The Cuban desk
The beginnings of this mahogany desk from my dad’s house are not known for sure. The wood is very likely from Cuba, which is in itself a sad story, as this entirely renewable resource was completely wiped off from the region through catastrophic mismanagement. In any case, the desk arrived in the hands of a Soviet diplomat in the island.
The diplomat must have traveled around the world, and the desk landed in the Embassy of the USSR in Brussels, Belgium. The Embassy then donated it to the Communist Youth in Brussels. The organization shared its office with the Maison de Jeunes “1917” in the city, where my father worked in the sixties and seventies. Predictably, the occupants, a large group of young, loud, opinionated people with a knack for throwing parties and hosting tasteful live music, failed to take care of it properly, and it fell into disrepair.
At some point, my father was asked to carry out electricity cabling work in the Communist Youth’s offices, where he spotted the desk. It was scratched, parts were missing, and the leather cover was torn. An arrangement was made, my dad did the work for free and walked off with the desk.
At that time, my father was gathering old and interesting furniture found in various places, and learning to restore them. Together with his partner at the time, he worked on the desk and they restored it completely. He couldn’t find new drawer handles to replace the missing ones, so he had some forged based on the existing ones at Siffleur in the city.
I was born in 1983. Shortly after, he drove down to the French Riviera, found a job, and my mother and I joined him there, starting a new life. He brought all of his cherished furniture with him, and so I have always known this desk, as well as half a dozen other pieces of furniture with similarly interesting stories. My dad always said that a good piece of wooden furniture was nicer to look at than a painting.
Last May, my dad lost all hope of recovering from of a long-term medical condition. At the time, the covid19 pandemic had just hit Europe, and my university had just switched to online teaching, so I was able to work remotely. Some airlines were operating again, so I flew down south. I brought with me a half-decent laptop, a webcam, a microphone, and a Wacom tablet, all snapped off Ebay in the weeks prior.
And so I arrived at the desk. Over the course of the following weeks, I was able to spend time with my dad in his last battle, at home, all while working: producing lecture videos, weekly quizzes, individualized peer-graded homework assignments, interactive Zoom sessions, and mostly-complete lecture notes for my course in fluid dynamics. I had the opportunity to contemplate and appreciate the many blessings which allowed me to be there. The support of my supervisor and colleagues. The love of close relatives. The patience of students. The resilience of many technological systems upon which I depended. And a blurry but strong inherited feeling for how to take life decisions and owning up to them. The desk was not particularly comfortable, and I never had time to fix the chair. But it was so fitting that I was able to work on this beautiful, solid, massive-wood piece of my father’s life.
My father passed away in June. I flew back to Germany. I miss him. I don’t know what is going to happen to the desk.