Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Shops Lost in Wonderland

As a child, my favorite book was "Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass."  I quoted the book in my high school yearbook.  Chapter 5 of "Through the Looking Glass," entitled "Wool and Water," contains a particularly haunting scene.  In a dreamlike sequence, Alice suddenly finds herself in a small, dark curiosity shop facing a sheep who is seated and knitting.  Every time Alice tries to look at the items on the shelves of the shop, the shelves appear to be empty and yet the shelves next to them are loaded with lots of fascinating and colorful items.  The sheep is as annoyingly literal and nonsensical as many of Lewis Carroll's other literary characters who also speak in riddles and puzzles.  Eventually, the shop turns into a row boat and Alice finds herself fishing for crabs. I have had the experience of being in three shops in my lifetime that reminded me of Alice's curiosity shop with the strangely metamorphosing sheep shop owner.  As it turned out, these shops, tucked away in tiny corners easily missed by most pedestrians, strangely all had store names suggestive of their time warp realities...


 (The thigh bone of a T-Rex dinosaur at "Tomorrow's Heirlooms")
 "Tomorrow's Heirlooms" is a very small gemstone shop located in Princeton, NJ.  The entire store is loaded with odd shelves, floor to ceiling, filled with handcrafted jewelry, sumptuous precious and semi-precious stones, colorful split geodes, crystal wands, strings of stones, boxes of unusual-looking crystals.  I had seen a pendant in the old-fashioned curved countertop, made of two dazzling white dreuzy opalescent quartz crystals.  It had become the subject of my dreams, so I decided to make the hour and half drive to Princeton to buy it. 

The shop owner, John Miller, showed me other dreuzy quartz pendants and gave me a quick education in the geologic background and relative values of these stones.  Seeing my enthusiasm, he beckoned me to a large, messy cabinet behind the desk.  He told me it was filled to the brim with 400,000 cut stones, most of which he had located and cut himself.  He pulled out tray after tray with the most extraordinary sampling of gorgeous stones - black stones covered in gold filigree ressembling floral patterns, rutilated quartz, landscape and sunset agates, tiny fossilized plants, aquamarine, tourmaline, polished volcanic ash and obsidian, and so on.  I told him I imagined heaven probably contains a similar degree of color, beauty and diversity.  He said he didn't believe in heaven, but agreed with me that it seemed logical enough if heaven does in fact exist.  He handed me a loupe and gave me a $50,000 black opal with extraordinary "fire" the size of a grapefruit seed to examine.  The stone blazed with red, yellow and green fire.  He told me stories, along the lines of Indiana Jones, of waiting to meet  Russian bootleggers of rare (and illegal) Russian rainbow pyrite in a Las Vegas desert, after pre-paying many thousands of dollars.  He showed me what looked like a giant dinosaur egg, cracked open to reveal a furnace of sparkling multi-colored crysals.  Up at the top of a shelf near the ceiling, he showed me antler-like extinct blue coral that he had purchased by putting a second mortgage on his home to his wife's dismay, and eventually cutting into tiny gray-blue beaded necklaces. 
He handed me a raw green stone, the size of a small apricot, and asked me to guess what it was.  Clearly not jade, apatite, tourmaline - ever so slightly translucent.  In fact, it was a Colombian emerald with a single flaw in the center.  He had found this emerald with his toes dipped in a river in the jungles of Colombia.  Then he pointed me to the back of the room, on the floor was what appeared to be a giant piece of petrified wood with red freckles on the ends.  He told me to pull it out.  He had found this at the age of 14 out west, and it was the thigh bone of a T-Rex dinosaur!  I touched the polished bone of this unbelievable creature and felt like the luckiest person in the world.  The red freckles were actually the blood vessels.  I finally purchased my pendant, which in retrospect resembles a spiritual entity or ET.  The owner refused to take my card, saying he would only lose it, and so I left, after an hour and a half, half expecting the shop to disappear behind me!

2.  L'AUTRE JOUR (Nancy, France)

(Interior of "L'Autre Jour" restaurant/antique store in Nancy, France)

While traveling in France, I encountered another of these magical shops.  My husband and I decided to stop in the town of Nancy in eastern France on our way back from Germany to Paris.  I had always wanted to see the town that bore my name.  As I was very hungry, I jumped out of the car once inside the old part of the city, and walked toward the first restaurant I saw.  It was called "L'Autre Jour" which translates into "The Other Day" referring to the past.  That should have been a clue for me. 
We entered this very ecclectic, old-fashioned  restaurant and were seated at a wooden table in a tiny room at the rear of the restaurant.  We were the only customers.  As we sat waiting for our meal, I noticed that the walls were entirely covered with vintage prints, paintings, fabrics, old candle sconces, vases, plates, and other antique oddities.  There were lots of little tables and cabinets crammed with silver items, teapots, jewelry, ceramic figurines, bronze statues, and so on.  It felt as though we had walked into a time warp.  I decided to go look for the ladies room.  I explored the downstairs a bit.  The glass cabinets were strangely filled with labeled items such as Josephine Baker's original stage costume jewelry and feathers.  A tiny wooden spiral staircase led upstairs which was equally filled with antiques.  I discovered heavily decorated painted hidden paneled doors leading to tiny hidden rooms upstairs.  Near the front door downstairs, I discovered a pile of books written about horses next to a collection of rare old red wines.

