Fond farewell by T. B.
You see, I recently had a farewell party for a group of very dear friends, and it’s been difficult facing up to the fact that I might not see them for a very long time – if ever.
As farewells go, this one wasn’t that elaborate or even emotional – at least not at the time. We opened a few bottles of red from Austria and Südtirol, cooked up some gulasch and spätzle and recounted stories about how we first met. Perhaps one of the most dramatic tales was from the mid-1990s, when the anchor of the group told us of how, after an earthquake, many of them had helped the people of a village in Umbria by providing comfortable places for families to sleep. Originally the group of seven were supposed to make their way to London but a humanitarian mission delayed their arrival by a few weeks: they were all assigned positions in a relief shelter.
A few glasses later, another told a harrowing story about their time in Lebanon: living in containers in Beirut’s port, their turbulent journey by sea to Genoa and the zigzag hike to their new home at the foot of the Alps. A newcomer to the group chipped in about his long-haul journey from Melbourne and how he arrived in Italy in tatters, his wool herringbone manteau shredded by rough airport handlers.
While I’m not terribly concerned that they’re going to reappear all tucked, botoxed and stretched (they all have good genes and will age well), I do know that I’m going to miss their company and our shared history. I’m already thinking about their new lives, how they’ll be spending Christmas and the new acquaintances who’ve been attracted to their charm and good looks.
Everyone agreed that seeing Christy Turlington curled up in a corner by the fireplace was a heady high-point of the mid-1990s.
Throughout all of this, the friends all looked on as I packed away photos, trinkets, trophies and small mountains of books and periodicals. They might have wanted to cut in with comforting words or fun little anecdotes to ease our parting but they didn’t say a word – in no small part because none of them was able to speak. Instead, they all just sat there looking elegant and composed, relaxed and radiant – ready for the next soirée.
A few hours later I said goodbye to all of them: the pair of Florence Knoll sofas with matching ottomans and loden armchairs, the Lobmeyr chandelier and ice-block lamps rescued from a Swiss butcher’s shop, the Hans Wegner easy-chairs bought at a Bukowskis auction and a gallery’s worth of photography collected over a quarter of a century. All have been more than just scenery and trappings; they’ve been part of a life lived in London, Sweden, Beirut (I never moved into the apartment) and northern Italy. We decided that they should spend the rest of their years in a lovely villa in Merano, in an agreeable climate with warm sunshine to keep them looking their best.
As the evening progressed we recalled all the cocktail parties we’d enjoyed together; the late movie nights; living-room discos; and all the glittering people who’d been part of a tight inner circle. Everyone agreed that seeing Christy Turlington curled up in a corner by the fireplace was a heady high-point of the mid-1990s.
On Sunday morning we awoke, feeling remarkably fresh despite many bottles neatly lined up in the kitchen. We enjoyed a simple breakfast, a couple of coffees and then finished our packing. Along the way I became quite distracted as I’d come across box after box of fine 35mm snaps. Was I lost in a very overgrown, wonderfully verdant memory lane? In bundles and random groupings there were whole weekends captured in rich colour: big skies over Sweden with my Tokyo colleague Fiona perfectly framed sitting in the back of my old Zodiac, Mats barbecuing on the deck at the island house in Stockholm’s archipelago and all kinds of friends and random visitors stretched out in various stages of undress on Svenskt Tenn cushions on the jetty. Other snaps took me to slopes in the Engadine, ryokans in Kyushu, family weekends in Ottawa and much more.
We decided that they should spend the rest of their years in a lovely villa in Merano, in an agreeable climate with warm sunshine to keep them looking their best.