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When we got married, almost thirty years ago, my husband and I lived in a unfurnished Jerusalem apartment. Although we managed for quite some time with our new double bed and one kitchen chair (obviously we didn't do much cooking!), the incursion of friends and relatives into our social life engendered the need for far more flexible furnishings. Seduced by fantasies of Scandinavian style, we ordered an entire household from a catalog so contemporary it was rumored to be obsolete even before it was published. The furniture traveled unscathed from Gothenburg to Haifa, traversed the coastal road to Jerusalem, and climbed four flights of stairs to our empty flat. For days, like nutty Norsemen, we assembled bookcases, wardrobes, tables, and chairs, stopping only to sit down on woolly Rya rugs and survey our domain. Later we settled into the lanky, lithe lines and dreamed of lingonberry jam.
As the years passed, we filled our shelves with books and possessions that were new and beautiful, then older, then well loved, and then simply well-worn. From country to country, from kid to kid, the nubby fabric of our dining room chairs triumphed over much more than lingonberry jam. Recently, though, it had become difficult to ignore the fact that the brave beige berber was losing its battle against camouflaging four kids' worth of gravy smears and occult peanut butter. To make matters worse, most of our friends no longer had children at home and were now living in palatial off-white domiciles filled with breakable artwork. It was getting harder to convince ourselves that visitors might consider the dog spots on our rug part of a contemporary pattern.
Like homing pigeons pitifully misprogrammed by Nanook of the North, we set off once again to that image of youth and agility, the Scandinavian catalogue store, now an international icon burgeoning all over suburban enclaves in the US and Europe. After a few new rehearsals of our thirty-year old routines on driving and navigating, we found ourselves again ensconced among pages of perfectly designed lifestyles. Now a building instead of a catalogue, the store spewed its multifunctional monochromes across a suburban mall like a Scandinavian Martha Stewart.
Iong, low couches sat artfully next to recliners that were fluid fusions of form and function. We smiled warmly at each other as we approached the newer version of the chair we had assembled thirty years ago. So many pages and pregnancies had worn the wales of that soft corduroy. I smiled as I lowered myself into comfort reincarnate. Luckily I had Old Faithful along to join my reverie or I'd be sitting there still. There was no way my fifty-two year old spine could ever raise itself out of that chair. Laughing, we moved along to an enormous black sofa stuffed with down. Surely this was balm for the time-battered bottom. We sank into the welcoming cushions. Before long, we began to realize why they call it "down". Within the hour, a prepubescent salesperson came by and pulled us up onto the floor.
Like most in our cohort, I believe in the integrity of Social Security, the necessity of comprehensive health care, and the eradication of racism and ethnic or lifestyle prejudice. I adamantly endorse the importance of universally affordable and accessible education. And, just like many other qualified candidates who address these critical issues, I have absolutely no clue about viable solutions.
Next came the dining room tables and chairs. Like Goldilocks, we disqualified more than not. Walking quickly past beds too low, shelves too high, fixtures too flimsy and artwork too anonymous, we came to a bittersweet awareness. We had outgrown our welcome in the young, trendy lifestyle we had chosen thirty years ago. Lines that were lean and lanky were fine when we were, but we needed a new style that was robust and resolute. So much had happened in thirty years that we could no longer order a life out of a catalogue. We had too much color, style, and shape of our own to fit into a prefabricated pastiche.
Armed with the colors, shapes, ideas, and ambiance that we love, we hit the eclectic streets of New York City. From a Russian Jew in Brooklyn we ordered a modern dining room table now being made for us in Canada. We argued about the chairs of course. I liked the lean Italian leather; he thought them too spare. I compromised, which is an elegant way of saying that after almost thirty years, I don't mind occasionally letting him choose first, as long as it doesn't get to be a habit. Then we scurried through Chinatown (my chopsticks practically ignited an ember!) to examine every shop in the lighting district on the Bowery. A handblown Italian glass fixture should cast just the right light on our family gatherings. And what kind of shoppers would we be if we couldn't find something we liked in the largest carpet store in the world? Only on Broadway could you find a roomsized rug shlepped all the way from Tibet!
He drove most of the way home and I complained. Then we switched roles. What a ride. All thirty years of it.
Written by Marcia Brown Rubinstien
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