Best shelves ever


Srajano melts into wood and… a surprise!

Bench with Gravia island in background
Benches and tables
A finished piece of wood
Cypress bench

Aaaah, you should have seen my shelves. Deep red, polished to a silken sheen. Just short of four feet long, one inch thick, the front unfinished, following the natural line of the wood. Close your eyes and they feel like silk. There were six of them.

It happened like this: I was doing some gardening in Gayatri Mandir; I had been searching for a connection, a place to share myself, to worship… I’d found it in Gayatri Mandir. Just outside Arillas, the steep hill, the ocean view, olives, figs, and silence…. Pulling weeds mostly. Then, lockdown…

When I returned to the Mandir, I saw that the owner, Nityanando, and his man Friday, Christo, had made tables and benches for what Niti calls “the German Bakery”, his own little breakfast cafe named after a well-known bastion of coffee and funkiness near the ashram in Poona.

They’d used off-cuts, stuff that the lumberyard deems unusable – rough and curved, anywhere from one meter to four. Some cypress, some that seemed olive, but were not. I love hardwood. Hardwood speaks to me, it draws my attention. It whispers, “Look, here…”

Look I Must. And touch… I need to touch.

As I first walked into the Mandir, a dozen tables and benches began vying for my attention. First “Curvy”, then “Hollow”, then they all joined in. I heard longing and despair, resentment and frustration. Clearest was their longing: “Help me to be as beautiful as I really am!” Hidden treasures were promised.

Curvy got to me. Small, elegant, dark, when I let my fingers glide over her – her, because a tree is of course male, the wood female – she whispered… “Like what you see? Want to know what I hide underneath? Come and get it!” I heard angels sing.

Niti had taken the beauty of the wood at face value. A wipe with sandpaper, a lick of oil. They looked beautiful. Just as a woman can flash a smile, a slab can have a shiny spot. Curvy had a shiny spot. The softness, her life story a painting in her skin. She had me.

Niti was easy. Yes, go for it, let’s see…

Weeks of sanding, and sanding, sanding, sanding… beauty unveiled! All the girls delivered on their promises. Happy in their new life.

Niti was inspired to consider slabs for the benches in his living room. Off to the lumberyard, a drive through valleys, vistas, olives, and a thousand shades of green. As we arrived, Spiros sat in (!) a sawing machine that sliced through a majestic tree. He greeted Niti happily.

We cruised along piles of slabs, stacked high. We zoomed in on two big beauties. Their surname brought big grins on our faces: Ananda, Blisswood. Blisswood! Osho is heard chuckling in the wind.

Four more trips followed, the beauties were measured, remeasured, visualized as parts of the living room, and measured again, What kind of legs should the benches have? Marble suggested itself, and 4 trips to the marble yard followed. Browse, zoom, pick, visualize, and cut. One big chunk was split three ways… we had our legs. Blisswood was measured again, yes, the two slabs would give us three benches, four back rests, with one nice piece left. This left-over piece was…

My shelves!

Aaah, I could see them, their strong presence, rough bark on the front, vibrantly alive, the deep gloss. Books stand proud, wood and paper honor each other – my future with my as-yet-uncut shelves flashed through me – wet sanding, in the sun. The grain becoming clearer, slowly mostly, once in a while a sudden blast of splendor. The linseed oil stainer I smelled right then and there – Italian stuff, I’d worked with it in Sri Lanka some years ago. I was ready to mount them, a stainless steel frame. My room would need some rearranging to do justice to my new bookshelf.

Back to Niti – he’d gone through the whole math about 18 times (bringing the marble chunks into the equation) and was ready to mark the cuts on the wood. Spiros, quite amused by our elaborate, happy-go-lucky way of figuring out what we want, came to make sure he understood the markings. My attention was more on my shelves. Eventually all cuts were clearly marked. Seaview, the smallest of the two, was to become my shelves. Twins, the bigger slab, was to be split in the middle.

We had never seen Twins’ bottom. Beautiful skillful forklift work turned her over (250x85x9.5cm). And there it was, a long crack all the way through! We could not use that piece in our plan! Re-measure. And again. Yes, Seaview had enough length left. Thank all the gods, because the marble had already been cut to fit with this wood, a wonderful symphony.

My shelves! The velvet touch, the glow, the lines, veins, whorls. Their place of honor in my room. The quietness they radiate. Gone. Fallen through a crack in the universe. In this case fallen through a crack in Twins.

So much joy in our short romance! They energized me. I value every moment they were in my life. I said farewell to them with gratitude. We drove from the lumberyard back to Arillas. We shared our happiness with the blisswoods, and spoke of how we missed my shelves. We praised their beauty, their perfection, how they enhanced the dignity of the books. Niti helped me to see all the things I didn’t have to do now: no sanding, no search for the frame, no frustrating assembly, room-rearrangment. And I wouldn’t have to lift them when I next move house.

We agreed happily they were the best shelves ever.


Srajano claims to be a certified ‘good-for-nothing’.

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