Buy away with me

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

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.

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