Buy away with me
OFTEN when I travel, I have fantasies about buying amazing treasures at throwaway prices and turning them to instant profit when I return.
Not once has this strategy worked but that does not mean I am in peril of giving up. Even when travelling en masse with sensible shoppers, as I was in France recently on an Avalon Waterways river cruise along the Seine (see P6), I am the one who breaks ranks at the souvenir stores and goes in search of the spidery, dusty, awkward and frankly unloved.
‘‘Unusual’’ and ‘‘different’’ are the standard responses from my partner when I arrive home and produce a cobwebbed object. He knows better than to inquire after the price but sometimes will be told anyway as I regale him with details of my bargaining sessions and how shopkeepers in exotic bazaars wept as I walked away with the purchase of a lifetime (and then rubbed their hands together in glee behind my back). In the villages along the Seine, I shopped cautiously for a few standard souvenirs — tins of salted caramels, lavender and olive oil soaps — and was beginning to give up when I spotted the rusty metal rabbit at a garden store.
My travelling companion Christine saw it, too, and gave me a nudge. She didn’t need to look at me to know there would be the naked gleam of desire in myeyes. Our tastes are unnervingly similar but she would draw the line at a rabbit; besides she wanted an antler chandelier and had already measured out her baggage space.
Our favourite places to visit on the road are hardware stores. And so in Honfleur, that prettiest of towns on the Normandy coast, there we were in the oddest of little shops buying balls of knobbly string and laundry soap in big, square bottle-green boxes adorned with drawings of maman laughing coquettishly in an apron and the sort of headscarf a young Catherine Deneuve might have worn on a bicycle. She was doing la lessive, which sounds much more interesting than washing clothes, and the soap smelled of the sea. Two, please.
But back to the rusty metal rabbit. Of course I bought it and with my imperfect grasp of French was able to ascertain from the shopkeeper that it was made by a local artist who was very particular about proportions and so this figure was exactly the size of a real bunny when sat on its hind legs. I told the shopkeeper that my football team has a rabbit emblem but she merely lifted an eyebrow and curled her lip, as the French are sometimes wont to do when confronted with silly foreigners.
Getting the rabbit home was a challenge, with its uncooperatively long ears and heavy, sharp stand. Lalu from Lombok, my cabin attendant on Avalon Creativity, laughed loudly when he saw it but not in a mean way. That night Lalu made me a towelling rabbit and popped it on my bed. It was holding a red rose in its curled paws.
I posted pictures on Facebook of Lalu’s creation and the garden bunny (now known as Rusty — one for you, MrCrowe, from a fellow Rabbitohs fan) and a few friends commented they must be the only rabbits in Normandy left uneaten.