And thereby hangs a tale and a pail

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

It used to be that we’d pur­chase ex­otic bits and bobs on our trav­els and dec­o­rate man­tel­pieces and, aeons ago, put “dust-gath­er­ers” in china cab­i­nets, some­times with a pla­ce­name in­scribed, such as Ka­toomba or the Isle of Wight.

They were tan­gi­ble pieces of ev­i­dence as to where we’d gone. You couldn’t buy, say, a Moroccan brass pot any­where but Mar­rakech or Fes so if you had one on the hall­way ta­ble, it was a sym­bol of your ad­ven­tur­ous­ness, af­flu­ence, or com­bi­na­tion of the two.

Per­haps it had been a gift from friends or fam­ily re­turned from for­eign reaches but, nonethe­less, it came with a prove­nance and, per­haps, an in­flated story or two. Now it could just as well mean you (or they) have been to a home­wares store at the lo­cal mall or bought the item online.

The ready avail­abil­ity of ev­ery­thing on our doorstep, from Chi­nese silk cush­ion cov­ers to Si­cil­ian pot­tery, has taken the thrill out of shop­ping over­seas. But this has sim­pli­fied my trav­els for I rarely go to a shop­ping cen­tre or depart­ment store abroad un­less it is for cheap sports­wear or cos­met­ics (in the US) or to de­signer out­lets such as Ser­ravalle (an hour’s drive from Mi­lan). At the lat­ter, the goods are last-sea­son’s stock or ex­cess items from re­cent pro­duc­tion runs. It is com­pletely im­pos­si­ble not to buy sun­glasses by Marc Ja­cobs for a song or drench your­self in cut-price Bul­gari fra­grance.

But, mostly, the world has come to us and we can dec­o­rate our homes, and our lives, in any style we choose. Hamp­tons? Bring on the pas­tel blue and white striped cush­ions, white fur­ni­ture and shut­ters and enor­mous amounts of grey paint. Santa Fe? I wouldn’t mind bet­ting they sell plas­tic cacti and ter­ra­cotta tiles at hard­ware barns across subur­bia and surely there are online tu­to­ri­als on how to ap­ply stucco. In­dian or Span­ish Mis­sion is never more than a bolt of red-and-gold fab­ric or an arched wrought-iron gate away.

In­creas­ingly the real fos­sick­ers among us, I pre­dict, will haunt mar­kets rather than pre­dictable shops, look­ing for the hand-crafted and the un­usual — that is the “one-offs”, as they are now called. Such mar­kets could be im­mense and glo­ri­ous, such as Is­tan­bul’s Grand Bazaar, or at our lo­cal com­mu­nity halls where each stall is ideally staffed by the craftsper­son, avail­able to an­swer queries and (hope­fully) take or­ders for more.

As I look around our house (a mix of Proven­cal and Hamp­tons, it does have to be ad­mit­ted), it’s easy to spot the trea­sures — pieces by my pot­ter friend Brooke Clu­nie, the rusty me­tal rab­bit I res­cued from a sal­vage store in ru­ral France, and old tex­tiles from long-ago Bali. Then there’s the bucket from Khartoum that was part of a bride price when a mad male trav­el­ling com­pan­ion thought it would be a lark to sell me to a trader in ex­change for a rac­ing camel.

The lo­cal chap was in­ter­ested in my child-bear­ing hips, sens­ing a suc­ces­sion of sons, but ne­go­ti­a­tions broke down and we ended up not with a speedy dromedary but a good tale — and an ad­mit­tedly handy pail.

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