Art galleries are amazing, historical quarters fascinating and monuments are moving, but the shops and markets are at the top of my agenda when visiting a new city. I’m like cultural as much as anyone, but when faced with the choice of looking at dusty old artefacts or bargaining for silver jewellery or silk in the bazaar… you know where you’ll find me!
Since trash from Asia took over the shelves of the world’s souvenir shops, discerning shoppers need to put in more effort to find authentic items for decorating the home and reminding them of the good times. Take the Costa Blanca for example. The local basket weaving, ceramic and lace making industries have all but disappeared and souvenir-hunters can choose from plastic bulls and flamenco dancers (nothing to do with the Costa Blanca) and assorted mass produced rubbish which is certainly NOT made in Spain. At least in the past our local shops sold local handmade rubbish. I’ll never forget a gold metal pineapple artfully stuck on top of a piece of black lava that my parents brought back from the Canary Islands. It looked like a decorative dog pooh!
Of course, it’s a matter of taste. If there were no market for all this expensive dross nobody would produce it. My husband spends his tourist dollars on giant dried insects and reptiles in frames that he hangs the walls at work (not in my living room, thank you very much!) Another obsession I don’t share is his fascination with is fridge magnets. This particular perversion must be shared by many thousands of holidaymakers, because they’re everywhere!
I wonder whether one day someone will look aghast at the cherished bits and bobs I’ve picked up on my travels and wonder what on earth I was thinking. I like paintings and carvings. Wandering about the streets in Agra after visiting the wonderful Taj Mahal, we came across an art school. It was full of treasures and I think if I could go back today I would buy dozens of paintings, but on this occasion I fell madly in love with one particular scene featuring several motifs from the Taj Mahal. The salesman said it was the most expensive painting in the shop but it was just €140, which is, of course, a fortune in India. It is painted on camel bone using precious stones and highlighted with gold leaf.
I adore my painting, the faces of the people and the story it tells. To me it is the epitome of courtly romance, one thousand and one nights, the exotic India of my dreams where beautiful ladies sweep about wearing glittering saris with jewellery that tinkles as they dance about. Just looking at it transports me back to the thrill of that holiday. I wonder if my mother felt the same way about her gold pineapple-on-a-pooh. I’ll never know.