On a shelf I’ve got a fragment of thin, carefully painted 2,000-year-old pottery I picked up years ago in Petra – but I don’t look at it much.
That blue Michigan license plate from the Chrysler Something I bought way up by the Canadian border, drove to Mississippi and then bounced up and down San Francisco’s hills is on top of a bookcase. In the attic.
Somewhere tucked away is the bag of Dhofari frankincense Mabkhot Al Amiry pressed into my hand. The olive-stone necklace Umm Asad made on her porch by the Dead Sea tomato fields is chucked in with tutus and tiaras at the bottom of a play box. I kept the chunky watch that a Russian soldier insisted I take after we shared a train compartment to Warsaw, less than six months after the Berlin Wall came down – but I’m not sure where it is. The point-toed leather slippers from Marrakech weren’t a pair when I got them, and they still aren’t now. I bring out the bespoke Cairo robe, perfect for a summer evening, and my wife rolls her eyes.
Stuff we collect. A minute of life-affirming richness. Then years of dead weight, pinning us to the past, wreathing everything we do – or try to – in the stale breath of the way things were.
On a twilit Pyrenean border road it had taken us all day to hitchhike from Montpellier. I was on my knees, begging cars to stop. One did. C was in the passenger seat. Twenty years on, he’s a bit like a brother.
In Amman, T was on one end of the group of friends who’d adopted me; I was on the other, newly single and hurting. It was a reckless time. I barely remember her. Twelve years later she tweeted hello. Now she laughs while pushing my kids in the park swings.
Then there was chopping vegetables with A in her kitchen in rural Massachusetts, more than a decade after those Tel Aviv deckchairs. The sweaty hotel room in Delhi with A. The long detour next week, to see M in Paris.
Never mind stuff. Collect people.
But what about the stuff we do gather when we travel? We asked seven travel writers what kitsch, wonderful and downright weird souvenirs they’ve collected over the years. Read about them here.