August 28th, 2004



For a lot of people it is a normal tradition, bringing back gifts after they've been away. For me it has been different. Having worked abroad and travelled a lot, bringing something for the loved ones isn't very easy. The first few times I went away for a while, I went to work a season. I was glad I was happy to carry my own luggage, let alone bring something for others. Though I do remember I took a painting from the Dominican Republic to my parents.

Later when I travelled some more, I got a big aversion for souvenirs. What does one buy when you go abroad? That bottle of somthing strong will never taste the same when you are back home. The local artist selling some of his art is a rich man and his art really doesn't fit into your home, does it? Buying remains from old buildings or even from natural products is even worse. I decided that memories, eventually a picture or postcard, are the best souvenirs.

On my big journey it was easy. How can I take a souvenir when I am not going home. If I had taken one thing from every country I travelled then, I would have needed an extra backpack. So, using this argument every time somebody tried to sell me something, I got away easily.

Yet this time it is different. Not only is this a shorter trip, it counts as a holiday for everyone. I have a regular job and I travel in the summer break. And I have given in. Because I need to buy something anyway. The day after I get back it is my sisters birthday. Her boyfriend had a birthday last month, while I was in Spain. The DVD I bought him was already in his collection. A friend of mine is graduating this week and has her party on my sisters birhtday. I helped her correcting her thesis, so I am expected, need to bring her something as well. And while I need 3 gifts anyway, I might as well buy a fourth one, for the special person who I got a bit closer to the weeks before leaving and who I wouldn't mind in my life for a bit longer.

So on the last afternoon I go back to the arts and crafts market I discovered on arrival in Santiago, farely close to my hotel. I dreaded going there, as I know I can never find a thing, because I don't know what I am looking for. I can't stand all those desperate salespeople, trying to sell you something you surely don't want.

A good begin. After a few minutes I discovered a little stall with old books, but even more useful: old maps. And I know Bas likes them as much as I do. I went through piles of them, lovely to stare at them, have them in your hands, I was busy for at least half an hour. While doing so I knew one big problem: how to take an old vulnerable map home when you are travelling with a backpack and due for a 24 hour journey? The bigger maps were automatically disqualified. Then I had to pick a map that he would like. A country he has been to or one where he has been. One in Spanish, German or English? I settled for a map of the world in Spanish, cold war area. And bought one from central America and the Caribbean for myself.

The second gift wasn't a big problem either. Made out of wood, nicely and colourfully painted, it looked like a bakery. Annemarie's grandfather used to have one of them, before she can remember, but I know they talk about it once in a while. Not too big, not breakable, so I can take it home, spanish text on it, which makes it authentic. Two down, two to go.

Now the trouble starts. I walk up and down the ailes but I haven't got a clue what else to buy. I must have seen every shop twice and my bladder is beginning to trouble me. With the sun out all afternoon I drank quite a bit of water, which also means it has to get out someway. I'm not sure what to buy Yolanda. I hardly know her. Yes, we saw the sun rise sitting (not really) on her sofa together. But that doesn't mean you really know someone. I settle for a mug. Safe, useful and easy to take. To give it a personal twist I but one with Neruda on it. A Chilean flag is tacky, a poet a bit more subtle.

Marion turns out to be the biggest problem. I have known her all my life, yet I find it difficult to buy her a gift. Clothes are no option, she doesn't even fit into her own clothes anymore at the moment. Something for the baby is early and too predictable. She has taste, so a tacky souvenir is no option either. My final choice isn't perfect. But after three complete tours of the market I am sure not too find something else and my bladder is really bursting now. Two tiny (therefore not really tacky) sculptures, small enough to be put in a small pocket of my backpack. One replica of the Eastern Island statues (cheating, I haven't been there) and a small pinguin (not fair either, I didn't see them this time). She can always put them away in a corner. I'll buy her a gift to go with it when I'm home.

(friends only as some of the recipients do read my LJ)
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