Photography is a hobby that comes with a lot benefits that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. One of which is that you tend to explore areas a little more closely than you otherwise would. Maybe you notice a building, a scene, a peak, a cloud that you wouldn’t have. Or maybe you take a turn down a trail or road that you might not have bothered with. Here in Edinburgh, simply exploring a neighborhood a little more thoroughly as I looked for some good photo opportunities has shown me some things that I am incredibly grateful for having seen. Maybe nothing mind-blowing. It’s not like you’re going to take a side-street and discover a church like Notre Dame. But there are numerous little joys that, just in themselves, would make photography worth it.
A few days ago I stumbled onto this treasure: Unicorn Antiques.
First, I can’t think of name more appropriate for an antique store. What’s more unique, undiscovered, and rare than a unicorn? And who doesn’t visit antique stores secretly hoping to find a unicorn horn somewhere on a back shelf? (No? Only me on that one? Damn.) Seriously though, I think the name captures the intrigue and whimsy of this antique store perfectly.
I can’t say that I’m a big antique person. They’re fun, but I’m no aficionado. With this one, I couldn’t help myself though. I had to see what Unicorn Antiques was all about.
Squeezing through the pathways around its main, cluttered table, I found myself lingering on far too many of the thousands of aged trinkets. Old decanters that had poured a thousand drinks, quills that had scribbled lovers scrawls, silver spoons that had served hundreds of guests. The stories held in each scratch, chip and dent were omnipresent, only waiting to be imagined.
There were two things that I realized as Newton Faulkner offered a perfect soundtrack to those curiosities: 1) often times, your imagination is far better than the truth and 2) I’m finally old enough to touch things in an antique store and not be looked at funny.
I’d love to believe that every dent held onto by the trinkets of Unicorn Antiques had a unique and intriguing story. It’s a wonderful picture to think that those imperfections somehow testified to a memorable or intriguing moment in someone else’s life. It’s more likely, however, that those marks were caused by nothing more than a casual carelessness and a quick descent to the floor. How fantastic would it be if the dent on the pewter hip flask was actually the result of an epic bar fight involving an aging military man with a decaying sense of purpose, an incorrigible yet undeniably clever drunkard and some violent use of a stuffed bull head (won by a courageous matador years ago, of course); or that the chip off the ivory letter knife was caused when it’s impassioned owner slung it into his writing desk, just along its brackets, as he read the letter explaining that his lover had found another? But there is likely only one paint chip in the entirety of Unicorn Antiques with a story so impressive.
How much does the truth really matter though? These objects and their imperfections are akin to the mystery boxes that J.J. Abrams uses to inspire his thrilling narratives. What’s inside hardly matters at all. It’s what is imagined to be inside that is evocative. It hardly takes J.J. Abrams for a mystery to be interesting though. We all make countless assumptions and fill in thousands of unsaid details for ourselves every day. I simply intend mine to be worth fabricating in the first place.
Secondly, with all seriousness, I can finally pick up an object in an antique store and not be scrutinized as an unwatched neighborhood rascal. Maybe it was the long hair, ridiculous skate shoes, lip ring, or unbridled boyish enthusiasm, but every other time I ventured into a place filled with marginally valuable things I found myself the recipient of a great deal of wary attention. The expectation has always been my failure.
It’s not mean. We simply expect that children will muck it up. But our expectations change when we feel that the person we are dealing with is mature enough to handle themselves appropriately. It seems that I finally ascertained both the actual maturity, and air of maturity, to be tolerated in an antique shop without much reservation.
In other words, I’m getting old. It’s a challenging notion to consider that in the grand scheme of things, it wont be long before my own treasures are occupying a place in an antique store or are discarded with the vast majority of possessions that outlive their owners. For now, I’m trying to just linger on the notion that I can touch old things and not have my hand slapped. (Get your mind out of the gutter, el grosso.)
It’s pretty amazing where the imagination will take you. A narwhale horn became the story of a magical, horned horse. A dent in a pewter hip flask became an image of a bar fight and bull horns. A realization of maturity turned into a revelation of mortality. And all of that from an antique store completely free of charge.
I’d say Unicorn Antiques is very aptly named.