Friday, September 16, 2011

Vintage Souvenirs

"There are no foreign lands.  It is the traveler only who is foreign"  Robert Louis Stevenson

San San Beach, Jamaica

My first visit outside of the country was to a sliver of paradise called San San Beach, on the north east side of the island of Jamaica.  I was a single mother, desperate for a vacation and on a budget.  Thankfully, my funds deemed sufficient enough to go on a shopping spree for souvenirs.  My Jamaican plunder consisted of three large shells (one purchased, two found), a hand carved bird, two wooden drums for my sons, a stack of reggae 45's, a bag of Blue Mountain coffee, a Red Stripe t-shirt and a partridge in a pear tree ~ just checking if you are still with me.  My connecting flight home, to Kingston from Port Antonio, required traveling on a 4 seater plane with a pilot and a co-pilot (go figure), another passenger and cargo space the size of a car trunk.  I had no choice but to stuff all of my souvenirs in a woven basket and hold it on my lap as we dipped and soared, flying over the Blue Mountains towards Kingston.  My concern was not the possibility of doing a nose dive, crashing and burning in the slopes of a Jamaican hillside, no!  My thoughts were focused on getting my "traveler's treasure" safely home to California.

Over the years, I have continued to travel, not alone, but with my husband.  We have preferred visits to Europe, a seemingly sharp contrast to our tropical lifestyle on Maui.  France, Italy, England, Scotland and Ireland albeit are far from our island home in the Pacific, but worth the journey.  In the past while traveling to these far off lands (and before weight limits on baggage and charging for more than one suitcase), we would stuff our bags full of museum books, pamphlets, linens, small statuary and anything else that symbolized some meaning of our vacation together. I am sure we were loathed by the baggage handlers at United Airlines.

A small red urn from Pompeii and an armless Aphrodite (Venus de Milo) from the Louvre in Paris

When we got home from our travels, we did not hesitate to open our suitcases and "ooh and ah" over our souvenirs of the country we had just visited.  In rushed words, we would excitingly talk over each other, remembering parts of our trip, a moment in time, in a foreign country, sharing the same experiences together.

Yes, dear reader,  the heart of a souvenir is in the memory, a keepsake or memento of a time and place you hopefully, enjoyed.  It's almost impossible to pinpoint when the concept of souvenirs came into exsistence.  Drawings or water colors, a pressed flower or shamrock in between pages of a book, rocks or shells ... maybe even a fur or scalp?  Who knows. In the 1800's, artists would paint large canvases of popular scenery, ancient ruins or famous architecture to wealthy tourist as they leisurely trekked across Europe without a care in the world.   On a much smaller scale (and easier on the pocket book) in the mid-1800's, the souvenir spoon was crafted and marketed to tourists.  The souvenir spoon came mostly with decorative handles depicting the site or place you were visiting.  Some even had printed pictures in the cupped part of the spoon. It's hard to believe, and strange in a way,  a lowly spoon would become the top selling souvenir around the world. Everyone has seen them in a tourist shop or even on Granny's wall .... who knows, you may even have a collection for yourself.

I started collecting vintage souvenirs after finding this lovely glass box ~ with faded blue tucked padding on the inside and a painted picture of the Mont Sainte Odile de Couvent encased in glass on top.  I was scouring around an antique store on the central coast of California when I spotted this little gem sparkling in a clutter of knick knacks. Charming and unique, never seen anything like it! I was intrigued, I had to have it.  This tiny glass box has now peaked my interest and quest in vintage souvenirs ..... mainly those from France.  

A Vintage Glass French Jewelry box ~ a convent souvenir 
a plaque for a French chapel ~ for sale at Ooh La La Maui @ Etsy
a vintage ashtray from Paris with pebbles from Moonstone Beach

However, as much as I love France and all things French (and would be secretly delighted if someone considered me a Francophile), I love other countries equally, even more so, my own.

a vintage pitcher from Ireland

God Bless America, Land that I Love ....

 a bronze Statue of Liberty found at a antique store in Cambria

From sea to shining sea ........ even us way out west!
made for each state in the union

Whether you are into retro, shabby chic or modernistic, I am sure there is a spot in your home for a collection of vintage souvenirs.  The beauty of vintage souvenirs is you don't even have to travel to purchase them.  A quick trip to the computer and a Google search will find you oodles of souvenirs.  How nice!  You can be an armchair traveler or as Meryl Streep's character, Karen Blixen, in Out of Africa explained ~ 

"I have been a mental traveler"

Arm chair, mental or the real Mc Coy ... go travel!  And don't forget to pick up a few vintage souvenirs along the way.

Bon Voyage!

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