Friday, June 28, 2013

Souvenirs Redux

by Sheila Connolly

By strange coincidence, I was gifted with a highly unlikely souvenir this week, and I'm still trying to fit it into my worldview of collecting mementos.

The backstory:  a Philadelphia friend and former colleague was the model for one of the characters in my Museum Mystery series.  She was going to be a background character, except she's kind of shoved herself into the foreground and plays an increasingly important role in the ongoing stories.  Disclaimer:  I didn't originally tell the real person about it (the character was always one of the good guys, not an evil killer), but now she knows and she's tickled pink by the whole idea, especially since I told her I'd add a love interest for her in a coming book (in both the books and in real life she's divorced).

I initially included her because she has a long and intimate association with Philadelphia history, through a string of ancestors whose name she still bears.  That led to her involvement at the historical society where I worked, when she was on the board (as were her father and grandfather before her). She (the character) was the perfect go-to individual for anything to do with who's who in Philadelphia, going back a couple of centuries.  Since my protagonist is not a native Philadelphia, she needs just such a resource person on hand.

Anyway, to jump to the present…  The National Museum of Korea, in Seoul, recently mounted an exhibit they called Art Across America, and a lovely 18th-century portrait of one of those (real) ancestors and his family became the emblem for the exhibit.  Now, my husband has spent time in Seoul, over several years, and he has visited that museum on various occasions.  He will attest that Koreans are fascinated by all things American.

My friend, intrigued by all the hoopla that her ancestral family had occasioned in far-off Korea, decided to go see the exhibition in place.  She brought back souvenirs.  She shared a couple of those souvenirs with me.  The prize of the collection was…a towel with the iconic portrait on it.

No, not a tidy tea-towel such as you might find in an English palace (I think I have some of those squirreled away somewhere—the English do like their tea, and their bone china must be dried properly, of course).  This, in contrast, is a fuzzy if thin plush towel, made in Korea.

What do you do with a commemorative towel?  What were the Koreans thinking?

You can't dry the dishes with it, can you?  Isn't it kind of insulting to swab off your pots and pans with an historical figure?  If you do, is it some kind of obscure implied insult to our culture? Or major ambivalence?

If you are Korean, do you hang it on a wall, where it will sag, fade, and collect dust?  Do you frame this towel? Or do you store it carefully with all your other commemorative towels, and then on important family gatherings, take out the towels and pass them around for group admiration?

I'm baffled.  As I said before, I treasure many, often obscure souvenirs, that evoke strong memories in me.  But I have never envisioned cherishing a towel. 

Released June 2013


Anonymous said...

Why, Sheila, or course you frame it and hang it over your grand piano!! Thelma in Manhattan.. or... you could donate it to a museum that has Asian art !!!!! Thelma in Manhattan

Leslie Budewitz said...

My vote: use it. It has no intrinsic value that will be enhanced by age, and you'll think of your friend -- the inspiration for Marty? -- and smile and laugh every time.