I’m fairly sentimental when it comes to souvenirs. Only recently have I begun to consider the idea of souvenirs that won’t last forever — things like spices (which I brought home from Israel), beauty products (beyond the stolen hotel shampoos), or food or alcohol (when legal to do so). Recently, I’ve become slightly obsessed with soap.
It probably began a couple years ago when Boyf (those of you who’ve been reading for a while will remember Boyf) brought me a bar of beer soap after he visited Milwaukee without me. He did this chiefly as a peace offering, knowing that I am most efficiently pacified when presented with exotic gifts. Not only did it work, it also made me realize that I am actually more interested in fancy soap than I ever thought I was.
I put a bar of soap from Savannah, Georgia, in my mother’s stocking this past Christmas. She opened it, gave it the proper thirty seconds of appreciation, and then displayed it in her bathroom as decor. Fast forward a few months to the point where we’d run out of every other bar of soap in the house, and I noticed that the Savannah soap was still sitting on the bathroom counter. I decided that if she wasn’t going to make the first move, I was, and I put it in our shower.
She was astounded by how amazing this soap was. I kind of was, too. I’ve tried to find one adjective adequate enough to encompass all of the goodness this soap’s scent offers to the world, but so far the only way I can think to describe it is “Jesus.” It smells like it will save mankind.
Since then, I’ve brought home soaps from the Corn Islands, Toronto, and Mexico. In Chicago there was this hand-made soap I bought compulsively at the biannual craft fairs, although I’ve since forgotten the name.
Bringing home these souvenirs that I might use for cooking, bathing, or other day-to-day activities we normally associate with home is extremely comforting to me. It emphasizes that contrast that I currently love about my lifestyle, the juxtaposition of home and traveling. I absolutely love taking a shower in my own bathroom in my own apartment in a familiar city, but equally comforting is the scent of a soap that reminds me of a place far away from that apartment, from a city that I may or may not ever see again.
The fact that the soap is a temporary thing is bittersweet in the way that my travels are, too. I don’t really practice the “slow travel movement,” the idea that the best way to travel is to spend a long time in one place so that you become immersed in the culture and truly get to experience it like a local. For me, part of the thrill of travel is the fact that I am an outsider, that I will not be there long enough to feel like the people who actually live there.
The fact that soap runs out is kind of a weak parallel to the transitory nature of travel, I know, but it’s generally the same idea. I love the feeling of arriving in a new city with a map in my hand, knowing that I’ll have to leave it in just a short time — and I also love the feeling of being back at home after that visit, unwrapping the new bar of soap I’ve just unpacked, and knowing that I’ll still smell like that unfamiliar city for at least another few weeks.