I thought today I'd bring you a travel-related post, since I haven't done so in quite awhile. It's not really about travel per se, but rather about a particular type of souvenir I sometimes bring back from my travels, and the meaning this kind of thing holds for me.
What you see here is what I affectionately call the Wine Penguin. I got it from a cheap housewares store in Buenos Aires, sort of a dollar store kind of affair but a step up in quality. The Wine Penguin cost me about $3, but its monetary value was ridiculously disproportionate to how much effort it took me to carefully pack and transport it through 2 flights and 18 hours' worth of airports, planes, security, and customs. Why all the fuss for a cheap ceramic pitcher, you ask? Well, because the Wine Penguin falls into a very special category of souvenir for me, the Quirky Local Thing category.
This type of pitcher is seen in almost every wine-dispensing restaurant in Argentina; sometime the pitchers are left plain white or brown, sometimes they are intricately hand painted, and often they bear the logo of the restaurant that uses them. It makes sense, too -- Argentina does have plenty of penguins, particularly down in the Patagonia region. And who could fail to be charmed by the sight of a plucky little penguin barfing wine into your glass? Jess and I certainly were, and soon we were noticing these pitchers pretty much everywhere we went.
Bringing a Wine Penguin home wasn't necessarily on the agenda the way my Republica Argentina buttons were, but when I saw one in the store I knew it was the perfect souvenir; something I could use all the time, that would remind me of my trip, and that was obscure enough that it made for a good story. The penguin was a Quirky Local Thing that I became familiar with through my time spent in Buenos Aires, and bringing one home was a way to integrate part of that local flavor into my everyday life. It isn't a blatant souvenir, it's just a little inside joke I share with Jess and with Argentina, and now with you. And that is the essence of the Quirky Local Thing: it's generally an everyday object that would easily be recognized by local people, but wouldn't get much notice from anyone else; it's a stealth souvenir.
It should be noted that Mark has not yet embraced the Wine Penguin. In fact, I think it's fair to say that he doesn't really see the point of the Wine Penguin. But every time I see it standing there waiting to pour me another glass, red wine dripping down its beak like a trickle of blood, I'm back in Buenos Aires at a rustic parrilla, with tango music and the smell of grilled beef in the air. My Wine Penguin is a small bit of Argentine culture transplanted to a little Victorian-style kitchen in San Francisco.
For more adventures with Wine Penguins, see the blog posts below. It seems I'm not the only one with a penchant for penguins!
from BrennerWorld: Penguins and wine go together, you just don't know it yet!
from Tableconversation: A Penguin to the Rescue
from Underground Art Blog: Terroir, Penguins, and Parrillas: The Inconsistent Pleasures