my bag. Cute.

The image is from a painting of St. Catherine of Bologna, the patron saint of artists, an artist herself. I love it when I find surprise connections between books and other things in my life. I recently read a curious book about a young artist called Rainey Royal by Dylan Landis. That's where I'd first heard of Catherine of Bologna. Here's the excerpt:

The patron saint against temptation sits straight-backed in an Italian convent as if mortised into her chair, and she is dead, dead, dead. Her name is Saint Catherine of Bologna, and nuns have been lighting candles at her feet since Columbus asked Isabella for those ships.  
Rainey Royal, in the reading room of the New York Public Library, peers at the photo in the book so closely she can smell the paper. Her shiny hair spills over the page. Saint Catherine is not just about temptation: she's the patroness of artists, for Chrissake—just what Rainey needs. She thinks they could be sisters, five hundred years apart. Rainey is an artist, and she embodies temptation. 

Wisps of smoke from centuries of candles, she reads, have stained Saint Catherine's hands and face mahogany. In the photo, the saint wears a gargantuan habit, her nut-colored fingers laced in her lap. Rainey wears a halter top and holds a dry clay egg in one hand and a silver teaspoon in the other. 

While she reads, she burnishes the egg with the back of the spoon on her lap.  

In her mind, Rainey lifts the musty black fabric. She looks up Saint Catherine's legs. She sees this: not an old lady's crinkles but the lucent flesh of a fourteen-year-old virgin. One morning, Cath walked out on her rich foster family, with its tutors and grooms, and offered herself to the nuns.  In the cloister, Cath will never listen at night for the marquis padding toward her through chilled marble halls.  Why Cath endured that setup at all is because her own father sent her there, to serve the marquis's daughter. There's always a man, right?

The painting is of some significance, it seems. It is apparently a rare sight for a donor's daughter and wife to be represented in a painting as well. It's those two women who are present on my bag, I wonder if this is of some significance also, or just a random selection of fair painted ladies.

Another dear-to-me trinket worth mentioning is a slim blue copy of Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, which I found at local book sale, with a short handwritten anniversary note in German on the first page, from 1970-something. Precious.

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