The French gave us the word for those wonderful little trifles: souvenirs. Souvenirs for the bureau, for the fridge, for the soul. For 20 years now, a rosewood itinerant monk has stood on my window sill, reminding me of Vietnam. He disappeared once for a few months, not of his own volition, but because a friend of mine snatched him. He was trying to force me to accompany him to Mexico by threatening to bury the monk in the sand if I didn’t go with him. I didn’t, he buried the monk, but his girlfriend told him he couldn’t do that and dug him up again. After this brief but dramatic adventure, my Vietnamese monk returned to my window sill, where he gazes out toward St. Gallen. A chess game from Sri Lanka has stuck with me for nearly as long. You can’t resist picking the pieces up even if you don’t intend to play because the queen, the pawns and all the other players give off the scent of sandalwood.
But then there’s the sorcerer, a figurine given to me by a soothsayser in Budapest. She called herself a witch, but I don’t like the negative connotations of that word. She only did good things. She told me that if I was looking for inspiration, all I had to do was scratch it under its chin. It’s been sitting on my writing desk ever since. Souvenirs can do clever things, like open bottles. My favorite fridge magnet came from Cannes. Every time I open a bottle of beer, I gaze down from a bird’s perspective at the Croisette boulevard and think about love. And when I see my walking stick by the door, I think of Belgrade, where I purchased it after four writers with long beards had poured me one too many Slivovitzes, leaving me a bit wobbly on my feet. Souvenirs are precious and usually don’t cost much. They belong in the treasure chest of every traveling soul.
Our columnist, Helge Timmerberg, an irrepressible globetrotter since 1969, writes travel books and contributes monthly to our magazine.