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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Trinkets Gathered, Along the Way

"A molcajete is a stone mortar and pestle from Mexico. I've never collected anything, but I think I might start collecting these because each one is decorated differently."                                                           Bobby Flay 

(Apologies for the bizarre photo and paragraph spacing. Not sure what kind of "upgrade" there's been, but it's playing havoc with the format. I haven't touched a thing, honest!)

We've all done it. Brought along the extra suitcase for the things we know we're going to buy when out on the road. Whether traveling for business or pleasure, there's always the temptation to do a bit of shopping, whether it's for ourselves or others. Parents bringing home a trinket for their kids, or souvenirs to remind ourselves of a particularly great vacation spot.

Personally, after a few years of watching coffee mugs pile up in the cabinet, I collect shot glasses. Yes, very touristy, but they take up little space in my bag -- usually my camera bag -- and they're fun to go back to every once in a while. I have a pair of large display racks, one in the kitchen and the other in the laundry room, packed full of reminders of particular destination and/or fun places we went. Everything from a shot glass featuring the family crest of the British Queen to a simple black ink on a white glass that says "St. Barth" on it. And everything in between. 

For a while I would buy shots at anywhere I thought was interesting. The Kennedy Space Center and two lands at Walt Disney World made the cut one year. But since I'm already crowding out the two shelves I need to be a bit more circumspect and tend to limit my acquisitions to cities and in some cases entire states.

Other things we acquire and bring home can be gifts for others, such as food specific to a particular destination -- pineapples from Hawaii, chocolate from Santa Fe -- but since may run into serious storage problems we usually refrain from much beyond sweets. (Two years ago we went through security forgetting that chocolate sauce is considered a liquid in carry-ons by the TSA. Nice little waste of $10, plus we never got to eat the chocolate.)
If we're on a road trip things are easier. We worry less about volume and so purchase things like artwork for the walls or other more esoteric souvenirs. In some cases we'll go by outlet malls and buy up a few kitchen appliances we don't need or perhaps a few bits of clothing. Not really souvenirs, but local purchases nonetheless. 
Wine, oils and specialty drinks are another good thing, though tend to be as transitory as confections. An exception are mixes. We still have, I think a pair of now very old Hurricane Mixes from Pat O'Brien's in New Orleans. No, not from our visit just after Katrina, but from the visit before that in 2003. Decade old Hurricane Mix anyone?
Books, though heavy, can be a delightful thing to grab on a trip. A novel that takes place there, or perhaps a book of photography, particularly of natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon or Amalfi Coast. As a photographer, I make a point of this sort of thing. It both enhances my own efforts as well as giving me a real reminder of a place above and beyond my personal portfolio.

And speaking of portfolio, I'd be an idiot if I didn't mention photographs. Shots or videos of yourselves in a place, or engaged in some sort of an activity, are terrific things to bring home from a trip. It enables you to relive the experience more fully. For years I fought any sort of picture of myself in a plcae, but looking back I wish I had not. Yes, I was the person behind the camera, but there's not a sense of self in that sort of thing. It gives the impression, even in my own mind's eye, that I wasn't a participant, I was a spectator, which usually wasn't the case. Pictures of yourself with others can be a wonderful trigger for your memories.
The author and his wife doing the Beatles Shuffle

Dishes, plates, glasswork and pottery are another common take-home. Usually these we ship. It just isn't worth the lugging around involved, but still makes for a nice reminder until you get to the "where did we get that plate? Was it Vancouver? No, I thought it was Annapolis. Oh, you sure?" phase. Then it becomes just a nice plate. And we have a few. The serving trays are a bit easier to suss out, though in many cases it says "made in China" on the back.  

Local artisans often have things we want to bring home. Little collectibles that will sit on the shelf and remind us of a particular destination. On the wall directly next to our door is a beautiful wooden musical box, though box is hardly an appropriate term for it. The wood is nicely polished and oiled, and strings are aligned across the mouth. Hanging down from the top are four wires with balls at the tip, each of them lengthened to strike a single string. It's a musical instrument, made to play only when the door is opened or closed, and inevitably grabs the attention of visitors who are leaving. (Coming in you could easily miss it...not so much going out.)
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A friend of mine had a wonderful idea I could have used many years ago. He collects napkins from particularly good meals. He carries a pen with him for such an occasion. Asking for a cocktail napkin, he jots down the meal and the name of the restaurant (unless it is embossed) and the date. He collects them in a notebook. It's a nice tabletop conversation piece, and can be matched with corresponding photographs of the food or setting as possible. We used to collect receipts, but it seemed rather depressing after a while.

Something for the Walls?

Other collectibles include hotel items such as shampoo, pens and notepads. And plastic card keys. We always ask for two upon checkin and invariably find we've still got one -- not by design but by inattention -- when we get home. Seriously. How many generic "Westin" card keys does one need in a collection?

If you're heading to a destination noted for gambling, it can be fun to go to the casinos and register for their in-house gaming program. You get a membership card which itself can be a great item for your drawer, but has the benefit of taking up little room.

It's all a personal matter of triggering those memories and making sure that whatever we lug home -- being it light, heavy, or moose -- it's something that is destined for more than just a garage sale in a few years' time.

Lots and lots of things to bring home!!!

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