Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Collector

There's a movie called "Everything is Illuminated", which I've talked about before. Mainly, I've talked about the eastern European music in it, but Elijah Wood plays a character in that movie that I've found myself identifying with, lately.

Elijah's character is a soft-spoken individual, who has a deep interest in his extended family. In order to be as close to them as possible, he collects things about them. Most of the time, the items he collects are not even all that significant: a dental plate, or a coin found in their pockets. He dubs himself "The Collector" because of this, and although it may seem quirky, I can certainly understand the allure. I do it myself!

When people go on trips or vacations, they want something to remember the experience by. For some, thing means obtaining something pictorial, like a postcard or a small statue of something significant from the area, such as a tiny Eiffel Tower, or Statue of Liberty. Then, when they look at the object, it reminds them of the place.

I treat mementos a little differently; more like Elijah Wood's character. Seemingly inconsequential things, like receipts or business cards, take on a world of meaning to me. If I take a trip somewhere, my souvenir is typically a receipt. If you think about it, it has all the details you need to flash back to a memorable time: the date, the time, the place, and the thing you purchased. Plus, when you hold it in your hand, you recall the first time you ever held it, and it creates a definite link to the past. These objects gain emotions, unlike just a simple shot glass or statue, because they are unique to you and your trip.

In the movie, Elijah saves things that tie directly to emotions. There's a scene where he is eating in the Ukraine with his guides, and orders a potato (as he is a vegetarian and does not eat meat). The potato accidentally falls on the floor, and one of the guides ends up picking it up and dividing it around the table before giving Elijah his slice. Everyone except Elijah laughs, and it is an awkward moment in the film. Elijah's response is to grab one of his many plastic zip lock bags, and store the slice of potato in it. The guides are puzzled by the behavior, but I think I understand it very well. Later in life, as he looks at that bit of potato, he will recall the feelings (which are typically last longer than facts) and be able to relive the moment better than a diary entry every could. As illogical as emotions are, they are a direct link to the past, more so than pictures or words.

My favorite souvenir is a rock, roughly the size of an ordinary penny gum ball. It's a small, rough piece of obsidian that I obtained during my only trip to Europe in 1999. I have ended up carrying it with me every day, ever since, in my pants pocket. It gets transferred around, and has been lost more than once, but never for more than a day, and it always ends up back in my pocket. My father and I visited Europe in July of 1999, and one of the stops was a partially excavated city on the island of Santorini called Akrotiri, that was buried in a volcanic eruption similar to the city at Pompeii. We were asked not to pick up anything from the site, but as I bent to tie my shoe on the dusty ground, I noticed the very small stone directly under my foot on the path. It was nothing special, but to me it not only symbolizes my experience in such a strange place, but it provides me something physical to hold in my hand to remember the journey by. Also, I find myself thinking about the small rock, what it could tell me if it could talk, about the volcanic eruption itself and about the city before it was buried under a mountain of ash and lava.

It's good to dream about things, and remember that there's more out there than just the "now" you're experiencing, in order to put life in perspective. Plus, it's always good to remember where you've been and what you've seen, so that you don't forget what's possible in life.

Anyway, that's my thoughts for the day. Take care!


At 9/22/2007 1:41 PM, Blogger Eric said...

One night in 1988, my friend and I were hanging out on the patio outside a punk club we went to every weekend. There was a rock garden. He started picking up rocks and throwing them against the far edge of the garden, which was framed by railroad ties -- no damage done. I joine in. With what could have been a B-movie Russian accent, the man peeked out of a door and said sternly, "What are you doooing?" We apologized but practically rolled in laughter when he left.

Well, that became a long-running joke of ours. When the club was about to close its doors forever(it became a sports bar), I grabbed one of the rocks and said, "What are you doooing?" to my friend. Looking at it, it had marks in the shape of an angry face. I called it a "punk rock" and the name stuck. I still have it today. :)


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