Does the perfect souvenir exist?
I am, admittedly, a packrat. And also a sucker for kitsch sometimes. I seem to have (or at least I hope I have) grown out of my desire for kitschy souvenirs from places I’ve been, and grown into the search for something “meaningful” – or at least meaningful or hilarious to me – to remember my trip.
I do, though, still often fall down the rabbit hole of trying to find trinkets for friends and family on these excursions…an exercise which might not have ever yielded such hilarious results as Newfoundland.
[NB: it is pronounced new-fn-LAND, I learned.]
Newfoundland is a funny place. It’s a gorgeous and friendly place. It is a travel guide’s wet dream: There’s nature; there’s nightlife; it’s not like the rest of Canada; it’s funky; it’s quaint. It’s down-to-earth. You can even get to France (actual France) in just a few hours from St. John’s.
I could make this post a typical “here’s what we did” kind of post and hope it’d be travel-inspiring. I have some stories, certainly – we did a lot of things (and even more driving) in 10 days. (To wit: Newfoundland is bigger than expected, and there’s only one main highway that traverses the island.)
It’s an island that seems fiercely proud of its heritage – which to come-from-aways (read: the rest of us not from Newfoundland) might seem…absurd. Or at least hilarious. I specifically mean their place names: Conception Bay, Witless Bay, and towns like Placentia, Come By Chance…
…and then there’s Dildo.
I am not pulling your leg. It is a real town about an hour outside St. John’s. A town I told my friend we had to stop at on our way back from France. Someone supposedly tried to change the name; the residents said no thanks. It is a town that is known for its name, but also for its brewery. We couldn’t not stop.
We also couldn’t not buy souvenirs. My friend bought some glasses, for herself and some friends. I bought a t-shirt and a couple of beer glasses, primarily thinking of myself. We also watched a few people order growlers-to-go, in growlers imprinted with the brewery’s logo and history.
And then it dawned on me. While waiting for my plate of cod fritters, I realized: My brother, my dear older brother – he loves craft beer. He would love this place. Never before had I been struck with such a sense of “the perfect souvenir” as I was right at that moment, a growler-to-go. The problematic part was – having been so long removed from my last beer – I had no idea which one to get him. So I had to ruin the surprise…and ask him. I snapped a photo of the beer menu and sent it to him…and his response was, “I mean, how is Stout Dildo not the obvious choice?” And lo, we emerged and drove back to St. John’s, growler in hand.
It wasn’t until a few hours later that it dawned on me again…that wasn’t the actual problematic part. The actual problematic part would be, it turned out, transporting a growler back to my brother, who I wouldn’t see for another two weeks. You see, I hadn’t…really thought it through. (I suppose this would be a good segue into a blog or post about traveling as a non- or former-drinker. A tale for another time.)
I wrote back to my brother with my sad realization. He thought it would be mostly fine, maybe a little flat…until he remembered I hadn’t even flown home yet. He doubted my luggage would smell very good when I got home.
My momentary deflation led to a sudden surge of…obstinance. I had found this perfect gift, after all! It would get to him somehow! Until my inner realist chimed in…as much as my brother may love craft beer – stale, flat craft beer might not be as cool. We went so far as to ask the guy at the Quidi Vidi brewery, back in St. John’s – we asked him what my chances were; he told us that the beer would probably survive, but given the imperfect seal, it would be…far from tasty by the time my brother had his first sip.
But no, I couldn’t – I wouldn’t – leave the growler itself behind. My brother would get the Dildo glasses (to which he said, “you know, I hope, that I consider the pint glass the platonic ideal of glassware”) – but the growler MUST COME HOME, beer or no beer. But my friend and I agreed – I couldn’t just…pour it out. But she had to drive back to the airport – she told me to keep her posted.
And so I killed some more time in downtown St. John’s, trying to figure out how to get myself invited to a true-blue kitchen party or some such. Finally I made my way back to Memorial University, where I was sleeping – and it dawned on me again.
I zoomed over to the nice young lady at the desk, and explained my dilemma. I asked her if she and her coworkers would like the beer, if I could find a container for the beer itself, and she said of course – and directed me to the nearest 24-hour supermarket.
I wasn’t up for walking, so I found a cab – and re-explained my dilemma to the cab driver, and asked if he’d want any for the end of his shift. He tried to politely decline – he too thought it would be too flat by the time he got off work – so I promised I’d at least get a small water bottle in case he changed his mind while I was in the store. And so he did – when I got back out, he informed me that he’d called the lads back at the dispatch to ask if they’d keep it cold for him till he finished – to which they’d responded, only if they could have some too. But of course, my new friend wanted to see the growler itself – the one that just had to come home. Of course I obliged, and brought him down his beer (and the water bottle for the girl at the desk).
My perfect souvenir. It became perfect for another reason entirely – it became at least 3 souvenirs. My brother never got his Canadian craft beer, but he got his beer glasses (not-quite-pint sized after all); the growler came home, one way or the other; and I brought back an even better story. And, I hope, facilitated my own kind of St. John’s kitchen party back at the taxi dispatch.
Yes b’y. Best kind.