I used to think buying souvenirs was on a par with eating in those tourist trap restaurants with flags and fat menus in five languages… Not cool, and certainly not the sort of thing any self-respecting traveller would be seen dead doing. Especially not in Italy.
But I’ve mellowed. Oddio, I still wouldn’t touch most souvenirs on offer with a barge pole. But time and a few distracted, sentimental purchases along the way have taught me something I never really thought was true. Souvenirs really do make you remember. If I look up, I’ve got three in my sights straight away. A clay magnet in the shape of a Neapolitan coffee pot from Spaccanapoli. A terracotta cup bought on the steps of the Duomo in Perugia where ceramics dealers from Deruta set up shop on odd week-ends. A beaker turned pen holder once held mulled wine at traditional living nativity, il presepe vivente di San Gregorio d’Assisi, in Umbria. My coldest ever Christmas and a lifetime ago it feels like.
Upstairs there’s more. A simpatico (promise!) macrame owl from a jeweller’s in Via Oberdan hangs off my bedroom door. An alabaster amulet from the Gargano in Puglia on the other side. A miniature picnic table in terracotta, laden with tiny plates and bottles of wine adorns a bookcase. Napoli again. In Marabella’s room, the timber cross above her bed we bought in Assisi imitates Cimabue. Just a handful of things literally. Tokens. Without worth, but priceless for the way they can turn back time at a glance.
I get it now. Souvenirs carry our joy. They’re proof that, whatever else in life, we haven’t always stood still. That we’ve been brave and gone out and lived, deeply. And I need reminding sometimes.