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Wordie Wednesday: antiquing

Antiquing [an-teek-ing]

verb (used with object), an·tiqued, an·ti·quing.

  • to make or finish (something, especially furniture) in imitation of antiques.

  • to emboss (an image, design, letters, or the like) on paper or fabric.

verb (used without object), an·tiqued, an·ti·quing.

  • to shop for or collect antiques: She spent her vacation antiquing in Boston.

The Atlas

The heavy wooden door with the distorted glass beckoned Lucretia. It was unlike any other shop-front door on the street, a narrow cobblestone street in the back alleys of York. The street itself was crammed with tourists, cameras swinging from their necks, or phones held gingerly just so for that perfect picture. The tourist dance was a slow, lumbering side step by sandaled feet wrapped in socks pulled up to bare knees. It was the sort of weather that straddled between warm and not quite warm enough.

Lucretia stared at the shop door for a few minutes. It belonged to an antique shop that seemed quite dark inside – the large front windows, also distorted glass, displayed fascinating items that seemed to shift as she walked closer. Crossing the street took some time because of the crowds. She carefully carried her bag of antique books and other finds in her arms.

She opened the door, jostling the bells hung from the top of the jamb. A damp mustiness settled on her, the aroma of fragile pages and stiffened leather, of dusty feathers and forgotten porcelain dolls in tattered clothing.

As a collector of old maps, Lucretia often spent Saturdays roaming shops. Her eye for the old and extremely rare had made a name for her in collecting circles, even though it was just a hobby. She knew many of the antique shops for miles around York, but somehow had never found this one before.

The aisles were crowded with booths and shelves of the most unusual items, and many standard antiques. Pocket knives with ivory handles; gaudy jewelry with large, brash floral settings; wooden and old tin train sets, complete with tracks and miniatures, and a lovely rolltop desk, upon which an unusually old typewriter sat. Lucretia found something interesting at every turn. Even as she looked up into the rafters of the old building, she could see antique prams and tricycles and stuffed birds hovering in the air, like they were on their way to important places but had fallen under a magic spell on the way.

She turned to the books, which sat on floor-to-ceiling shelves on one wall. Lined up neatly, spines to the aisle, the books snugly rested against each other but not so tightly that Lucretia couldn’t get her fingers in to pull them out for a look. Some were first edition, even recent first editions. She smiled at the immaculate copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone from 1997. Perfect. Worth a lot, too, she thought.

She spied an old atlas, too tall to stand on a shelf, leaning against the outside of the shelves, along with a few rolled up maps. She lifted it carefully and, looking around, spied an old leather chair nestled beside the stairway leading to other floors. It looked to her like a 16th century atlas, perhaps a Mercator atlas. She fished her white gloves out of her purse and, donning them, lifted the rather heavy book to the chair and sat down. The book was bound by calf leather, a fine skin that still held its sheen. It was decorated with gold, and long leather strings bound the book. Gingerly, she opened the atlas.

As she carefully turned the pages, she marvelled at the skill and beauty of the art that illustrated the world as the cartographer knew it to be at that point in time. Each page was a moment of history, exuding a sense of optimism and discovery, but wrapped up in a blanket of colonial exploration and dominance. She turned to another page and gasped. The map on this page formed the face of a jester’s head. It nestled in the frame of a fool’s cap, complete with bells and ruffled collar, buttoned tightly against the neck.

The inexplicable Fool’s Cap Map of the World remained a mystery, despite many attempts through the centuries to explain its setting. Who illustrated this map? No one knew, although many had tried to explain both its meaning and its origin.

Lucretia exhaled through her lips and drew in her breath again sharply. She noticed a slip of paper tucked into the next page. It, too, looked very old, and the script on it certainly was in Latin and done with a calligrapher’s pen and ink.

Aliis si licet, tibi non licet. She read the words. Although her Latin was rusty, she knew the translation: If others are allowed to, that does not mean you are.

The hairs on her arms prickled. What could that mean? It was like it was a message straight to her in the 21st century from the Reformation. Who wrote this? Was it the illustrator? Was this note even authentic? Was the illustrator reminding himself or herself of her place in society? Did he or she aspire beyond the obvious talent that had given the world the mystery of this map?

So many questions. Lucretia felt overwhelmed. She knew it was wrong, but the piece of paper had captured her. She turned to her bag of purchases from the day, pulled out one of the two marbleized hardback books she’d purchased in another store, and slipped the note between the pages. Returning the atlas carefully to its space among the maps, she lifted her bag, adjusted her jacket, took off her white gloves and shoved them back into the plastic baggie in which she carried them.

Casually browsing at a couple more shelves, she moved slowly towards the door, turned the handle, opened it and left. As she closed the door, she heard the bells jingle merrily as they announced her departure.

She turned and walked briskly down the street, the sepia-toned Latin note burning a figurative hole in her mind.

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