by Pat Holt
Tuesday, July 23, 2002
'SOUVENIRS DE VOYAGE' BY LOUISE KOLLENBAUM
What a treat it is in the middle of summer to turn from book industry problems to one of the more fundamental issues of life - vacation travel.
When I first looked at Louise Kollenbaum's "Souvenirs de Voyage" (Chronicle Books; $22.95), I thought it was another artsy-craftsy book (thankfully a major cut above Martha Stewart, but still).
Then I realized that while it's a book for travelers, Kollenbaum offers a larger destination, so to speak, no matter where you're going.
On the one hand, this beautiful "keepsake book" provides a brief and inspiring text, elegant paper for journal-keeping and lovely parchment sleeves for the collection of mementoes - ticket stubs, matchbooks, postage stamps, menus, bottle caps, labels, scraps of cloth, feathers and the like.
The idea is that when you get back to your hotel or home, you can make a collage of these souvenirs, glue them down and frame 'em or put 'em in a favorite family album and in that way preserve much more than a record of sight-seeing.
Years later, Kollenbaum suggests, a single glance at your handiwork will evoke the smells, textures, light and mood of the trip far more powerfully than, say, a book of photos or postcards.
Okay, that's the obvious part, and let's stay with it for a moment to enjoy its most immediate benefactors - children.
"Each member of the family sees different things during a trip," Kollenbaum observes, "but how often do we get to share these discoveries at the end of a day?
"With kids in particular, we don't know what they see, really. They tell us some things and not others. But if you ask them to create a project about their experience, they'll come up with all sorts of innovations you'd never expect."
It's an all-muss, no fuss operation. "Back at the hotel or wherever you're staying, you can set them up on the table or bed, have them lay out all the souvenirs they've collected that day, give them a glue stick and ... go take a nap.
"Kids have much more energy than we do, and they love getting into the particulars of their experience in this way. Plus, there's the expectancy of showing their collage to you later on. Their concentration and industry are something to see."
That leads us to the hidden bonus of "Souvenirs de Voyage" - how it changes the reader *before* it's put into use.
"When you travel," Kollenbaum writes, "consider anything that catches your eye a souvenir, and a possible piece in a future collage: a playbill autographed by Helen Mirren, an ornate cigar band, vintage ribbons from a flea market, a colorful umbrella rescued from a Mai Tai, notepaper from the Europa e Regina hotel in Venice or the Athenaeum in London.
"Whatever speaks to you, symbolically or visually, is collectible. The most important thing is that the object has meaning for you."
This seems obvious, but Kollenbaum's message speaks volumes about the way we assign value to things. Especially in this era of eBay, Amazon.com and TV's "Antiques Roadshow," the notion of collectibles that are personally worth preserving to us alone has almost gotten lost in the shuffle of trading for profit.
Traveling, Louise reminds us, is for the traveler. The joy of keeping a journal, for example, is to forget about about spelling or grammar or what makes a perfect sentence. Begin instead with the "hastily scrawled thought," she advises. Jot down the unexpected for later rumination and when you "explore new ideas, express them uncensored" (what a great word). Become, then, your own "artist observer."
Combine Kollenbaum's notions about collage with her ideas about the personal meaning of words and you find that the whole experience of travel changes. The eye becomes attuned to objects for their color, size, texture and emotion. We begin to seek memorabilia that deepen and enlarge the journey, even beyond barriers of language and shyness.
A great story in the book takes us to Venice, where Kollenbaum finds herself waiting for a lampshade she has ordered. Looking around the store, she describes her upcoming book on travel collages to the proprietor, Lucy, and asks if she might have any leftover fabric scraps that are lying around.
Lucy was "thrilled to be included" in plans for the book, Kollenbaum writes, and "began selecting pieces from around the room. By the time I left the shop, my small plastic bag was overflowing with wonderful scraps. Those fabrics will forever remind me of my afternoon with Lucy, the generous and wise woman who spoke little English but who understood everything."
Kollenbaum, former production art designer for such magazines as Mother Jones, Ramparts and California Lawyer, suggests experimenting with the other kinds of aesthetics, such as getting your shoes shined in faraway places. "Sitting in the chair and watching your dusty shoes regain their shine is an excellent way to hear local history and colorful stories," she writes.
But best of all are those throwaway objects that become unearthed gifts to you, just because you're a foreigner and you have the interest and the eyes to see them.
"In Japan when you go to a store and buy something," Kollenbaum says, "the storekeepers wrap your purchase with papers that so interesting, you think, 'You're giving me this? I have something inside this as well?' "And the bags! The sculpture of 'ordinary' shopping bags is something to behold."
Kollenbaum, an artist herself who's written two books before this one - "Souvenirs de Fleurs" and "Fallen Leaves," both of which also provide lined pages for writing/art and parchment sleeves for collecting and pressing (in this case flowers or leaves) - has a knack for opening up the world of art in the everyday.
"Artists collect," she says. "By nature we're always looking to draw from a visual pool. Whenever we're working on something, we need a lot of reserves. So if you walk into artists' studios for the most part, they're filled with images and things in all corners. They just need to be surrounded with objects of all kinds."
