For Manuela, the world was always an infinite library: an abundant source of stories where the characters were made of flesh and blood rather than words, and where all kinds of plots and stories were within reach of her own eyes, waiting to be lived and told. The daughter of diplomats, Manuela grew up travelling. Spain was merely the issuer of her passport. Her true roots were scattered over all the countries she’d lived in. When she was little, she would stick pins in a board to carefully mark the exact location of each place she’d visited. That board is full now. She is truly a citizen of the world.
All of her trips shaped her personality. Shy around her elders, young Manuela preferred to listen to others. Stories of the world were always being told, and whenever she had a question she’d wait until she was alone with her parents to pick their brains and find out more. She loved to eavesdrop on their long diplomatic meetings and then surprise them with delicate questions about politics. It was habits such as these, coupled with the constant chan- ge, that gave her an exceptional ear for accents and languages. Manuela now speaks five languages fluently.
At first she found it hard to make friends. The ephemeral quality of her friendships made her sad. She felt that every new interaction at the various schools she was sent to had an expiry date on it, which would come when a new pin had to be stuck in a new point on the map. However, all of this changed when the internet came into her life. Ma- nuela managed to overcome her fear of abandonment and became a bubbly, talkative girl. Her friendships became lasting over time. Nurturing them and keeping them up were always essential to her. Not only did she make video calls to her friends but she was also an assiduous letter writer. She would spend a couple of hours a day emailing them, and it was this constant need to write, to stay in touch and to convey her affection and interest in writing that turned her into a true story hunter.
Her father - ‘the Ambassador’ – kept a close eye on her welfare, as is only natural. Is it good for a child to travel so much? he was forever wondering. Will all this toing and froing round the world be damaging? Her mother worried about this too. They had one golden rule to mitigate it: without exception, whether they were on the same conti- nent or not, every summer Manuela would go to Barcelona to stay with her grandparents.
Those Barcelona summers are one of Manuela’s most treasured memories. She had her own bedroom there, which had gradually filled up with the books and souvenirs from her travels that were either too fragile or too bulky to cart around on every move. Alongside her own possessions were her grandparents’ collections of objects: they had also been big travellers. When Manuela asked her grandfather why they had so much stuff, accustomed as she was to travelling light, he chortled. His answer fascinated Manuela. Every object in his house told a story, like a book.
He didn’t believe in intrinsic beauty. Her grandmother and he had furnished their home with stories and memories of others and themselves. His philosophy about buying was that if he was going to spend money on something, it had to have a story. If you can’t delight someone in a conversation about its past, it’s not worth keeping. That idea was etched into Manuela’s memory.
Her grandmother, on the other hand, was a foodie. She had studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and had compiled
a book of the best recipes from around the world from her trips with her grandfather. For a long time she never let Manuela look at her little book. When dinner guests asked for her recipes, Manuela’s grandmother would smile and scribble down the wrong amounts in almost illegible handwriting so that theirs would never come out as well as hers. But her vanity didn’t deter young Manuela. She did everything she could to earn her grandmother’s trust and hung on every word she uttered. It wasn’t long before she’d won her over. Soon, her grandmother was teaching her not only the secrets of cooking but also giving her tips on protocol and table setting. For her, holding a dinner party was akin to putting on a show: part of it was down to the chef’s and actors’ talent, but another equally important part was down to the setting of the stage. The setting, tableware and lighting were almost as central as the dish itself. All five senses always had to come into play at a dinner. That was why she was so meticulous about her attire, make-up, decor, and particularly the background music.
When Manuela finished high school, she didn’t have a clue what to do next. Should she follow her parents into diplomacy? They were sure that she would. But Manuela felt that if she went down that path, she’d lose her passion for unearthing objects of interest and telling stories about the world. For a short time she considered studying furniture restoration, and maybe opening an antique shop near her grandparents in Barcelona. However, she still wasn’t totally decided. Neither diplomacy nor the furniture business seemed to meet that fundamental need she had. The decision was made: she would study journalism. She would channel her desire to write into the press and change the world
Manuela’s graduation coincided with the death of her grandmother. It was a huge blow that took her a long time to come to terms with. Her grandmother had left her her treasured recipe book, on condition that she would use it for something remarkable, since she’d always believed that Manuela was destined for great things. It was in the midst of her pain that Manuela came up with the idea of opening a shop. She would launch her unique way of telling sto- ries just like her grandfather: every object would have a past that would delight anyone in conversation. Everything would have a story and be made in the most honest and responsible.