Recently, I think we have all been feeling tinges of nostalgia for traveling. Now we are stuck in our homes, it’s reasonable that all we want to do is leave and explore. However, the only way we are currently capable of this is through the power of our minds. It sounds corny, but it’s true! I’m sure you’ve gone through your camera roll at least once or twice, looking at old memories and reliving past events. At the moment, I can’t help myself from wallowing over Facebook memories and lying in bed imagining what pre-covid life consisted of.
Luckily for me, I’m one of those people who has boxes and boxes of old train tickets, leaflets, post-cards and memorabilia, so, when I’m feeling particularly like a wet flannel, I can open up my £1.50 white ikea box and delve into my past. However, I’m not interested in your typical souvenir; I don’t like anything gift-shop related. It’s my opinion that a souvenir is only special if it would mean nothing to anyone else but you. Here’s an example from my collection:
Here we have an invoice for a Hotel in Ramsgate, a scribble from an artist in a village in France and a train ticket from Leeds to Nottingham. When I touch these ephemera, I remember the hotel owner’s kind face and offer to carry our bags after a long night, I remember the artist’s room full of hanging ferns and sunlight peeking through the glass roof, and I remember travelling to Nottingham with all of my friends for 14p each on Northern Rail and thinking it was totally rubbish.
It’s a different kind of memory when you have an object from the past in front of you. It awakens a moment in your brain, almost like the classic Proustian madeleine or olfactory sense that transports you back to how your entire body felt at the moment you first held that object. I had completely forgotten every single one of the above three items before I got them out of my box, and when I saw them again I got to relive that electric, all encompassing nostalgia. That’s an experience I feel really lucky to be able to have.
Now, I’m not really sure what it is about all my most precious souvenirs, being what my mother calls ‘paper tat’, but I think it has something to do with my English student vibes. I enjoy small pieces of paper with forgotten print and writing whose former use is now lost. When you keep a train ticket for so long the edges fray and the ink fades, it becomes a metaphor for time, for place and for feeling. Part of the joy of nostalgia is how old the object looks, how irrelevant yet how far it can instantly transport your brain. Here’s something really embarrassing:
This is the page from my ticket journal (yes, I keep a ticket journal) about my trip to Paris a few years ago. What instantly jumps out at me is how cheaply I managed to do everything (all the museum entries were free and I bought child tickets everywhere) which sparks some joy in my cheapskate-northerner mind. But when I think about the price of each ticket, I remember standing in the queue at Cambronne metro station, flustered, hot and carrying an espresso and baguette trying to decide what ticket to buy. Then, there’s later that night, ticket in hand, jumping over the metro barriers in the station near the gay quarter at 2am trying to catch the last train home (don’t ask why, there were male strippers involved).
Then of course, every Paris-junkie’s dream, the night-time Eiffel Tower, twinkling against the dark sky. Even though it’s not an experience you can forget, I’m so glad the ticket on this page has the tower in twinkly mode. It takes me right back to sitting on the banks of the Seine surrounded by lapping water and the five Peroni’s we bought from the beer sellers only to suddenly see our faces lit up and hear gasps of amazement from everyone around us. I turned round and there it was, that romantic sparkly thing that everyone dreams about, only it was more incredible than I ever thought it could be.
I think I need a souvenir that reminds me of the tricky bits of travelling, the queues, the money, the hassle, in order to really remember what the good bits were like. I keep the bits I pick up along the way and I take them home with my memories. I feel like I own a little slice of Paris. I was there! I have the receipts to prove it! Maybe that’s what it takes to remind my brain it actually happened, that I actually went somewhere.
Not to get really weird, even though I’ve done a pretty good job so far, I really like photocopying too. This is a photograph I took of my favourite river, ripped and crumpled up and photocopied. What can I say, I used to be an art student! I just love how a memory looks when it’s destroyed and recaptured, the journey from capture to recapture. Why? Because old memories used over and over again, changed with time, are my favourites.
Sometimes, your memory of a place takes over from its reality in your head. Suddenly, if you were to return, the place would feel strange and unfamiliar. While this may seem sad, and I’m sure it’s happened to a few of you, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. We need those places in our brains we can return to for comfort, those foreign havens of respite to soothe us, especially now. Personally, I don’t care if Paris isn’t as magical next time I visit (though I’m sure it will be) because I already have my Paris. I can feel it in my hands.