When I lived in Madrid, I had a friend who collected building façades.
These weren’t just the well known landmarks like the bright red bricks and decorative paintings of the Plaza Mayor, the imposing white, wedding-cake like tiers of the Palacio de Comunicaciones or the complex scrollwork of the Palacio Longoria (which was ruined, anyway, in those days, by ugly air-conditioning units.) No. These were the kind of façade you can find on any street – if you’re paying attention.
We’d be walking through the city together and be brought up short by some particularly pleasing brickwork, a set of neatly symmetrical balconies, a dramatic doorway or traditional wooden portal. Even plain concrete could have the power to stop us in our tracks if it stood firm and unashamed. We’d pause and look. Then, “That’s one for my collection,” Tom would say.
The first time he said it, I’ll admit that I was confused. But I soon got the hang of things. And now, though it’s been many years since we lost touch, I still stop and look at buildings and wonder whether Tom has claimed them for his yet. And I’m not just talking about buildings in Madrid.
The thing is, of course, that he had nowhere to keep the collection, so having made a mental note, he’d just leave the building where it was and go on with his life. It was a bit like donating the collection to a museum so the general public could enjoy them, too.
I think the idea of collecting things, what we decide to collect, and what we do with the things we collect, has interested me for a while. The first article I wrote for my Capital Letters column in The New Entertainer, back in 2004, was entitled Collectors and Collectibles.
It was written in early autumn, at the start of the new school term, when all the newspapers began new series of giveaways and a host of new “collectible” series went on sale at the newsagents.
The essay starts:
“When I was a kid, I collected things. So did just about everyone I knew: all kinds of things, from bubble-gum cards to Star Trek memorabilia, from footballers’ autographs to stamps. For many of us our first collection was an important step in the process of growing up: it was a way of defining ourselves as different from others, and almost every collection I remember shows something of the individual nature of the collector.”
You may of course, be wondering what the photos of mushrooms have to do with a discussion of architectural façades or with an essay I wrote nearly twenty years ago.
The thing is, over the last few weeks, I’ve been collecting mushrooms. It’s been perfect weather for it, with lots of rain and then sudden sunshine, and I’ve found a whole lot of them of all different kinds.
Sadly, though, I’ve no idea what most of them are, and I have no idea if they are edible, hallucinogenic or downright poisonous. And so, rather than actually picking them, I’ve “collected them” like Tom did with his building façades.
In fact, I’ve gone a step further, as I’ve taken photos. Maybe Tom would have done the same if there had been mobile phones and digital cameras back then, though I think perhaps not: the pleasure was in keeping the collection in his memory for access wherever and whenever he wanted it. I, however, have a lousy memory and a blog to write.
So, having taken the photos and gathered together a varied collection of mushrooms, toadstools and fungi, I’ve left them where they were, for others to enjoy.