A music box from Brussels, a skateboard from L.A., a porcelain sheep from New Zealand… Our contributors share their stories
A glance at my fridge magnet brings everything back: the promenade in the coastal town of Alghero, the beatutiful pine-studded beaches of Sardinia, the wonderfully sweet pistachio ice cream. Some people may consider my fridge magnet cheesy, but souvenirs make you feel good because they magically transport you off to another place and set you dreaming of your next flight to some faraway place.
The souvenirs we bring back for others show them that they were on our minds while we were away, which makes everyone feel good. Taking something with you as a keepsake seems to be a fundamental human need, as souvenirs were the first items in history to be mass produced. Captain Cook left Botany Bay in 1770 with Australian Aboriginal spears and shields. Later, it became the fashion to take home more peaceful items, like souvenir spoons.
At the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, the first commemorative coin machine was introduced. It still exists today, as does the snow dome, which Erwin Perzy from Vienna patented in the late 19th century. Spoon, dome or coin, a souvenir is something you should always take home with you. No matter what.
I’m an avid Beatles fan, so along with fellow “pilgrims”, I went to Liverpool to mark John Lennon’s 50th birthday. We visited all the mystic places, and, by singing a carnival song, gained admittance to the house where Ringo Starr was born. An elderly lady showed us his bedroom and made us tea. But what about a memento? Stealing something was out of the question. But, hey, look at all that grass in the back yard! I secreted a few blades into a film container – a precious relic to me, back then.
Northern Kenya is home to the Samburu, a tribe of shepherds and nomads. When they get engaged, their future husbands give the women a crown with a cross to adorn their forehead, which the women wear until their wedding day. The women in the village of Maralal showed me how they live and how they make their precious beaded jewelry. During a photo session, one of them put her crown on my head. When I tried to return it, she insisted I should keep it, saying with a grin: “I’m already married.”
A porcelain sheep by the artist Gregor Kregar caught my eye on a trip to New Zealand. It was love at first sight! But I was somewhat troubled about getting it home safely. Put it in my suitcase? Take it as a carry-on? The customs officals in Singapore showed great interest in my sheep. Did I have a receipt? Yes, here you are. They shook the sheep – nothing rustled. They X-rayed it – no hash, no grass, no snow inside. There’s the transit area, sir! My love survived.
My visit to Brussels was a pilgrimage I had put off for too long. Especially the morning I spent at the museum dedicated to Jacques Brel, the singer who, like a crazed boxer, poured every last ounce of passion into his performance. The master of rhythm change, the lover, the scoffer, my hero and Belgium’s vindication. The music box echoes my love. It plays “Bruxelles,” a chanson about the early 20th century, when the city sang, danced, dreamed and “Brusseled.” Its soft thrum fails to do the powerful melody justice – but it always elicits a tear.
While hiking through the Andes, my friend and I passed cactuses as proud and defiant as a thousand extended middle fingers. After our last stop, my backpack weighed an extra five kilos. A handmade rug is not the best thing to buy at 4000 meters, but strong, if not wise, I hauled my rug across mountains and two continents, and took it back over the Atlantic to my kitchen in Germany.
I buy sneakers when I travel. The kind that nobody wears back home. So every morning, putting them on, I slip into a souvenir. There are hundreds of sneaker sellers on Fa Yuen Street, aka “Sneaker Street,” in Hong Kong. On the escalator, I glide past manga girls and neo-punks in search of a pair I’ve been after for years. When I finally hold them in my hands, the smell of butter-soft leather rises to my nostrils along with delicious cookshop smells. I’m in heaven.
Two summers ago, an old Canadian canoeist gave me a paddle made of birchwood and maple and stained with walnut oil. It accompanied me on my five-day canoe trip through Wabakimi Provincial Park in the wilds of northwestern Ontario. I pushed myself off from pebble shores and used it to keep my balance on the slippery stones beneath the rapids that I had to cross on foot. Now, every time I take to the Alster lake back home, this piece of wood sings a Canadian melody.
My father adores Persian sweetmeats, so when we visited Yazd, we bought him some tiny cakes laced with saffron and rosewater, rice-flour cookies, and sticky syrup whirls. But how on earth were we supposed to keep them fresh in the 40-degree heat during our tour of the adobe city? The taxi driver had a cool idea: He took the box home with him and put it in his mother’s icebox until it was time to pick
us up and drive us to the station that evening. My father’s verdict: “Absolutely delicious.”
The thing about skateboarding is this: What you lack in technique, you make up with material. I’ve always had the best boards, but have somehow failed to improve with age. I acquired one of my boards in Venice Beach, where you really only have two options: smoke pot or skateboard. I’d given up smoking, so I bought the board – for way too much, as it happens – and mostly just carried it around. But hey, I belonged! These days, I only cover short distances on it – in my apartment – and hardly ever take a fall.
NEED AN IDEA FOR YOUR NEXT SOUVENIR?
At Asian markets, in U.S. malls – the world is full of treasures. Check out some great ideas for your next travel adventure at LH.com. Thanks to myAirCargo, Lufthansa’s private transportation service, you can now send large, heavy items around the world from door to door. Available in Europe and North America.