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Published: January 20th 2021
My Travel Map
Pin for Russia is missing!
I think it’s safe to say that 2020 was a year like no other in many ways. Filled with extraordinary challenges and roller-coaster highs and lows, the global COVID-19/ coronavirus pandemic has changed life for nearly all of us in innumerable ways. Restrictions on activities and lock downs imposed by governments took many forms. For months the issued restrictions on normal daily life were far reaching and imposed serious hardships on many -- from people losing their loved ones, to loss of social contact, to people losing their businesses and livelihoods. For some this resulted in feelings of hopelessness, loss of control and depression -- these mental health issues are finally being recognized by the healthcare professionals but how are they being handled?
During the earliest period of shutdowns, only essential businesses and medically-related venues were not shuttered and the luckiest of people who remained employed began to work from home. All of these factors together with the restrictions on local, in-country and international travel often meant at least a period of semi-confinement at home. Lots of people have adapted to their circumstances in inventive ways, while also reinventing their way of life, yet some have not.
happy to have reached this point without catching COVID, in November, 2020, I found out what being ‘confined to quarters’ actually felt like. Two weeks before Thanksgiving, I severely injured my knee. However, it wasn’t a normal injury and the extreme pain I was feeling 24 hours a day for over a month should have been a clue that it was something more.
A December MRI confirmed that I had a diagonal fracture of my left tibia, a complex tear of the meniscus and strained MCL. What’s more, since moving is obviously a necessity, the extra pressure I was putting on my right leg and knee to compensate for little use of the left was wreaking havoc on that leg too.
While cursing my own circumstances, I was also lamenting being cooped up in the house even though it was winter. I had already spent many days confined to my bedroom trying to stay off of the injured leg. But, I needed a change from looking at the same 4 bedroom walls as boredom sat in quickly. With help I was able to move downstairs to the den or family room – at least now I was much
closer to the kitchen for coffee, tea or a meal, and much closer to the fridge for the non-stop ice packs I needed to dull pain.
We’re lucky that we have a den with plenty of light streaming in through the sliding glass doors leading to the patio and yard. The den is oblong and I’d say comfortably furnished and on the whole a very pleasant space. On cold days I love ensconcing myself on our comfy sectional sofa and wrapping myself in a quilt to take a nap, read, watch movies, do crossword puzzles, or cuddle with my cats. However, that normal freedom is much different as compared to being necessarily confined to a circumscribed space, even in comfortable surroundings. The psyche rebels at being confined to quarters no matter what the reason.
Nothing like constricted movement and confinement forces you to assess your situation and take a look at your surroundings with new eyes. Recently I read a short article about Xavier de Maistre
, a relatively young French military man and aristocrat who in 1790 wrote a satire or parody entitled, "A Journey Round My Room" or “Voyage autour de ma chamber.”
I admit that his
style of writing, whether by design or as a consequence of the era in which he lived, very much appeals to me.
In his work he describes his room and the objects therein as if he were on a grand adventure to a foreign land. De Maistre’s work was prompted by his being sentenced to house arrest and confinement for engaging in an illegal duel. While confined did de Maistre have an epiphany or write out of boredom? Or was it de Maistre’s intent to encourage us to look at our environs, the familiar, with new eyes and new interest?
Like de Maistre, my confinement set me to thinking about my own surroundings. Like nearly everyone else, we had been unable to travel to even fairly nearby points of interest in 2020 thanks to COVID-19 global pandemic. I truly missed traveling, and felt it was a travel year wasted. Who knows how many years of travel I have left -- how many more years can I push the envelope? Sadly, with this new injury the window for my traveling days seemed to have come closer to closing.
Our den is the center of our activities at home,
From Costa Rica, Venezuela, Mexico and Peru
and I have used it as a small gallery of sorts to display some of our travel souvenirs in an attractive way hopefully. In the last five years I have greatly scaled back souvenir purchases with the thought that smaller ones are an advantage whether they are expensive or a bargain. Also they may not be appreciated by our children long term and may one day very well may end up in a thrift store, or I shudder to think, a less hospitable place. Like de Maistre, I'd like to submit them here for the reader's inspection.
