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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

Tulips 2006 for Gran ellengwallace's Tulips 2006 for Gran photoset

Friday, April 14, 2006

A short series on souvenirs and memory

The bowl of travels past

A wooden bowl from Costa Rica's highlands

Supriya, a Flickr photo friend who is Indian but lives in London, told me she likes my travel photos and the memory lane writing I sometimes add to my blog. She suggested that I photograph and write about the wonderful things I bring back from my travels.

Her comment reminded me of a conversation long ago with a friend who would describe himself as a minimalist, in particular where his living quarters are concerned. My sense was always that his minimalism was essentially pragmatic, that if he didn't like the job or the woman of the moment he could pack up and leave quickly. He was taken aback to see our apartment - very cluttered with books and in between and on top of the books were objects from around the world. He struggled to find something complimentary to say about these objects, but the task was too great.

After he left I looked at the clutter, for there was no other word for it, and the undusted objects, and I decided to change my travel habits.

That was some years ago and since then, I mostly limit myself to buying jewelry. It is usually not valuable. It is decorative, but its real purpose - as with the other objects I bought earlier - is really just to trigger a specific memory. When I wear a pair of earrings from Ghana or Brazil, I remember what happened that day, what conversations I had, who I was with, the smell of the flowers and the color of the sky.

Thank you, Supriya, for the suggestion, and now I will share some of my bits and bobs from around the world, and the memories that go with them.

Costa Rican bowls are larger than earrings

In 2001 I visited Costa Rica, my first trip to Latin America. I attended an education conference where there was more job tension than I would have liked, so the four free days at the end dangled in front of me like a wonderful gift. Nick joined me, we rented a car and drove away from San Jose and high into the hills, over them, through deep forests and beyond. But when we reached the hills we found a place that sold beautiful, mostly simple objects made from the exotic woods that cover the middle of the country.

My grandfather was a carpenter and my father, an engineer, spent much of his spare time as a woodworker. He loved special woods from far away, but they were usually too expensive for his small projects and budget.

I bought a wooden necklace, light and easy to pack, but I kept circling the shop, and laughing at a small girl who followed me at a safe distance. And I kept wandering back to this bowl, which felt like silk and weighed nothing. It was a ridiculous thing to carry home: you couldn't easily pack it and it was too pretty so I knew I would never put anything in it, like fruit.

Costa Rican bowl, mora wood (fustic)

My mind drifted and the raw beginnings of a novel took root in that store, and the little girl who peered around the edges of the counters found a second home in that novel. I bought the bowl. I held it as we traveled up and down the mountainous roads, occasionally getting lost. I got out to photograph impatiens, a flower that had never impressed me, but then I had never seen it climbing wildly. As we drove down a narrow and narrower road and finally straight into a shallow but rapid river, I remembered Jurassic Park, which Nick assured me was filmed there. I held the bowl and thought of my father and the way he loved to touch and weigh wood.

Light it is, my bowl, and empty, unless you consider that it is laden with memories.

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