A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

A coworker put out a call on our office intranet recently asking about people’s favorite souvenirs from abroad. This was my contribution to that question… I liked it, so I thought I’d cross post it here. (By the way, I love that in French, “souvenirs” means “memories.”)

 

When I was little, my parents did a lot of traveling due to my dad’s job with Northwest Airlines. They brought many cool souvenirs back for me– I remember a wooden cow from Denmark (I think) and a big stuffed panda bear from South Korea (no, not China, strangely). The souvenir I remember the most, though, was a book from Japan, written in Japanese, in the traditional style (back to front and bottom to top). My mom used to “read” it to us by looking at the pictures and making up a story to go with it. It was something about a man who drops a rice cake into a hole in the ground inhabited by some sort of gnomes. To this day, I have no idea  what the story was really about, but I still remember it very clearly.

As an adult, a friend of mine who works in the children’s publishing industry got me interested in collecting children’s books, often gifting me with picture books for birthday or Christmas. Integrating the hobby with my love of travel, I began buying children’s books as souvenirs when I visit other countries (and anywhere, really). This began way before I had any children on the way, and I did worry for awhile that I’d never have anyone to read them to… but I still bought them, because if nothing else, I enjoy them myself. I love going to a bookstore and looking through the fun, colorful books, trying to pick out something with an inkling of the country’s culture. When I’m in a country where English isn’t the majority language, I typically look for books in the local language.

My collection has grown to be rather significant over the years, so it’s impossible to pick just one favorite. Instead, I narrowed it down to four:

1. A book of Russian fairy tales… in Russian. I love the intricate illustrations and the way the Cyrillic script looks. Even with some knowledge of Russian, I can barely read any of it, but that doesn’t really matter.

2. Les chose cassées d’Octavio (Octavio‘s Broken Things). A story about a boy who can fix anything with glue, nails, wire, etc, but who has to learn how to mend the sad heart of the girl next door.

3. Grandma Joins the All Blacks. From New Zealand, obviously.

4. An Strae Beagán (A Bit Lost). I thought it was originally written in Irish, but I recently saw it at a bookstore here and learned that it was apparently written in English by an Irish author and translated into Irish… kind of a bummer, but still a cool book. It’s about a little owl who gets lost and can’t find his mother, so a friendly fox takes him around to all the different forest animals and asks, “Is this your mommy?” Each time, the owl replies in the negative, and describes an aspect of his mother not met by the current animal. “That’s not my mommy; my mommy has big eyes!” So the fox takes him to see a frog. It goes on like this until the owlet does indeed find his mother. And then they all eat cookies. Happy endings for all.

My collection to date includes books in French, Spanish, Russian, Irish, Danish, Japanese, Hmong, Catalan, and of course English (hailing from France, Red Balloon Bookstore, Moscow, Ireland, Copenhagen, Midway Books on Snelling and University, Hmongtown Market in St Paul, Barcelona, and Australia/New Zealand/the US, respectively). Looking for books has taught me some things, as well– for example, I wasn’t able to find a book in Swahili in Tanzania, or in Spanish on Cozumel. I didn’t look that hard in Tanzania– perhaps in Arusha City I’d have found something– but my spouse and I spent a lot of time wandering around Cozumel’s main (only) town, San Miguel, looking for a bookstore. It didn’t exist. All of the librerías we learned about from the phone book or natives were actually paper supply stores. We did visit an actual bookstore in a larger town, but the only books in Spanish were obviously translated from English, and completely devoid of Mexican culture. (Which, admittedly, does say something about the world in and of itself….)

The average children’s picture book contains about 500-1000 words. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, and while I love to take pictures while abroad, I think it’s worthwhile to bring words home, too.

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Ireland

Friday, Nov 2:

Arrived in Dublin early, around 7:30am. Called the bank. Got some cash and breakfast. Got the bus to Belfast at 9:20. Texted G on the bus. Arrived in Belfast around 11:45 (a bit late) and G was there waiting. We went for a coffee right away at Costas, sat at a low table near the wall in round leather(ish) chairs. Chatted easily for a good while, then went to the Travelodge to drop off my luggage. Wandered around a bit, then met his family (dad, mom, and sister) for the bus tour of Belfast. Made the mistake of sitting on the open top, and holy crap it was cold! The bus tour took us past the place where Titanic was built, into Shankill and Falls Roads to see the murals, past Queen’s U. After the bus tour we were all freezing so we went into a pub, called Whites I think, that supposedly dates from 1630.  We had dinner there and then went to the Crown pub, very old Victorian pub that has a bunch of tiny rooms. Later that night another pub, McHugh’s, which is situated in the oldest building in Belfast, coincidentally right across the street from where G’s brother  lives. G was staying there, while his brother was away in Prague. After his family headed home, G walked me back to the Travelodge and then walked back to the apartment.

Saturday, Nov 3:

G met me at the hotel in the morning and we went to Costas again, sat at the same table for coffee and breakfast. Then we met the rest of the family and headed out to tour the North Coast. Saw the ruin of Dunluce castle, Bushmills distillery  (tour, whiskey taste, and lunch) and then the Giant’s Causeway. His family took care of all my tickets and food. I felt bad but they wouldn’t let me pay for anything. And after awhile, trying to insist just seemed awkward, so I didn’t. That evening we went for coffee at a tiny place along the seaside where supposedly they had filmed parts of Game of Thrones, drove around the area a bit, through Ballymoney where they live, through Portrush where G works, and then to Coleraine for dinner. Then the family drove G and me back to Belfast (about an hour drive). We had a nightcap at McHugh’s and then G escorted me in a taxi back to Travelodge. I had a hell of a time sleeping Saturday night because the bar across the street was very noisy, and also I think jet lag got me a bit, so I decided to check to see if I could get Roswell on Netflix over there. And I could! So I watched an ep of that and finally slept, probably around 2.


Dunluce Castle


Bushmills Distillery! Interesting tour and whiskey sample at the end!


Giant’s Causeway

G at Giant’s Causeway

Ireland!

I finally booked tickets for Ireland in November. I’m going to Limerick for work, because have a new relationship with the University of Limerick and our first group of students will be studying there this Fall. I’m also going to Dublin, hopefully, for a visit with a program that takes place over the summer on the Trinity College campus. Other than that, the rest of my time there (Nov 2-11) will be personal time!! Yay! I booked a hotel in Limerick for Nov 5-7, because my visit to UL is on Nov 6 (US Election Day!! gotta file my absentee ballot!!). I’ll probably book a hotel in Dublin whenever my visit there gets scheduled, but I think maybe I’ll leave my vacation time unscheduled. That’s really uncomfortable to me, but I feel like it would be a good idea. I have a lot of things in mind that I’d like to do, but I won’t be able to do everything, so maybe I should just see what moves me at the time when I am there.

Ireland Wish List:
-Go to Northern Ireland. This is a MUST. Most likely Belfast, though Derry is possibility. I’d also like to visit Armagh or Antrim (towns), since that’s where my ancestors (most likely) hailed from.
-Possibly visit the Giant’s Causeway.
-Hang out with a friend (who may or may not be stalking this blog). I think this one is on, too. (Right?) Just gotta work out the deets.
-Visit some sort of famine museum. Google tells me that the big one is in Co. Roscommon, which is nowhere near the main 3 cities I’m planning on (Limerick, Dublin and Belfast). There are also apparently ones in Portalaoise, which is partway between Limerick and Dublin, so that’d be handy, and also a cool one in Dublin that is actually on a tall ship.
-Go to a seisiún or two. Possibly join in????
-Visit the Granuaile Visitor Center in Co. Mayo.