And so following in the style of de Maistre, I began to embark on my own grand voyage surveying these sentimental objects that have found a home in our den, this gallery of souvenirs acquired from the days we were neophyte travelers but also those acquired more recently now that we are more seasoned travelers. Gathered from 6 continents, in a small way they represent the attempt to accomplish a long-held desire to see the world. On a day-to-day basis I may forget to appreciate these inanimate objects, but never the human memories attached to them.
As I rest on the
Representing Tunisia, Morocco and the Erg Chebi - Sahara Desert
sofa, my eyes turn toward the souvenir closest to me just above to my left. A smallish, fringed wool rug we purchased in Morocco in 2019 now hangs from a spiral-lathed wooden rod like tapestry often displayed in some European castles we’ve visited. The rectangular rug’s center design is oddly asymmetrical. It wasn’t the design that necessarily appealed to me but its jewel-tone shades of light and dark teal, coral, taupe and cream with small dashes of pale green, yellow and outlines of black. Somehow these seemingly discordant colors blend together in a pleasant way and the rug feels exotic and adds warmth to the room.
Very similar to those in Turkey, many Moroccan carpet shops have inviting showrooms with carpets stacked or hung from the walls, and long benches around the room to sit on. Guests are welcomed with traditional hospitality shown by serving hot mint tea and sweets. Then the show begins. Carpets and rugs are flung twirling and unfurling in mid-air landing on the floor before your feet – magnificent colors, intricate designs or more primitive patterns, one after another both large and small. This spectacular show can be mesmerizing all the while oohs and aahs
resound from the captive audience.
Skilled in the art of selling, these men immediately recognize any change in a prospective buyer’s eyes or expressions which indicates to them you’re interested – when this happens the seller knows he has hooked his fish. I had no intention of buying a rug, but the show of carpets worked its magic on my husband. The smiling salesman assured us that necessary paperwork was completed, and the rug was expertly packaged for travel -- now that beautiful rug hanging in our den serves as a reminder of our visit to Fez’s enchanting and frenetic medina.
On a console table sitting just behind the sofa sits a particularly favorite souvenir -- a glinting silver-like circular tray with embossed designs holding a set of 6 tea glasses rimmed in deep colors and trimmed with silver scrolling. We bought these on our last day in Marrakesh -- a daily reminder of Moroccan hospitality and my new love for fresh Moroccan mint tea.
I have vivid memories of watching the traditional Moroccan tea ceremony a Berber family matriarch performed when we visited her rustic home in the Ourika Valley, and while being given an introduction
at the Lotus Chef Cooking School in Marrakesh where we participated in a very fine cooking class using tajines/tagines to prepare Moroccan food.
Mint tea also calls to mind shopping in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. We had stopped to admire some beautiful decorative ceramics seen on display in a shop window. Of course, we were invited in to take a closer look. I knew I would like to bring one of the beautiful plates home so we accepted the invitation to enter the shop. I was having a difficult time deciding – I liked one plate for its intricate painting, colors and motif, and my husband liked another. I was invited to sit down while deciding and suddenly glasses of hot mint tea were being offered and were gratefully accepted by us. This was our introduction to this tradition of hospitality. The serving of mint tea had its desired effect and we walked out of the shop with both plates!
Now looking to the opposite wall of our den I admire the two relatively recently installed wall shelves which now hold the majority of souvenirs in this room and which I like to refer to as a
roving travel exhibit. One shelf holds many small colorful art pieces from the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Individually they represent visits to Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela (we bought nothing but coffee and postcards in Colombia).
My favorites: hand carved and painted animals from Mexico; a very tiny carving of a team of oxen pulling a traditionally decorated Costa Rican cart or caretta; and, a set of Peru’s most well-known animals -- a llama, an alpaca, and a vicuña -- each 2 ½
inches tall and carved from multi-colored soapstone.
These carved animals were purchased from a Peruvian woman when we were leaving the amazing historic Incan site of Sacsayhuaman on the outskirts of Cusco in the Andes Mountains near the Urubamba Valley. We were being hurried to board our bus to leave when one of several Peruvian women followed me hoping to sell souvenirs which I had only quickly glanced at and really didn’t want. She determined not to let me go even if it meant delaying our departure, and not to take no for an answer, so I quickly offered her what little money I had. She looked at
it and accepted, and thrust a small package at me. It was only after being seated on the bus and when I unwrapped the package did I see it contained the little animals carved from soapstone. I loved them immediately! A moment of pure serendipity.
