Memories of a Mandolin by Vittoria van der Hoeven
Memoires of a Mandolin
When you go to the North side of Amsterdam, across the canal on a ferry, and a few bus stops down the road you will find a large antique warehouse called the van Dijk and co. Inside that warehouse, there is an assortment of many old and antique treasures. Some are dirty, some polished, some broken and some reupholstered, all up for grabs to anyone who deems them worthy enough of giving them a new home and a second life. But how do we measure the value of the items we may come across? And how can we, without being able to view the past life of an item place any monetary tag on it? One object in particular comes to mind whilst pondering this very notion.
Lost amongst the scattered collectables, comfortably on a plush, green armchair, sits a short-necked, eight stringed lute, more commonly known as a mandolin. Like an old man, years into his retirement, the mandolin rests sunken, despite its lack of weight, into the grooves of the cushioning on its newfound throne. Its worn wooden features are far more sub-standard to the straight and even textured wood on the arms of the chair it leans upon. There is no price sticker added to its curved body, but like all things in this shop, broken or brilliant, it is still a commodity waiting to be sold.
In its decrepit state, especially in contrast to the newer and more modern items surrounding it, the mandolin doesn’t seem to mind its current unsuitable and misplaced location. It doesn’t care as it silently waits while past anthems from rock and metal play in the background. These were sounds that were unfamiliar to it, could never replicate or blend in with, not even in its once prime condition.
Instead, when plucked, the tones that should sing out struggle to reverberate a semitone out of tune. A distance far too great for even those without a musical ear to appreciate. The strange twangs of the strings conjure an unintentional reaction similar to that of biting into a sour lemon. Like a puppy dog that hears something unusual or unfamiliar, your head will slant over to one side and your eyes will begin to squint and twitch. These are not the sounds that one would expect from a well functioning European styled instrument.
Perhaps this is why the owner decided not to even bother attaching a price tag to it. When asked, the mandolin can be bargained down to 90 euros and with little resistance perhaps to even less. Were this instrument kept in mint condition, it could sell on ebay for a significantly heftier price of just under US $500. Yet, at the moment of impact once a single string has been plucked, the mandolin will begin to shake. The vibrating melodies will travel from the strings, up to the sound hole, and throughout the entire instrument eventually reaching all corners of the room with its sound. It is clear that the instrument is not beyond repair and that the right person could still find some sort of value in it. Which makes one wonder if there must be another reason why the value of the mandolin has depreciated so considerably.
Once, this mandolin belonged to somebody. But to the average person who has no knowledge of the items past, there is no way of truly knowing whom.
Its only sign of origin, a stamp pyro graphed into the right side of the fret board is now faded, worn and illegible to the untrained eye. However, it is on the left side of the stringed surface that we can get a glimpse of memories from the mandolins past. Etched deeply into the timber, an inscription can be clearly seen. There is an engraving that reads in small capital letters, the name “FREDDIE”. Whoever FREDDIE was, they must have really cared for the instrument, enough to have the need to show ownership over the item at the time the marking was created. But the crude nature of the lettering suggests that perhaps it was a child, who should not have had access to a sharp object, who carried out this act. Not only that, but surely no adult would disfigure a precious possession in this way, knowingly decreasing its value.
The mysterious child’s memories are of no significance to people who pass by gazing at the mandolin today. But what for instance, if we did know whom this mystery person was? Should the individual whose memories are shared with this mandolin alter the asking price at the antique store? The discovery that somebody of importance may have once owned the instrument could drastically change the value of the item causing the price to skyrocket. Every detail of its use would become a treasured memory that strangers would languish to be able to become a part of. But even so, the new owner would feel compelled to keep those memories in tact and untouched. They may lock it up in a big glass cabinet or mount their prized possession onto a wall so as to avoid tainting the item with ones own individuality. Instead, the imprinted name steals some of the value from the instrument. Because of this, the mandolin is perceived by some as something that has been discarded and rejected. Much like an old tattoo of a past lover that cannot be removed, the name serves only as a painful memory.
Today when the mandolin is picked up, a greasy coating of dust creates a lingering black film on the fingers of the handler. The outline of black stripes with a circular pattern begins to appear on the pads of the handler’s fingers as their hand instinctively places them upon the wired strings. This is a pattern common to everyone else that had picked it up and attempted to play it too. Only once you would have had to press harder into the strings in order to have the same indented effect. Could this be a last attempt for the mandolin to leave a lasting imprint on someone before it is tossed aside yet again?
As the dust begins to settle soon after placing the wooden item back into its place, the instrument continues to wait. Longing for its next examination, the remainder of the stringed wire from the tuners at its head of the mandolin curl towards onlookers, like an overgrown or unkempt garden in desperate need of care and weeding. Is it because of the physical signs of a previous ownership that this particular mandolin would struggle to sell for 90 Euros? Or is it because somebody else had made good use of it, that it is no longer useful to others?