My dad inherited his father’s business which, if not exactly what he would have wanted for himself, was highly profitable; so he spent most of his adult life dealing in bone china and precious crystal. I grew up in a house filled with them and, to this day, I can tell a Daum from a Baccarat or a Lalique a mile away, a useless talent that came in handy when, one Sunday afternoon in Palm Springs, I discovered a Wedgwood set at the back of a consignment store. No longer in production, and matching the one my mother has, which holds memories of many a meal, I realized the asking price was just a fraction of its market value – it now sits in my pantry and gets taken out for every special occasion.
It turned out the original owners were an elderly couple who had moved to a retirement home and put most of their possessions up for sale. I would like to think that, even though they could have gotten a much higher price had they known about eBay, they would be happy to know it went to someone who appreciates its beauty.
But, in my everyday life, it’s much humbler pottery I am drawn to. There used to be an amateur pottery sale in LA every year, where I would pick random items that caught my eye: a garlic jar, a citrus juicer, a single tea cup with tiny stars and planets. I have mismatched plates and bowls from a Venice potter called Luna Garcia, whose laboratory is a veritable treasure trove of “seconds”, pieces with tiny defects that can be had for a bargain.
A little while ago I was looking for a birthday gift for a friend, and I happened upon “General Store” in Venice, one of those trendy places where the beautiful, the thin and the tanned shop: it was easy to see how each piece was carefully chosen, handcrafted, manually dyed or woven, with price tags that would not make you think twice, but four times, before a purchase.
At the center of the store, there was a small display of pottery pieces, bowls, plates and what looked like pie tins which looked so lovely, I had to put my sticky fingers on them. Rough on the outside and smooth on the inside, in delicate sand and blue grayish hues, they were heavy but, simultaneously, zen and essential. Upon enquiry, I found out they are made by Delphine, a French woman who lives and works in East LA, whose company is aptly called Humble Ceramics.
I couldn’t resist and bought one for my friend, in that selfish way I am sometimes known for: buying objects I like for other people, with no clue they will actually find value in them. For the longest time I thought that gift-giving had to involve the taste and preferences of the recipient, regardless of whether I saw any beauty or functionality in them. But I am now veering more towards the idea that giving a gift is akin to giving a little piece of who we are to someone we love. Even if, by so doing, I am single handedly supporting the re-gifting business (and pissing off my step-children).
Whenever I am hunting for a gift, I rarely think “it would be perfect for so and so” but, rather, “how does this fit in our relationship, is this something that yokes us together?”. The answers that bubble up are surprisingly revealing.
All images C&S