I just read this article in Saturday's Travel section of the NYTimes. All I have to say about souvenirs in response to this guy is it is STUFF and his kids are just going to throw it away when he dies! Depressing it is but what has value to him and represents his travels and stories may very well not have the same meaning for the people who are left to go thru his things.
They’re Souvenirs, Not Stuff!
By DOMINIQUE BROWNING
Published: August 31, 2012
SOUVENIR. Even the word is beautiful. It has that gentle, whispery sound of memory brushing by. A wonderfully inclusive label, it can apply to anything, because anything can be a souvenir, any object whose real value lies in its association with a past journey — or, I suppose, a person. A souvenir of a city. A souvenir of a love affair. Something that may have started as an inconvenience (how will I find room in my suitcase?) but on arrival home makes its way onto the mantel as a keepsake of delight. If it is a souvenir, it can transcend kitsch, at least for your lifetime. You are the keeper of its value.
What are the most memorable souvenirs you’ve collected while traveling? Send us your photos.
But how does one make the case for souvenirs with so much Anti-Stuff propaganda in the air? We are living in an age in which it is considered morally superior to be a minimalist — not that I’ve ever met a real live one, mind you. We are supposed to stop accumulating things, and start shedding. This presents a serious problem for travelers and their souvenirs. And let’s face it: We are all travelers on this journey called Life.
When I open my crammed linen closet, thinking that this time I will purge, I am faced with souvenirs. The light winter blanket I keep at the foot of my bed when the autumn leaves begin to color came from a tent in India. The brilliantly embroidered cotton spread that covers my sheets in summer came from a tiny shop in Casablanca. I get under the covers, and dream of where I’ve been.
End of purge. The same thing happens as I dust my souvenirs: a teacup from Japan, a bit of coral from Florida. I am cast adrift on currents of remembrance.
So I am going to take a radical stance against the Anti-Stuffers: Stuff it. Some of us — dare I say it, most of us — love our stuff. After struggling for years with my untoward attachments to my things, after resisting exotic bazaars and stands selling trinkets, I am declaring that I love my stuff.
And why shouldn’t I? Shopping, after all, is an essential travel experience — a profoundly interesting way to understand a culture. (And that’s as far as I’m going with rationalizations.) I look for great souvenirs no matter where I am, including the most rural, out of the way, desolate, no-shopping zones in any guidebook. You cannot take me on a hiking trip without my finding a souvenir somewhere near the trail or the parking lot, or at the bus or train depot. Driftwood from a Northern California beach or a geode from a Colorado rock shop will do the trick.
And I am a fast shopper, even an impatient shopper. In the blink of an eye an object will twinkle out at me. I can count, among my perfect finds, tea towels from an island off Canada, crude, fragrant bars of lavender soap from Marseilles, a stiff boot brush from a tiny hamlet in Italy, a tin cup from a street booth in India. And every single time I reach for that towel or that cup, I can hear and smell and see its natal surroundings.
Not that you actually have to go to Turkey, or India, or Kenya any longer to actually have hookahs on the bookshelf or weavings on your bed or kilims gracing your floors. Remember those days? Not so long ago, an ancient, faded bit of cloth mounted in a shadow box fixed to the wall was the sign of an intrepid traveler who had wandered into the souks of Afghanistan. No longer. Such is the appeal of travel that our retailers have captured its essence and brought it home for us. You can now go around the corner to your local Pottery Barn and your home will look like that of a globe-trotter. Actually, why leave home? Get online and shop your wanderlust.
My older son, who now loves to travel, developed a strong affection for souvenirs of world monuments when he was a child. By the time he was in junior high school his night table featured a neat display of miniature monuments: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, a Leaning Tower of Pisa, a Big Ben. None of which he had yet seen. My son’s souvenirs — he was easy to shop for when I went on business trips — were anticipatory, promises of travel, much like the handsome brass vajra, a small ritual weapon that oddly resembles a baby rattle, said to represent firmness of spirit, that sits on my desk. In reality, it was purchased at a consignment shop in Westchester, but in truth it is a souvenir of intention, of the hope that I might some day make a trip to Nepal.
Contrary to the Anti-Stuffers, I am convinced that we need a certain number of souvenirs in our lives, a healthy dose of remembering that we found respite, an escape from the daily grind, on far shores. Such stuff is good for the soul. It moves in and out of our lives on great, eternal tidal swells. If you get rid of your souvenirs, soon more will wash right back into your home, because stuff, like body weight, has a set point, ingeniously and particularly calibrated for each and every one of us, so that no matter what you get rid of, you will soon be packing in more, or you will be unhappy.
The Buddhists will tell us that attachment causes suffering. This particular phrase has so perniciously entered my consciousness that it alone causes suffering. I have thought long and hard about it. Even as I was fondling beautiful teacups in Kyoto — surely a place conducive to sensitizing one to the perils of attachment — feeling the heft of fired clay in my hand, running a finger along a vein of lustrous glaze, weighing up which vessel I would buy, and trying to calculate conversion rates, I thought about how another new attachment to a thing would bring on new suffering. And I threw caution to the cash machine, yet again.
Perhaps I just don’t get the Buddhist way of souvenirs. For I think of attachment as the stuff of life.
Which brings us around to what I have come to think of as the Problem of the Snail. Rooted somewhere in every traveler’s psyche is an atavistic affection for a small, slimy creature that carries only what it needs on its back. Some of us might consider this an appealing metaphor for never having to leave home; it is permanently attached to you, as it were. However, I believe that the classic interpretation, the lesson for people of a certain mind-set today, is that you should own only what you can carry. Corollary: Travel with only what you can carry on. Fat chance.
We are not snails. We are never going to become snails. We travel cheerfully through the world, awed — and goaded — by the variety of human treasure. And we accumulate things that are destined to become charming, quirky guests in our homes, guests who just sit there, quietly collecting the patina of age. Age makes them better things. Indeed, rather than listening to the snails, we would do well to realize that we have things to learn from our stuff. Things about radiance, redolence and individuality. Our souvenirs remind us of lives well-lived.
Sometimes I think about leaving behind this world on that last, ultimate journey where there are no boarding gates, no secret codes for who goes first, no scheduled departures even. When I think of no longer being here, I do not think that my children will sit around and remember the way I made muffins using every ingredient that happened to be left in the refrigerator, nor do I assume they will remember the way I turned down the corner of their blankets for them at bedtime.
No. I think about my souvenirs and how my children — even though they will take their own journeys in this world, and bring home their own souvenirs — will inherit them. I think about how they had better keep my stuff, because it was once precious to me, and it graced the homes in which they grew up. Because my souvenirs contain the traces of a life I carved through this world. My children will look at the wood heron from Massachusetts and remember how it was always silhouetted against a window, looking longingly into the marsh. They will page through those gorgeous volumes of Dickens novels from that quaint London bookshop and know that there is always a good story handy, waiting for them to turn to it, no matter what the interior weather. They will wipe clean a piece of pottery from Japan and thank it for holding yet another cup of tea.