It’s 10pm; Do You Know Where Your Bowls Are?

Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.

Where we are: Puebla, Mexico, one of the great food cities in this country of great food. Puebla is also known for its pottery, known as Talavera. Don’t mind me; I’ll just be over here gorging myself on chilaquiles, and coveting the table settings.

I wrote the following last year, while we were in Morocco.

On Bowls

It has been interesting, over the last few years, to watch my relationship with things change with my environment.

When we were downsizing, one of the challenges I kept bumping up against in our house was bowls. We had a LOT of bowls. Maybe we just ate a lot of bowl-dependent food? Soup and oatmeal and pudding are three of my favorite things. Bowl food.

But we had to get rid of all those bowls. They were mostly hand made, pottery we had collected, one piece (or eight) at a time, individual pieces of art that made me happy every day. I remember feeling a little bad about the work and creative energy that had gone into all those bowls, knowing that we were just offloading them all like a stack of old newspapers or a pair of worn-out rubber boots. They went to good homes, of course, but I let them go with a vague awareness that the letting go was easier than I’d expected.

Now I eat out of whatever bowl is available in whatever airbnb we’re in, or at a hotel breakfast buffet. I barely notice the bowls (except in Tbilisi, where our apartment only had two bowls—and 32 shot glasses). Mostly, though, a bowl is just an unremarkable vessel for oatmeal. I don’t need it to be anything else.

Most days, my bowls are just a vague memory. I rarely think about them, except occasionally, when I’m looking at a display case full of bowls in a museum.

I challenge you to find a museum that doesn’t contain at least one bowl. They’re what we humans make, what we collect, what we leave behind, and what we assign value as artifacts. They’re everywhere. Gold, silver, bronze, porcelain, wood, clay, marble, brass, alabaster, china—you name it, I’ve seen bowls in a museum made of it.

Sometimes I go to a museum and take pictures of bowls, just in case. My thinking is that if I ever unexpectedly start to miss my bowls, I can console myself with pictures of meaningful, important bowls, the kind that connect us to our shared human history. The reality, though, is that I text the pictures to Lee and make jokes about how I used to think giving up my bowls would be a loss, rather than the freedom it has actually been. 

I tell myself it’s emotionally healthy, that I’m a proper minimalist, that I don’t need any more than what I can carry. That I’ve found nobler sources of beauty than the greedy acquisition of stuff that marked my old life. That I don’t need retail therapy—I can go to a museum, any museum, and gaze fondly at all of human history, summed up in bowls. Most days I believe it.

But really, who am I kidding?

I’m walking around Essaouira drooling over babouches and lamps and little boxes decorated with this spectacular handmade marquetry. I want them all.

Mostly, though, I want the bowls. Stripey bowls and flowered bowls and bowls with every intricate, swoopy geometric pattern you can imagine. Pink and lilac and turquoise and apricot and the palest daffodil yellow. Tiny little bowls with perfectly matched miniature spoons, for salt and pepper, perfect for a spring dinner party. Big bowls that would hold the dough for bread to feed a family—my family—for days. I WANT ALL THE BOWLS.

From my writer’s notebook:

Last October, a multinational operation (called Pandora III, which I think is kind of awesome) targeted the illicit trade in cultural artifacts, confiscating something more than 18,000 items (some of which must have been bowls).

What’s interesting about this, in my mind, is the methodology: undercover officers “searched auction houses, art galleries, airports, archaeological sites and private residences . . .”

That’s not exactly Indiana-Jones-style swashbuckling, a fact which I find intriguing. Mysteries are all around us, right under our noses, just like bowls.

(Quote from The Art Newpaper; if you want the full citation, let me know. If you want to point out my lazy lack of proper MLA format, don’t bother—I’m aware, and I’m still lazy.)

Take care,


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