As I stood there, trying to imagine where I was, a man entered the restaurant.  He had a tall, dark silhouette, was wearing a long black overcoat and riding boots.  He dramaticalljy held the leashes of two elegant extremely thin whippet purebred dogs wearing a brilliant jeweled collars.  This man was clearly not of the same century.  He looked like Jane Eye's Victorian lover, Edward Rochester, stepping in from the English countryside.  I forget why or how, but we began speaking (in French of course).  His name was Alain Saintot and he was the owner of the restaurant/antique store.  As it turned out, the book about the horses was his own work.  He revealed that he had nearly died in a car crash in 2004, had suffered brain trauma and chronic pain, nearly lost his eye sight and balance, a many other severe delilitating effects.  He had begun working with horses and became convinced that they had somehow sensed his injuries and had intentionally healed him.  He now works with horses as a healing modality and lives in a small town known as Plombières-les-Bains, known for its volcanic hot springs since the time of the Romans and visits from European nobility.  He and I instantly seemed connected.  As unlikely as it was, he understood my psychic background and career.  We exchanged our books, and promised to stay in touch, which we did.

3.  PARACELSO (New York, NY)

 (Paracelsus, the Swiss-German alchemist)
The third shop which reminded me of Alice in Wonderland's strange curiosity shop was located in Manhattan.  I had been wandering around the Soho area of New York one day with some girlfriends doing some completely frivolous girl-shopping.  The others had found a clothing store with the standard trendy items.  I wondered on, somewhere on Broadway, and came upon a very odd clothing store.  In the same manner as the gem stone shop and the French antique restaurant, this store was crammed from floor to ceiling with the most fascinating, strange and beautiful articles of clothing strewn about and displayed in a seemingly haphazard fashion - flung over tables, on top of lamps, on hangers over mirrors and so on.  It seemed to be a kind of heavenly experience of gorgious textures, colors and concepts.  I tried on a lavender/plum sheer organza jacket and orange embroidered silk scarf.  One of my friends, Andrea, found me in the store and came inside. 
As we marveled at all the exquisite garments, I almost bumped into a strange, small, gypsy-complexioned woman seated cross-legged on a chair, with the appearance of a yogi levitating, almost completely surrounded by mountains of merchandise.  She was wearing a flowing, full-length skirt, had a large skarf wrapped dramatically around her neck, and her entire face was painted with giant streaks of blue and green paint across her cheeks, forehead and nose. 
My friend Andrea took one look and walked away in total confusion.  I, on the other hand, decided to strike up a conversation with this woman.  It turned out, according to her, that she was a very famous Italian clothing designer and her clients included the likes of rock stars like Lenny Kravitz.  The paint on her face - which resembled either Native American war paint smeared rather badly or a partial clown face painting - was entirely intentional.  It was difficult to look at her without staring.  She said it was her own statement regarding cosmetics.  She made no apologies for her weird appearance.  We talked for a very long time and Andrea kept tapping her watch and sending me glowering glances.  I learned the name of the shop was "Paracelso" and the owner's name was Luxor Tavella.  Luxor is the name of the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes across the Nile from the Valley of the Kings and Queens.  I asked what Paracelso meant.  It turned out Parcelsus was a Swiss-German Hermetic alchemist!  He was known as the father of toxology, famous for saying: "All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous."  He believed three elements, mercury, sulphur and salt, were spiritual elements in medicine. Luxor clearly understand the weird nature of her store, naming it in honor of the great alchemist! 

I purchased the jacket and Andrea and I left the store.  That would not have been so strange, except that I looked for that store for several years and couldn't find it.  I always searched along the same avenue in the same location in Lower Manhattan.  But I couldn't find it.  Neither could Andrea.  We thought this was very odd.  It was as if the store had manifested and then disappeared.  It wasn't until several years later, that Andrea and I happened to find the store again rather by accident.  It was in exactly the same place and had never moved - which was very odd indeed.  Apparently, the store has been there for 30 years.  We went inside and found Luxor as if nothing had ever changed.  We tried on clothes and giggled about the strange time warp sensation of this store.  Both of us noticed, to our total shock, that an extremely tall man, maybe 7 feet tall, seemed to have literally floated through the wall from the back room into the main store area.  There was no door.  His appearance was a strange as Luxor's.  He was tall and gaunt, with a strikingly pallid white complextion, like a giant President Lincoln, and dressed entirely in black clothing.  Luxor introduced him as her husband.  Andrea (a devout skeptic of all things paranormal) and I looked at each other in disbelief.  This person was clearly not of this earth.  We hurried to finish trying on our outfits, made our purchases, thanked Luxor and left this place that felt like a time vortex or galatic wormhole.