Memories are made of this
The word souvenir is derived from the French verb “to remember”. For as long as people have been travelling, they’ve been collecting mementoes of their trips and although it hasn’t always been done for the right reasons – the Elgin Marbles are a case in point – there are towns and cities the world over that have grown and thrived on the industry surrounding it.
I was never a big collector of stuff from my own travels but I’ve married into a long line of souvenir collectors. The family home of my husband’s grandfather (who turned 100 last year) and late grandmother is strewn with tiny mementoes of their trips over many years, predominantly through Europe and Scandinavia. Dutch dolls, Swiss cowbells, Murano glass figurines.
Our daughter Lulu has always loved playing with them, occasionally dropping hints that she might like to take them home until she grew old enough to know better.
Our kids have clearly inherited the collector gene. My son’s first souvenir, which he chose himself in Paris when he was three, was a tiny statuette of the Eiffel Tower. Eight years later it’s still in pride of place on his bookshelf.
In Venice last year both children spent hours poring over glass figurines at a Murano glassworks to choose mementoes for themselves and small gifts for friends. Their most prized possessions however are the souvenirs they’ve made themselves, inspired by the place they were, including Carnevale masks in Venice and Gaudi-esque style mosaic photo frames in Barcelona.
They go well with the Balinese masks, Indonesian stand puppets and Indian dolls that my husband brought with him when we moved in together.
A few years ago I decided to embrace the collector within, and some of our combined purchases have become my favourite souvenirs: the Indian hall runner showing different types of Mughal architecture bought from a carpet factory in Agra where our daughter was shown how to weave; the Moroccan kilim from a souk in Marrakech which reminds me of our night in the Sahara where one of our dearest friends threw an extravagant 50th birthday party.
On our recent trip to Africa we came home with beautiful woven baskets from Botswana, a statuette of a curvy woman covered in beads, a toy zebra bought in a Cape Town township, and a beaded rhino from our game reserve, the funds from the sale of which go towards an important rhino conservation project there.
My son, a percussionist, bought two small drums when we visited a traditional Zulu village, one to keep and one to give to his favourite music teacher. They took them off us at quarantine upon returning to Australia and we had to pay $100 and fill out a raft of paperwork to have them treated. Two months later they turned up in the mail. The memories of the trip came flooding back. Which, dust collecting aside, is what souvenirs are all about.
This article was first published in International Traveller magazine.