Friends came to dinner last week, just back from a trip to Mexico, still immersed in its warmth and colour. They brought us several treats, and after opening the goodies, talk turned to how gift customs have changed.
When I was a kid, the return of a world traveler hauling a bulging suitcase was an event.
In 1957, when my sister Jane made a grand tour of Europe after college graduation, she brought me a Swiss dirndl embroidered with edelweiss. (I should be clear, I was eight.) Mom and Dad received a Liberty scarf and Viyella shirt; there were souvenirs from the Vatican, a straw hat from Capri. Such wonders were absolutely unattainable in our small town, and even most American cities.
Jonathan recounted how when he was a child, relatives from the Mideast would visit his New Hampshire home and spread gifts over the the floor. They would invite each family member to
choose, as well as give specific gifts to each person.
But globalization has invaded the souk; nearly everything that spilled out of Jane's trunk could now be bought online or in a local shop. A Toronto shopkeeper I knew kept a stack of pretty French tea towels, a classic travel gift, in stock. She sold them to people who'd returned from Paris short a gift or two.
Still, some travelers seek out the handmade and local, tuck these unique items into a suitcase and share them, along with stories and photos.
In the past two months, I've received three such gifts from friends. Ronni took a business trip to India and once there was bitten by the textiles bug. Always a quick study, she made an intuitive choice on the spot, and surprised me with this luminous wool shawl of red and bronze.
Christine and another teacher friend accompanied a group of teenaged volunteers to help build a school in Kenya, working though intense heat, then enjoying the respite of a safari.
The cheerful handmade ceramic rhino she brought back now holds my perfume samples.
Beth and Jonathan returned to Mexico City to indulge in art, architecture and warmth. (You can read Beth's review of the newly-opened Jumex art museum on her blog The Cassandra Pages, here.)
When Beth visited a craft market, she thought these glowing, opalescent glass earrings spoke of me. Si, si!
Each gift was a surprise and such fun to open! Unwrapping it, the brand-worshiping world receded, the hand of a far-away artisan touched mine. Like a handwritten letter, there is an old-time air to the travel gift, an element of romance.
We can shop a site like Novica, and that's a boon to both buyer and seller, but when a friend pauses before beauty in a distant place and thinks of you: priceless.