Should I live to see 100, or even more optimistically, the 80-90 range (I have good bloodlines, but that is neither here nor there; and I promise no more about the hereafter thereafter), I shall never live long enough to match the wide and diverse international travels of the man who normally owns this space. Jon Higgins (a man with not one but TWO country passports), has tasted port in just about every port of call on your global map app.
My travelogue is quite modest by comparison, with three continents still to be visited (I’m waiting for my invitations, Gustavo and Chris Gray). As I have traversed the other four during the last 25 years, it seems practically everything has changed about international travel in ways we can all recognize — somehow while the planes got bigger, the legroom got smaller; not to mention the growing lines, shrinking courtesies and an endless array of absurdities, gratuities and indignities. It’s like someone put the Coen Brothers and Tim Burton in charge of air travel.
But it’s actually not the travel itself that I have found most confounding.
Whilst traveling abroad, I have heretofore always made it a point to find some kind of local memento or trinket for my son or someone special, even for trusty colleagues. Oh heck, who am I kidding — the sentimentalist in me also wanted something for myself as a tangible reminder of my distant travels, particularly should I never have the good fortune to return to that locale. And, of course, the whole point of pride behind the search was to obtain said item in-country so I could say proudly (hypothetically of course): hey look at what rare, exotic treasure I uncovered and can now rest prominently in my office only because of the long and difficult travels I have traversed across the skies and oceans. Decades ago I myself was once given a Yomiuri Giants baseball cap that I wore for years not because of my affection for Sadarahu Oh. Oh no; but instead out of appreciation for this rare and distant souvenir brought to me from afar (trust me: there was a time that you couldn’t buy this stuff over the Internet . . . BECAUSE THERE WASN’T ONE).
The other half of the battle is how closely I would guard these cultural touchstones, treating every trinket like a talisman, making sure that nothing got lost or crushed in the long journey back home. If there were a tchotchke-value-algorithm, it would probably go something like this: distance traveled plus time spent on search divided by cost, minus 10% of value if bought at airport, multiplied by the degree of care taken to ensure its safe return equals the depth of my attachment to these gifts. (Yes, I’ve had juuuust a little time to think about stuff like this.)
That was then. Today? Not so much. Heck, you can fake those travels better than Liza Minnelli and David Gest on their wedding night. Does the phrase “bygone era” mean anything to you? I will grant you that my acquisitions were hardly objects d’art, but they did come to mean something because of the lengths and air-miles it took to acquire. Over the last few years, the effects of globalization (and there have been some dandies: Le Big Mac anyone?) have shrunk our borders but expanded the worldwide tchotchke showroom that now knows no boundaries, making those gift discoveries just a little bit hollow. Now those trinkets of passages endured in exotic destinations like Jerusalem, Monaco, Beijing, Moscow and Dar es Salaam can be found in the streets of D.C., N.Y., San Francisco and probably your city, too.
So my purchases decreased as the reality set in that I could furnish my office or home with artifacts snatched just a cab or bus ride away. I was especially saddened by the loss of enthusiasm when it came to buying gifts for my son Max. Even though I’d always brought him something by legitimate means, I was becoming increasingly nervous that he would see the same gift in some nearby mall or street vendor and secretly wonder if maybe the old man was really stowed away on a Caribbean pleasure trip just pretending to be saddled away in steerage working through the night on a transcontinental red-eye. In fact, in recent years, as the allure of the hunt lost its luster I started to replace his gifts with local currencies as both proof of my travels and because what young boy couldn’t resist the sight of foreign exchange. But as he grew older and began international travels of his own, I suspected that he thought maybe even the shekels and shillings, the yen and the yuan, the francs and other “beaners” came from right down the street in D.C. at our local travelex.
I most recently returned from Dubai, and forlornly explained to my loved ones that despite 40 hours worth of round trip air time to spend almost a week in the Emirates, I came home completely emptyhanded, devoid of even the smallest token of my travels because there just wasn’t anything to find that I couldn’t pick up back home. I even exchanged all of my AEDs at the travelex before I could remember to save them for Max.