Moving up to the top shelf, it is where small pieces collected from 2 African countries sit -- an incredibly detailed camel with saddle and harness bought in Tunisia, and an even smaller carved wooden camel, and unique glass jars along with 2 framed postcards which look like vintage travel posters for Morocco. My favorites: 2 Moroccan glass spice bottles partially encased in shiny silver and topped with caps from which deep blue or silver silk tassels dangle. Rather than use these for the spices for which they were intended, they now hold the brilliant red sand we collected from the Erg Chebi dunes. These bottles were purchased for a song but are priceless to me because they evoke memories of the Erg Chebi and watching not only a spectacular sunset but sunrise in the silent Sahara Desert!
When in Essaouira on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, we clambered over a seawall to scour a
certain part of the shore for washed up treasures – we found mostly pale beach glass which I had hoped for, but also pieces of broken china and tile worn smooth, and slivers of stained glass. This collection is kept together in a special glass jar. I spent a very happy hour walking that beach while remembering that my Dad and I used to do this at our home beach when I was a little girl. I found treasures then too and scouring beaches became a lifelong activity which I love.
At this time I have more items in our roving travel display from Morocco than other countries because it was the country we were last able to travel to. However, I am supremely hopeful that the roving travel display on these 2 den shelves will feature keepsakes from travels to other countries in the not too distance future -- hopefully from Egypt, Jordan, southern African countries or even the Galapagos and Ecuador -- fingers crossed.
Just feet away in our kitchen are a coffee set, and woven napkins from Bulgaria. The little terracotta cups and saucers are glazed in deep green with extra colorful wavy lines circling
the edges and a tiny milk cup to match. The napkins are a thin wool-like material of snowy white with pretty red, green, yellow, orange, and black designs woven in at the center or edges. All of these have typical designs of Bulgarian crockery and textiles, and are quite nostalgic to me as they were bought when we visited this country for a 2019 Euromeet with friends who mostly happen to be, or were, travel bloggers. They bring me so much joy to look at. Back in the den on a table I see an item I bought in Belize. Glazed in earthy colors with native figures etched on it is a little pot that I like very much for its colors and design. But what it reminds me of is a boat trip on the milky green Belize River or Old River where we saw some amazing wildlife, most especially manatees.
Displayed not in the den but in the living room are pieces from Russia bought in 2005 while on a Baltic cruise for our 30th Anniversary and when we visited St. Petersburg. I have 2 favorites: a very delicately painted lacquer box, and a music box fashioned
like St. Basil's in Moscow with its vividly colored onion domes. Somewhere I have a small ceramic figure of Gaudi's smiling mosaic dragon seen at Barcelona's Parc Guëll but which I bought at the Sagrada Familia on a blisteringly hot and humid day.
The souvenir I brought home from my very first international trip in 1983 was a good-sized, fringed wool blanket from Iceland. Woven of thick Icelandic wool in colors of natural cream and deep green, we still have the blanket and it is as warm as ever. Those Icelandic blankets are still popular items for tourists though these days they quite expensive as is nearly anything in Iceland! That blanket is probably the most practical souvenir I ever bought other than food items. In 2018 we revisited Iceland where that year's Euromeet was being held. My 2 favorite souvenirs: a tiny piece of red lava given to me while at the Geysir - Strokkur or was it Þingvillir(?), and 3 bars of lava soap.
It gives me a lot of pleasure to bring home gifts for family and friends from our travels which I usually give out as soon as we arrive home; but a few
special items may be stashed away to be given as Christmas gifts. I have the pleasure of buying them, and hopefully the recipient has the pleasure of receiving them.
I admit I have collected many souvenirs over the 40 years we’ve been privileged to travel and I never forget that traveling IS a privilege. Some may say such collections are nothing but dust catchers and a huge waste of money; but, buying them helped to provide someone at least a small means of support which gives me another reason to feel good about buying them and traveling. In the end, these sentimental objects are still only objects and truly it is the memories evoked by them which will always mean the most to me and no matter what the cost, it was a small price to pay.
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