Among my Souvenirs
Among my Souvenirs
I’m a sucker for souvenirs. Travelling definitely wouldn’t be the same without them. I know it’s crazy, filling up my luggage with mementoes I don’t need. And nowadays they are rarely made in the places you buy them. Just call it addiction.
It’s reassuring that I’m not alone. You know the plot. At a tourist venue the gift shop is positioned to ensure you walk through before the exit. No escape, so we go with the flow. Clearly holiday makers are relaxed and in spending mode. It’s not so much what we purchase but the memory attached to it.
There’s a pecking order in souvenirs. For some it’s a status symbol; been there done that. For others it’s meaningful – a keepsake to treasure. Serious collectors are intent on finding that certain object. Then there’s the fun side – buying gifts, often tacky, for friends or family to share the experience.
Who Started It?
So where did it all begin? Well, there is evidence that the European Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land from as early as the 12th century arrived back bearing badges. These were attached to clothing and usually depicted a saint. Maybe a forerunner of today’s T-Shirts – look at me I’ve been travelling (and you haven’t)
Sir Walter Raleigh arrived back from the New World bearing tobacco. You really started something serious Wally.
And what about Lord Thomas Elgin who in the early 19th century souvenired (or looted) rare antiquities from the Parthenon in Greece.
Known as the Elgin Marbles, now in the British Museum, the ownership debate still rages. Greece wants them back, England stands firm on ownership.
In 1851 the first world fair was held at the Crystal Palace in London. This exhibition introduced souvenirs as we know them today - but perhaps more tasteful. Mugs, plates, toys, games ceramics, and paperweights all commemorate the occasion.
Royal events equal big bickies in the keepsake stakes. In 1887 special issue coins marked the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. By 1952 when Queen Elizabeth was crowned there were mugs, biscuit tins, key holders, brooches, stamps.
I don’t think I need to mention the impact Princess Diana had on the memento industry. Today, of course, in London, it’s William and Kate.
The Australian Collection
So what do people holidaying in Australia take home? There’s an endless assortment of souvenirs all purporting to represent us. The inevitable snow domes contain anything from Melbourne trams to the Sydney Opera House to the Great Barrier Reef.
Opal allsorts, iron ore jewelry, koala toothbrushes, hats with dangling corks, two-up games and G’day Mate tote bags.
Unique Aussie animals, birds or capital cities are plastered on mugs, pens, coasters, thimbles, spoons, or anything you can think of. These items are universal; just the flora, fauna and cities change.
For fun there’s life size inflatable kangaroos, packets of sugar coated witchetty grubs (all candy). Signs – Aussie Beer Builds better Bodies or a chomping toothy crocodile - I Love Tourists.
Looking for something more bizarre? Try pouches made from genuine kangaroo scrotums. I ask you - bad enough we eat our national animals, but is this dignified? And what about a stuffed crocodile or a mounted crocodile head? Fashion accessories made from cane toads, a key purse perhaps - with or without the legs. Or the ultimate in bad taste – fair dinkum koala poo earrings or kangaroo poo paperweights.
Give me the old favourites. Clip on koalas. On trips to the UK I’ve found these suitable for handing around in the pub – patrons can clip them on to their lapels and burst into a rendition of Waltzing Matilda. Well, it happened once.
Boomerangs are plentiful, identifiable, mass produced, easy to pack but may cause problems. They are expected to come back when thrown. They can clonk unsuspecting persons in the park when practicing the throwing. Trust me.
To be fair there are up-market stores. Hand painted scarves, wood carvings, jewelry, fabulous wines, a selection of goods all attributable to Aussie pride.
Now I’m older and more sensible I look for Australian made, traditional and contemporary Aboriginal style art. A huge range of goods including real boomerangs, didgeridoos, paintings, hand painted terracotta ornaments, genuine souvenirs from our indigenous people.
Gifts for home-sick ex pats? Try Vegemite, Tim Tams, Cherry Ripe, Violet Crumble, Freddo frogs, eucalypt oil to sniff and recall the scent of the bush - they’ll all be appreciated.
Fudge for all and some mistakes
Has anyone ever noticed there is one item available in almost every souvenir shop? The inevitable Fudge. I’m convinced somewhere out there is a giant fudge factory supplying the world. It’s a mystery to me what it represents and who buys it.
There’s abbey fudge, cathedral fudge, castle fudge, village fudge, town fudge, city fudge, people fudge - from John o’ Groats to Lands End – Melbourne to Darwin, all over Europe and beyond. Travelling? Bet you’ll find some fudge.
I guess most of us have collected some useless items at times – here’s my list –
A flokati jacket from Greece - I thought it very Cher-ish at the time but judging by reactions when I wore it appeared more sheepish.
Soft leather boots I coveted and bought in Florence and had wrapped, okay if you have two left feet.
And the Joy perfume; a last minute splurge at an airport as I raced to board, huh, an empty box.
And I don’t get why the beautiful batik clothes I buy in Asia never look the same once I’m home. I mean I’ve suffered for it. Shop keepers hailing me - ‘Look Ibu – I have Extra Large.’
Have a Google
Having a Google for souvenirs was revealing. The National Museum of Funeral History in Texas might win the gong as most enterprising, Tombstone Cufflinks, Cremation T-shirt, and Coffin Ring boxes. Their slogan - ‘Any day above ground is a good one.’
Hollywood as expected is big. A range of life size cardboard figures include Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, the Lone Ranger and Tonto or our own croc hunter Steve Irwin. Fancy Elvis style sunnies or a replica of his driving licence, or number plate? Elvis features on numerous items, as popular in death as in life. And yes, no need to travel. You can buy them online.
I know souvenirs are kitsch and often are rip-offs. But when I look around at my wall hangings, my carved wood, fans, tiles, T shirts, slate, brass and copper items, I’m transported back to the places I’ve been, the climate, the smells, the food, the fun, the people, the whole experience.
A reminder of a past I’m nostalgic about. So yes, despite the negative connotations, I’ll keep on buying. Even the fudge!