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March 21, 2004

  • Souvenirs
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    A cigarette that bears a lipstick’s traces,
    An airline ticket to romantic places,
    A fairground’s painted swings…
    These foolish things remind me of you.

    Last night I was making a quiche for a dinner party. I took the recipe from a lavishly illustrated and highly instructive cookbook. I was asked where I got such a tome.

    “It’s a souvenir.” I said.

    And it was a souvenir, though not of a particular place I’ve visited, but rather a relationship I had been in.

    In this particular case the relationship ended (several times, if I remember correctly) about ten years ago. The cookbook belonged to my then. .. girlfriend? Lover? Person I was having a torrid something-or-rather with? (This was a far from conventional relationship). She had loaned it to me for some dinner party I have long ago forgotten. Indeed, at the time, I had forgotten that I had borrowed it until not only long after the relationship had ended but after I was in no position to re-establish contact with my ex.

    It became ‘found property’, as it were. The spoils of war, you might say (an accurate description for that particular relationship, which at times was the psychological equivalent of the first ten minutes of Saving Private Ryan).

    I prefer to think of it as a souvenir. Every time I open it for a quiche recipe, I’m reminded a little of that particular relationship: the good points (she was a great cook, she taught me how to kiss), and the less-than-good points (the aforementioned Saving Private Ryan thing).

    Some people refuse to have any remnants of a past relationship in their household. With a few notable exceptions, I am not one of those people. My apartment is not exactly littered with souvenirs of past liaisons, but it is, I suppose, liberally festooned here and there.

    The first daffodil and long excited cables,
    And candle lights on little corner tables,
    And still my heart has wings…
    These foolish things remind me of you

    Some of these souvenirs were gifts, like the Bridgehead-purchased incense holder that was given to me by one girlfriend. This was given to me to improve the ambience of the bachelor apartment I was living in on St. Clair Avenue while I was in University. I was also given some candlesticks by another girlfriend for much the same reasons (though for a different apartment). In both cases, the intended goal was certainly achieved—something which occasionally brings a smile to my face when I light up an incense stick or a candle.

    A lot of souvenirs were ordinary household objects that were loaned to me in a moment of mundane home cross-pollenation. I still possess a couple of spatulas and some nice pie plates from a relationship I had a while back. That a spatula can make me think of a romantic night dancing to Van Morrison in a basement apartment seven years ago is proof that I’m way too sentimental about objects.

    And, really, I am. Because sentiment is the only thing that can account for the souvenirs I don’t really want but still keep. The same girlfriend who gave me the incense holder also bequeathed-by-default a Lorenna McKennit album, which I’ve listened to all of once in the past decade—it would seem that lilting sopranos don’t help improve the ambience. I still possess a self-help book that one ex gave to me ages ago. The book probably sports a dent on the back cover from when I threw it across the room in disgust when I actually tried reading it shortly after we broke up. If only I had known at the time.  I have lugged from apartment to apartment a rather clunky objet d’art that looks something like a cross between an ancient fertility talisman and Bozo the Clown that I will never, ever, publicly display, but I still have it nonetheless, because I still don’t have the heart to get rid of it because for all its ugliness it reminds me of better times and happier places.

    How strange, how sweet
    To find you still,
    These things are dear to me,
    They seem to bring you near to me.

    Lest anyone think this is an experience that works one way, I have sacrificed a number of my own things to exes. There are books I’ll never get back, CDs I’ll never see again (there is one Crash Test Dummies CD that I bought three times!). Oddly, though, many of the souvenirs women have collected from me have been clothing. Women seem to like sweaters and sweatshirts especially. I remember one girlfriend who wanted to take my York University Fine Arts sweatshirt home with her, and I had to convince her to take another sweater, a nicer one at that, because I knew even then it was going to end up a souvenir and I didn’t want to sacrifice my favourite sweatshirt. That was the beginning of the end of that relationship.

    These souvenirs are momento mori, if you like: mortal reminders that every romantic relationship I have had are fragile and precious and that moments of profound connection and disconnection are not to be forgotten. That all these things can be found in an ordinary recipe book or a candlestick really is testament that, as I freely acknowledge, I am a sentimental old bugger. At the same time, it’s also testament to how mundane and special our lives and the objects we carry really are.

    From my last relationship I ended up keeping her Medeaval Babes CD, and she ended up keeping my Six Million Dollar Man board game. Maybe we’ll exchange them yet. Then again, maybe not. Surprisingly, it doesn’t really matter either way.

    The sigh of midnight trains in empty stations,
    Silk stockings tossed aside, dance invitations.
    Oh, how the ghost of you clings!
    These foolish things remind me of you…

    “These Foolish Things”  lyrics and music by Holt Marvell, Jack Strachey, Harry Link

    Historic Note: shortly after I published this column, my ex e-mailed me saying “I read your column…could I get my Medeaval Babes CD back?” I gave it back to her. She still has my Six Million Dollar Man board game, though…

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

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