I walked past this shop nearly every day on my way to my favourite cafe. It was called 'She Loves Feathers', and the window display was always beautiful. I never went in, though. Shopping drains me, from chatting to the assistant, to trying on the clothes. I love clothes, but I hate buying them.
However, as I passed this shop last week, I was reminded of the article I'd read about it in our local paper the previous day. The owner of the shop had died in January, the article said, and the contents of the shop were her legacy. Intrigued, I ventured in. It was the usual overwhelming mass of stuff that I find hard to sort through, let alone want enough to buy. I was about to turn around and leave when my eye happened upon a matching set of leopard print luggage, and a pink sequin carry-on bag. 'I want that', said my brain. 'That's exactly the kind of luggage I've always dreamed of.' I always feel better when I have something to concentrate on. The noise and commotion of bargain hunters around me faded as I examined the luggage. The handles worked and the lining was in tact. The pink carry-on bag was durable and strong. And yet ... something in me hesitated.
Over a bowl of minestrone, I pondered. The reasons for buying it: this was my dream luggage, the bags I had always wanted. And at half price. It was meant for me! The reasons against: Because somehow, when it came down to it, this didn't feel the way I had thought being with my dream luggage would feel. And that was because it hadn't been just the luggage I was dreaming about. It was the life - which I can barely recall now. One reason we fixate on material objects, perhaps, is because other details are often too subjective and fleeting to recall.
It probably had something to do with summer in the south of France. Not the South of France as it is now, but that of the 1930s, when Colette lived there in a little house by the sea with her lifelong housekeeper Paulette, when almost no one had heard of St Tropez. It had something to do with the Gare du Nord of the same era, when Nancy Mitford's incomparable heroine Linda Radlett burst into tears on the platform and was picked up by a Count - who turned out to be the love of her life. In short, the dream luggage had turned up, but not in the correct reality. A reality that I had to accept was never going to happen to me now.
And not just because it was set in the 1930's. After all, we all have a shot at creating our own realities, and I'm sure there are some women, somewhere, living a reasonable semblance of that life, with rustic beach cottages and romantic rendezvous. But also because I was embedded in this reality - mired in it, you could say. Living in a small country town, mother to a dependant little boy. Writing, cooking, playing in the garden. It's not a bad life - in fact it often feels like a really great life. What's more, it is the fulfilment of many of my dreams. But it comes at the cost of NOT living out my other dreams. And it feels like reality, with all the squalor and compromises and dailiness reality entails.
Unlived dreams remain so pristine. The life that luggage represented for me had no grime or daily work to do in it. No sadness or pain. And now here was the luggage, and I had to accept that if I bought it I would be bringing it home with me to my life. It wouldn't be taking me there to that life, which I guess, had been my childlike understanding.
But I am 42 now, and in many ways, for the next many years at least, my plans are set. It was now or never for the dream of the leopard print luggage, and so I went in and bought it. The proprietor helped me take it out to the car. It had belonged to his girlfriend, he told me. The one who had died. She had come out to live in this area two years ago from America. God had told her to come here, her partner told me. She was a woman of great faith. And so she opened her shop, met this man, her partner, and for two years they lived together very happily. She didn't tell anyone when she arrived that she was very ill.
She had three rules, he told me. 1. Always tell yourself you are beautiful. 2. Always tell other people they are beautiful. 3. Never let anyone speak badly about anyone else in your presence. She'd had a healing, he told me, in Brazil with John of God. 'Why did she die, then?' I asked him. The answer came to me instantly, as if she had spoken in my head: she was healed. She wasn't afraid and she lived out her dreams. But we all have to die one day. Driving home I felt proud to be the new owner of her luggage. Perhaps she'd used it to start her new life, in Australia. Perhaps for her, too, it had represented a dream.
When I got home I looked at myself standing with it in the mirror. It didn't suit me, I realised. Its loudness made me feel uncomfortable. It didn't really reflect my taste. It reflected a dream I'd had that was outdated. All those myriad possibilities I used to dream about have given way, now, to the path I have chosen. I am more limited, but I am also more defined. And if I hadn't bought that luggage and brought it home, I might not have realised I didn't want it any more.
I don't want to keep harbouring dreams that will never happen, and some of them are much more seductive, and wasteful, than the leopard print luggage. They can act as pacifiers, draining me of the energy I need to change what needs changing. Or they can act as distractions, taking me away from the very real happiness and achievement available here for me now. I want to accept and to understand what I have, and what I am, and to do that, it sems to me, I need to clear myself of illusion.
At the same time, though, those dreams were a part of who I was, and who, in a way, I still am. I love that girl who could lose herself so utterly in the aesthetics of another time, or so completely in a story. And so I think I will give that luggage a spin. Partly in respect of their previous owner, Teri, or Dyon as she asked people to call her here - living out the rich tradition in these parts of choosing a new name. And partly to see if perhaps by using that luggage, the dream it used to represent might morph somehow into something that does still speak to me, or somehow bring me into alignment with that old dream.
I intended to take a photo of the luggage and post it here, but in the spirit of mid-life realism I may as well accept I'll never be that organised, and instead this is a photo of one of my favourite authors, and an inspiration for so many of my dreams, Colette.