- The Museum of Game Balls
On the afternoon of March 17, 1997, a small DHL express package from Savannah, Georgia, arrives at the estate of Patma Loomalatma Quirquawaddis—if you're a guest there, he prefers that you call him Patti—a few miles north of Yangon, Myanmar. The estate grounds comprise fourteen hectares of landscaped lawns and formal gardens and include about a dozen outbuildings in addition to the two-story, Tudor-style manse. The property is almost entirely surrounded by rice fields, and in 1993 Mr. Quirquawaddis made it his principal residence.
The package has come from Yangon by pedicab. A member of the house hold staff, I could see, received it and signed for it. He comes into the room where I am seated right away, to alert Mr. Quirquawaddis. It seems from my host's reaction that the arrival of the package is something he has been anticipating, but he gestures the servant away and continues our conversation.
As we greeted each other that afternoon, Mr. Quirquawaddis informed me, politely but directly, just to be clear, that he does not share details of his business dealings or investment strategies with anyone. I took this to mean that he assumed I knew of his reputation as an analyst of stocks and bonds trading on the Asian exchanges, but that this would form no part of our conversation. Mr. Quirquawaddis—lean, short, barely five feet tall—was born in 1910 but is still quite agile. An incongruous haircut, a roached crest, gives his ferretlike movements a slight edge of menace. In conversation he is quick to make a disruptive inquiry or a pointed observation.
The spacious room in which my host apparently receives all his visitors is furnished with uncomfortable Louis the Fourteenth chairs, rigid chaise lounges upholstered in brocade, and gilt-and-lacquered tables bearing porcelain vases filled with cut flowers. The walls are hung with large tapestries and paintings in the same seventeenth-century style. Mr. Quirquawaddis seems ironically amused by what appear to me to be these pretensions of his to Western noblesse, or perhaps it is how uncertain the decor has made me feel that amuses him.
"What is your race?" he had inquired bluntly, almost immediately, but with a bland smile. My grandparents, I answered, were Basque on my [End Page 97] mother's side, Nigerian on my father's. My parents were both born in Portau-Prince, during the First World War. I was born shortly after the Second World War, in a small town in Connecticut—Danbury, I said. This all seemed to please him.
My long-time professional interest in Mr. Quirquawaddis had been renewed by an article I had read recently in Architectural Digest. In describing my host's distinguished estate, the writer had referred to Mr. Quirquawaddis' obsession with balls of various sorts, especially those used in sporting activities. The largest of the estate's outbuildings, in fact, had been built primarily to house and display this collection, though it also included, the article said, a small stage fronted by theater seating for guests to observe plays, performance art, and choreography, some of which, according to the story, Mr. Quirquawaddis had himself written or designed.
When I contacted the writer of the article, he suggested I take my inquiry about the collection to a Mr. Bao-Ding, who was its curator. In response to my note, Mr. Bao-Ding sent me an annotated list of Mr. Quirquawaddis' holdings. Among the 641 items actually on display—that is, not including items kept in storage—were cricket balls, volleyballs, American and European footballs, golf balls, medicine balls, tetherballs, and balls from scores of games I'd never heard of. They appeared to be variations on croquet, on bocce, on polo, the last of these games played by riders on different breeds of domestic animals—all, I presumed, less tractable than horses.
I have no real familiarity with sports, but I marveled at the list. Desali, a kind of Uygar rugby, was played with a ball so small that a participant could hide it in his clothing. Xchutel, a Uruguayan style of billiards, was played on a surface...