I never really buy souvenirs from the places I travel to

A while back I read an interview with legendary chef and owner of ElBulli (once the most exclusive restaurant in the world until it closed in 2011), Ferran Adrià. There was a bit that struck me. This bit, about how little he owns (basically, one small bag)…

Image via Favim
Image via Favim

This suitcase [pictured below] is my home. I live out of it. I was born in L’Hospitalet [a working-class district of Barcelona] but I’ve never bought a house, or lived anywhere very long. I just have a small studio that’s home at the moment. My wife and I never had children, and that is a very important fact, because it enabled me to work from 9am until 2am at elBulli. And I’m not at all materialistic. I don’t have a car, or a watch. My wife bought me some pyjamas, which are great, but I’m not interested in clothes or goods.”

Comforting stuff. For me at least.


Then he adds:

“I never really buy souvenirs from the places I travel to.”

He kind of explains he takes experiences, mostly food ones, instead.

I don’t like buying souvenirs when I travel either. For some reason it bogs me down, dampens the experience, takes away the specialness. When my mind is on finding the perfect Grecian scarf, the best bargain bangle, the iconic piece of Venetian glass, my eye is not on the experience and it becomes generic.

There’s also this vibe that souvenir buying creates before you’ve even left the shores – a fear of having nothing to show for the experience. Why does this matter? Let’s forget travel. Why does it matter in life generally?

It’s a cliche that it’s the passing through the experience that matters. But we forget that much of what we do is about distracting ourselves from this truism. Taking photos and buying souvenirs are two such distractions. Why do we need to be distracted away?

Sometimes we fear being left alone with something special. Like it might cause us to implode.

When I reflect on this I’m reminded again of that scene in Stand By Me where the main character realises that some experiences need to be had solo. They don’t need to be shared, marked, stamped for the specialness to be realised.

What’s special is being able to just sit in it on our own.

Don’t you think?

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