06 October 2011

In Casa Cristo

Our tour guide, Robert, didn't know why this house-cum-museum in Encamp, Andorra is named "The House of Christ," either. It sure wasn't the name of the last family that lived here. Maybe - gasp - the first? All kidding aside - places like this, that offer a look into how people lived at a certain time, are usually over-stylized. Sometimes, they're flat out reproductions. But Casa Cristo is simply a family's house left exactly as it was when they emigrated to France in 1947. The yellow calendar hanging on the wall verifies this fact. On the table, below it, is a porró, a tradition Catalan wine pitcher from which wine is poured right into the mouth.
After the family left, taking their bible but leaving a book about saints, the home remained shuttered for almost 50 years. In 1995, it was turned into a museum. The building itself was built in the 19th century, which is why I was surprised that they didn't just go back in time and represent life in the 1800s inside its walls. Instead, it is just a little museum that is truthful and simple, offering a glimpse at life without the weight of historic relevance or broader cultural significance. Robert was just about to close up for Casa Cristo's midday break when we walked/ducked through the door. (This house was not designed for tall-ish people). He was very friendly, nonetheless, and invited us in for a quick walkaround, which turned into a twenty minute tour with a lot of "watch your heads." He clearly likes the place and still finds it fascinating to poke through its belongings. This was a box of "various tools" stashed up in the attic. There was also a haycutter that resembled some sort of half-stocks half-guillotine contraption and a lot of fishing net repair equipment. In the corner was one of the smallest, loveliest woodstoves I've ever seen and a family sized foot warming ring. Also present, big blocks of homemade soap and a bunch of tobacco leaves hung up to dry.
It was bigger than we'd expected from a place billed as "a typical poor Andorran home." Bare, but comfortable. The parents' room was next door to the grandmother's room, which was a little larger, closer to the stove and adorned with photos of children and hanging black dresses. "She always wore black!" Robert chuckled as if it were his own silly grandma. He showed us a secret drawer in the mistress of the house's desk and the heavy, pure silver 5 pesos coin inside. There were old linens and christening gowns that dated back a hundred years , lace-making needles and various personal effects.
It was a lot of fun to look around at all of Casa Cristo's relics: old condiments tins, flour sifters, guns and umbrellas, photographs. Rushing through like we were, it felt like we were sneaking around someone's house while they were out. We only touched the things Robert handed to us and did so with a sense of mischievousness. The one or two things that were added or changed for effect were pointed out to us. That tobacco did not look like it had been drying for 64 years. But he seemed as happy as we were about the fact that it's really just a very good dusting job. A snapshot more than a doll's house.
Here is the family's fine china, set out for all to see. Displayed in a large piece of furniture at the center of the kitchen/dining/living room, it was a point of pride; the closest thing to "decoration" in this simple, utilitarian but sweet home. Underneath, was a cupboard, which Robert opened to reveal their "real dishes." Pots and pans and plates were piled up and well-worn. Mrs. "Cristo" probably would have been horrified that we saw it. Give me an ethnographic museum served on tin instead of porcelain any day.

No comments:

Post a Comment