Anatomy of a Souvenir: Little bird in a metal cage, Garmisch

Posted on
Apr 27, 2012
Posted in: Random Musings

Souvenir: Accomplished.

I’m not big on souvenirs. At least, not in the traditional sense. Rand and I are on the road a lot, and if I purchased every delightfully tasteless memento I encountered, we’d long ago have been buried under a pile of snowglobes, novelty beer bottle openers, and tiny resin sculptures of bears in swimming trunks. Which, for the record, doesn’t sound that bad. “Crushed by tchotchkes” is up there with “asphyxiation by cake” and “cuddled to death by kittens” on my list of preferred ways to die.

Don’t think that we’re models of self-restraint, because frankly, we have very little (lest you think I am lying, hear this: I just devoured a slice of coconut cake the size of my head and I wish I had more). Rand hates accumulating stuff, and my pragmatism outweighs any sentimentality I might otherwise have: “If I buy this, I will eventually have to dust it,” is how I usually talk myself out of purchases while on the road.

That’s not to say that I don’t bring things back from my travels. I often do. But I’m not sure if they quite qualify as souvenirs. They aren’t stamped with the name of the city, nor are they in the shape of a particular state, and they don’t often feature illustrations of local animals water-skiing. It’s not that I don’t love that sort of thing. It’s just that, well, you can find souvenirs like that everywhere.

So instead I find myself buying jewelry or clothes or some unusual little knick knack that I can’t bear to return home without.

These unsouvenirs aren’t exactly indicative of the geographic location I’m visiting. But they somehow remind me of my trip, of how I felt at that precise moment. Like when we found ourselves in Garmisch, a small village not far from where my father lives in Bavaria.

I’ve been to Garmisch plenty of times, and I’ve never purchased anything. I had no need for postcards, and the store selling giant beer steins had every name imaginable printed on them – Helga, Gunther, Rolf – but not Geraldine and certainly not Rand. And there was no way in hell I was buying a dirndl (I’ve made careless mistakes while shopping in Europe before. I’m not repeating the “harem pants incident” of Barcelona, 2011).

So instead we wandered aimlessly about the town, and down one forgotten alley, we came upon a rummage sale.

Oh, joy of joys.

Those of you who follow my blog know that there are few things I love more than rummaging through other people’s unwanted things.

But this was more than that: this was rummaging through German people’s unwanted German things. Words cannot capture the sheer joy I felt at that moment. I did a happy dance. I clapped my hands together. I giggled maniacally. Rand attempted to calm me down, and I told him to leave me alone or I’d try speaking my version of pretend German to the locals.

He immediately retreated. My fake German consists of me screaming “THANK YOU THURSDAY POTATO SALAD” while sounding as angry as possible. It is absolutely mortifying and wrong, wrong, wrong. Rand will do anything to avoid having to deal with it. Including going to rummage sales, which he positively hates. My father, who was with us, didn’t seem too keen on them, either. But they went, both of them, to humor me.

Inside a small, darkly lit room – was it someone’s storage room? a basement? I never did quite figure it out – were numerous tables of various sizes. And on those tables were all sorts of treasures: children’s picture books from decades past; lone earrings whose partners were long since lost; records albums with smiling men in lederhosen on the covers; tarnished silverware that didn’t quite match; a small plastic elephant that I strongly considered buying (to replace one I had given away); and, perched by a window, this little guy:

I gave it a good rinse when I got home, and found that the bottom twists off, releasing the bird from its cage.

A small glass bird, sitting inside a tiny bird cage. I asked my father if he could figure out the story behind it. He exchanged a few words with one of the women working the sale, who shrugged and explained to him that the woman who knew the history of the bird wasn’t there at the moment. The bird had a past, but I would never know it. It would never be able to tell me.

“How much is it?” I asked.

The woman held up her hand, all the fingers outstretched. 5 Euros.

“Want me to buy it for you?” Rand asked. I nodded. I was taking the mystery bird home with me.

“No, no,” my dad said, waving Rand’s hand away. “I’ll get it.”

“I might put it on a necklace,” I said to my father.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he replied. And I couldn’t help but laugh.

My dad doesn’t sugarcoat his opinions. He thought the bird would be better on a shelf, and for now, that’s where it is: on a small shelf in my bedroom in Seattle. I might put it on a necklace, though, just to see him roll his eyes. That might be fun.

I don’t know the bird’s history. It’s lost to time now. But I know that I got it in Garmisch, with my father and my husband. I know that Rand wanted to pay for it and that my father insisted on doing so. And I know that it reminds me of both of them. That’s the story it has now, and for me, that’s enough.

Leave a Comment

  • Angela

    I so would have bought that too! I love finding little treasures like that when travelling, and although I might still purchase the typlical made in china crap, there is nothing like browsing through a market or antique store in a different place.

  • stephanie

    my mom travels – a LOT. i mean, she’s been to antarctica three times. she used to bring us back stuff like tshirts and hats and miniature eiffel towers, and those things never meant that much to me (though i do have to say i wore my Hard Rock Cafe tshirt from Munich til it turned to dust)… but in the past couple of years she’s been bringing me back jewelry and scarves instead. these things, i LOVE. i wear them all the time.

  • Great story and nice find. I love shopping in places like this especially in a town that I’ve never been. You can really find some gems. And my husband also hates shopping rummage sales and the like. Perhaps I will try the fake German next time.. too funny!

  • Ruth

    I have a similar strategy for not buying souvenirs, only mine is “I will only come to resent this next time I move”

  • Sue

    That was a lovely story. Thank you

  • My sisters and I used to buy souvenirs when we travelled, but found transporting stuff home to be a major pain in the ass. We then started buying postcards and artwork (sometimes still do) but found that we were taking pictures we appreciated far more than the postcards, plus we ran out of room for the artwork.

    All of this has evolved to buying small & cheap souvenirs, usually some sort of tacky keychain, that gets re-purposed into a xmas tree ornament. This way we aren’t storing a bunch of stuff, the houses stays de-cluttered, and every holiday is a trip down memory lane as we decorate our trees.

  • houseoffools

    “If I buy this, I will eventually have to dust it,”
    My sentiments exactly!! The shelves in my house are so empty, my friends actually bring assorted knick-knacks to my house to fill the empty spaces when they visit! Why would people think I need to dust their crap in my house if I don’t even want to dust my own crap!! Empty shelves are really easy to wipe off. I tend to wrap them in some tissue and gift their junk back to them-after it’s dusty of course.

  • Kristina Cline

    That was cute. When I was younger I was in a touring choir and my mom hated most of the fundraisers that were used, so she inevitably would be paying the bulk of my cost. I always would buy her a souvenir to thank her. It was easy, because she collected spoons.

    Also my husband and I have started a tradition of buying an ornament on every trip, its the perfect time to remember happy memories.

    But I have also discovered is that its really fun to buy your own souvenirs after your trip at a local thrift store. Mind you, I haven’t been to the andes yet, so this isn’t fool proof. But its much more fun to buy an “I love New York” t-shirt that is already pre-shrunk for $5 then to roam through shops on my last day when I prefer museums.

  • Lisa

    Oh thank you. That story made me sigh with contentment. Excellent stuff.

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