Tuesday, February 19, 2008
The souvenir thing
I've been studying up on what holds blog readers' attention. I finally found something I can handle: "Share your weaknesses or addictions," I read. Thanks. I'm now set for the next 52 weeks.
Here's the first one: my souvenir addiction.
I admire those who embark on journeys to enrich their lives, to expand their horizons by touring ancient ruins, museums, and cathedrals.
I travel so I can buy souvenirs.
I can't help myself. Even if I hate a place, I buy something to remind me of it. Last year I attended a conference in a shabby southwestern town I'd never willingly visit again, but I brought home a dishtowel with imprints of eight varieties of cactus. Fortunately, the towel is made of cheap fabric and the poorly applied paint-like design is already chipping away.
There's some logic to my addictive buying. A hierarchy, if you will. Colleges and universities are at the top of the list. If there's an academic institution near where I happen to be on travel, I must have a pennant, a binder, pens and pencils, at the minimum. In my sock drawer are representative novelty crew tops from no fewer than nine institutions of higher learning, from Villanova and MIT in the east, to CAL Berkeley and Chico State in the west.
The more I like a place, the bigger the item—so I have a 60-inch square throw and large posters from Revere Beach, Massachusetts (where I grew up) but only a key chain from a town that shall go nameless. But even when I have unpleasant experiences, I take something home. One day in the fall I had a very unsatisfactory visit lecturing on a college campus. The students were apathetic, the faculty full of self-importance and in-jokes. Still, I climbed a long hill to the bookstore and came home with note cards, a sports bottle, and a license plate holder with the school logo.
"I thought you had a bad time there," my husband said when I handed him his 85th cap and T-shirt with the school name in furry red letters.
I shrugged, but secretly I worry. Do I have some sick need to remember bad times?
Even the containers souvenirs come in are souvenirs to me. I keep plastic "insert your laundry here" bags with hotel logos, and, though I have never actually stolen anything, it's possible that a wash cloth or two has gotten entangled with my nightie and ended up in my own linen closet.
I'm not a collector in general. I have friends who collect Hummels or Lladro porcelain; their kids collect Pokemon cards and butterflies. Not me. To avoid being stressed out over having every item in a series, I don't bother to try. So I'm not collecting souvenirs, per se, I'm strewing them all over my house, distributing them to friends, storing some in my gift closet. (And here's another tricky situation: how long after a trip can you give a souvenir from that place as a birthday present? Will the person think you're recycling?)
Do I have a need to prove I'm a traveler? To prove I've "been there?" My mother never traveled, and when she died, the funeral procession passed every house she ever lived in. Maybe I'm carrying out her wishes that I would have a better, broader life — by traveling often and marking the journey with junk.
I realize have souvenir issues, and it's going to take professional help to deal with them. Maybe there's a souvenir-avoidance patch (in a little pouch with souvenir de Paris embroidered on it?), or a twelve-step program I haven't heard of.
I'm thinking of throwing away all my souvenirs and finally putting together a grown-up house, with high quality objects of art and classy potholders. A streamlined, well thought-out, matching home, not one with cups from Minneapolis and saucers from Washington, DC.
But I just found an amazing website where you can get souvenirs from all over the world. Are they really souvenirs if they're not carried home in my luggage?