Who knows who was the first to pick up something unusable but remarkable from a long journey to exotic sites and give it a name – souvenir. Maybe it started as an excuse for stealing a little vase from a room in an ancient caravane-serail. But we all agree that a souvenir is unique material evidence of our travel´s adventures, whether in ancient times or today’s global world.
The market for souvenirs became totally chaotic already in the 1960s. When my father was in Iraq buying gifts for realtives back home in Slovakia, he had no idea how much surprise it will cause to them and him as well. Even though we used to say that it is not wise to check the teeth of a gift horse, our relatives examined exotic gifts from far-away Arabia really carefully. And discovered that on the back side of a nice little carpet with images of mosque and minaret was a little label “Made in Poland”. Soon other relatives realized that the “hand-made” copper plate with portrait of famous queen Sheheresade from Baghdad was in fact manufactured in Hungary. And every piece of jewellery bought in that Middle East not made from gold came from a big factory of “bijouterry” from the Czech city Jablonec nad Nisou. But how we can be surprised about all that when the famous original caps of Turkish men were manufactured in the Czech city Strakonice and thanks to name of company FEZ these caps got their name!
These days we can find in every good-sized city in the world specialized shops with African, Indian or even Malaysian souvenirs. Thanks to them you may have your apartment full of rememberances from exotic countries without taking a step outside your city. This is how I bought a nice original jacket from Guatemala in Washington and in Prague a pair of painted wooden ducks from Indonesia. Both jacket and ducks cost almost nothing in comparison with travel expenses to these countries and all the effort to carry them back in luggage full of these “unique items”.
It is thus very logical that the really experienced traveller is nowadays looking for anything that will help him remember a particular journey, but the best souvenirs can’t be bought. The traveller needs fantasy – and good luck! Thanks to it I have at home an old used horseshoe from a short trip by horse-carriage in the Egyptian city Edfu. I also have a three-sided hock-nail from fortress at Helsinki island called Suomenlinna found on ground and a paper cap for tourists visiting the West Wall in Jerusalem. I have also a little spoon from a hotel in the Indian city of Varanasí as compensation from my own big spoon that I lost there. And I have also quite an ordinary little spoon from a hotel in Brussels as compensation for their inhospitatily I had unfortunately experienced. In my work room at home you can also find two special caps – one for an army bodyguard of that-time president of Georgia Mr. Shevernadze that I found at a floor of discoteque close to the President´s villa in the abandoned spa Likani. The second was left after midnight by a door-man at the main entrance of a hotel in Tel Aviv. And, of course, I have a collection of stones from Lipari Islands close to Sicily, from the continental divide in New Mexico, from Fuji hill in Japan, and from a Moslem cemetery in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo. All these souvenirs (and especially all those stones) have one weak point – only the owner knows where they come from. Only a personal story will give them meaning. But I have one original souvenir that is a story itself.
In my hotel room in Toronto I was attracted by a nice plastic little board with following announcement:
„Dear Guest. Due to the popularity of our guest room amenities, our Housekeeping Department now offers these items for sale:
Bath Towel = 14.00 USD
Hand Towel = 8.00 USD
Bath Mat = 18.00 USD
Face Cloth = 3.00 USD
Pillow = 23.00 USD
Sheets (per set) = 30.00 USD
Wine Bucket = 35 USD
prices do not include tax
Each guest room attendant is responsible for maintaining the guest room items. Should you decide to take these articles from your room instead of obtaining them from the Executive Housekeeper, we will assume you approve a corresponding charge to your account. Thank you.”
I was holding that little plastic board in my hands and checking items in room. They were all there and I found this announcement also as the best balanced message ever to guests. However, they forgot one little thing. The board had no price. So I took it - for a remembrance…
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