One of these objects the visitor finds in Louise's own studio is stack after stack of pizza boxes. In the book, she advises readers to lay out and preserve mementos from each trip in a pizza box so nothing is damaged and there's room to rearrange and play with all aspects of the collage before you decide on the permanent look.
"I do think God is in the details at some level," Kollenbaum says. "When you start to be calm enough and quiet enough to pay attention, the things that are meaningful to you reveal themselves.
"Some people say this is an anti-technology book, or a book about Zen, but really the message is simple: If you're open to this experience, you find yourself noticing more, sometimes in a profound way. It's just a different manner of traveling, something you feel when, say, the design and the heft and the look of every sugar packet or napkin seems to call to you. If that's a Zen experience, well, hooray."
EXPLOITING 9/11: IT FINALLY HAPPENED
Perhaps it was inevitable that somebody would turn the events of September 11 into money, but I never thought the effort would be as blatant, as hilarious or as gross as the "Twin Tower $2001 Dollar Bill" or the "George Bush $2001 Dollar Bill" at http://www.geocities.com/commemorativebills2002/.
Of course, we all knew such an attempt would be seedy. "These bills look, feel, and smell [they *smell*?] just like legal U.S. tender," says the sponsoring company, THC Health of Houston TX, which also sells growth hormone releasers. "You won't be able to tell the difference."
Yes, a photo of the bill looks just like American paper currency, except that the World Trade Center is pictured in the center where you'd ordinarily find an American president, and the value of the currency is $2001. On the back, the patriotic designer has gone hog-wild with the American flag, eagle and Pentagon appearing under the words, "Operation Enduring Freedom."
It's so schlocky that you can't imagine why anyone would pay $1.50 per bill (plus $3 for handling) - until you read the text:
"We've shead (sic) our tears, but Commander Bush has spoken! 'You're either with us or with the terrorists!" Show your support for our country and the people of New York by carrying one of these commerorative (sic) bills!"
Ah, the barker side of American commerce, long may it...well, bark.
The best part is the "George Bush $2001 Dollar Bill," where "Commander Bush" is pictured in the American president circle. Here, however, he looks about 12 years old and is staring past the camera with a quizzical gaze, as though stumped in a spelling bee.
I have a feeling the creators of this bill wanted to give this portrait a classic feel, so they show the president setting his mouth in grim determination. It's a look that reminds us that George Washington was apparently bothered by ill-fitting false teeth at the time his portrait was painted.
What do these "authentic reproductions" have to do with books? Well, one hopes that this and other attempts to make money off 9/11 will be collected in book form one day. It would be proof that the First Amendment was out there protecting the lowest of the low so that Americans could enjoy the highest of the high.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
[Re the bookseller whose sign alerts customers to avoid leaving a record of purchases by not using credit cards:]
Pay by check for privacy? Au contraire, Madame -- the Supreme Court has held that Americans have no expectation of privacy for payments made by check (since checks are put through the clearinghouse banks etc. etc. you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in payments made by check).
The only way to have greater confidence (not certainly, sadly) in your privacy is to pay by cash. (Another reason the feds are so suspicious of cash and demand that merchants notify them of any transactions made with cash of more than $10k -- they don't want anyone escaping the surveillance state.)
A Law Student
Dear Holt Uncensored
While I think you're a little overboard in this column about Operation TIPS, I do share your concerns. For a conservative point of view which is as critical, but from a different starting point and with a take more like my own, see:
I think she nails it without being hysterical. TIPS is dumber than it is scary. People will often do the right thing, and sometimes the wrong thing, even without being given the stamp of government approval. Totally unnecessary, and potentially dangerous, but again, not particularly scary.
Holt responds: For another conservative's concern about Operation TIPS, see also http://www.cato.org/research/articles/levy-020718.html, which originally appeared in the National Review.
As to this reader's comment that I went "a little overboard" about Operation TIPS, I remembered what it was like to be in school during the McCarthy era. Students of all ages were shown films about teachers who were supposed to be watched in case they taught anything about Communism. The message was that even if the teaching was objective and historically accurate, these teachers might be members of the dreaded Communist "cells" that were infiltrating our very neighborhoods and plotting to overthrow the government. I don't remember being told to run and tell my parents if I ever heard a teacher mention Communism, but the implication was that Americans spying on Americans was a good thing. That's why this Operation TIPS is "particularly scary" to me.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
If I were a Postal Worker, I would refuse to participate in the Operation TIPS program, too. Especially after the anthrax incidents wherein members of Congress were evacuated from their offices, given access to Cipro and whatnot and the Postal Workers who had handled the mail were not. Guess which population suffered deaths and illness? Not Daschle, no, sir, not Helms, nope. They were kept quite safe.
While I do not normally advocate a tit-for-tat mentality, were I a Postal Worker, I would be asking very loudly "O!? And just what have you done for *me* lately?!"
Christie Clare Schaefer
FROM A NUMBER OF READERS:
Dear Holt Uncensored:
In your story about Susan Parker's "Tumbling After," was her husband Ralph wearing a helmet at the time of his bicycle accident?
Holt responds: Yes, according to Suzy, Ralph had a helmet on. It was cracked during the accident, so it probably saved him from injuring his head.
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