Recent Acquisitions

In case you were wondering, it’s stressful to find yourself in a room with your passport confiscated, your underwear sitting on a table in front of you, and a circle of Jordanian police officers crowding around a shiny bullet and speaking in hushed tones about you in Arabic. Hi, my name is Daniel Kanter, and this is my story.

I’ve never totally understood the appeal of purchasing those standard-fare types of souvenirs when traveling—the trinkets and tchotchkes that people pick up while wandering around a market or near a recognizable attraction. It seems to me that if you go home, place a small bronze replica of the Eiffel Tower on your nightstand or a Barbie-sized Statue of Liberty on your mantel, you’ve missed the point of shopping while abroad. For one, you go places to see the real thing, so why the need to accumulate mass-produced, miniaturized renderings? More importantly, you’re being too obvious: when people see your artifact, it will be immediately clear to them that you want to be asked about your trip. “Oh, I forgot you went to Australia!” you imagine your guest exclaiming, motioning towards a Lilliputian-sized Sydney Opera House resting somewhere near the TV. “Please, tell me all about it, every last detail!”

Your guests may not say this, but they’ll know you want them to, making them resent you indefinitely.

The same rules apply to presents you bring back for others. When you bring somebody a Terra Cotta Warrior the size of their palm or a totem pole scaled down to resemble the average pepper mill, you think you’re saying “I was thinking about you on my trip, here is an exotic taste of my travels for your enjoyment” but what you’re really saying is “I saw something awesome. Here is a thing to remind you of the awesome thing I have seen that you have not seen. Fuck you.”

And so, it was in my quest to find a good present for my beloved friend and O.G. Chandler that I settled on a small brass bullet, which was being sold for a few shekels at a Kibbutz in Israel. The backstory was that the Kibbutz secretly produced hundreds of thousands of bullets decades ago in an underground factory for use in Israel’s war for independence, but the beauty of the thing was that the context didn’t have to matter in order for it to be a successful gift. Life-sized, shiny, and pierced with a cheap plastic chain, it was as understated, polite, and ladylike as it was unintentionally gangster. Lacking any gunpowder filling, it was not only functionally inert but also lightweight, a plus when you’re planning to travel for another couple of weeks.

It wasn’t until we tried to fly from Jordan to Cairo that the trouble began. As disarming as it is to hear your name spoken clearly, slowly, and multiple times over an entire airport intercom in an Arabic-speaking country, it’s more unnerving when not a single airport security personnel can tell you why. “Go sit down,” they all said, waving me towards a set of benches without another care. Something told me it wouldn’t have mattered whether I explained that my name was being called on the overhead speakers or that my kidneys were rapidly failing, the answer would  still be the same. “Sit down, you can board in a moment.”

Five minutes before boarding, a man in a suit and a security badge came to our gate and found me, telling me that there had been a problem with my suitcase and that I needed to come and claim it. Perhaps my looted bottles of hotel soap had exploded? A zipper had failed? Following him back through two sets of security checkpoints and the length of the duty free area, we got to talking.

“What seems to be the trouble?” I asked lightly, as we navigated the perfume section.

“We need you to open your bag,” he explained, “do you have any weapons in it?”

“Weapons?” I asked, looking down at my skinny jeans and old Pentax swinging around my neck. He glanced at a towering display of cigarette cartons, and I wondered if I should have picked up a few bottles of liquor for the 45 minute flight. “Me? Weapons?”

“Are you in possession of any firearms?”

Firearms? As in guns?” I could see how an electric toothbrush might be mistaken for a small dagger on an airport x-ray machine, but guns? Did I look like somebody who carried guns? “No, of course not,” I replied, “why didn’t they just open the bag to look? No firearms, I’ve never even touched a firearm.”

“It is not our policy,” he explained. “You open the bag.” We walked in silence for a moment, while I weighed trying to explain my anti-gun political opinions against praising his country for their impressive, albeit inconvenient, regard for privacy, such that they can’t rummage around a traveler’s suitcase without express consent. “Bullets?” he piped up.

“Bullets? Of course I don’t have any—” and then it all flooded back. The Kibbutz, the underground factory, the dainty necklace, my lack of effort to smuggle it across national borders. “Well,” I started slowly. “I guess I do have one bullet, but it isn’t real, it’s a fake bullet.” He raised an eyebrow. “What I mean to say is that it’s a real bullet, but just a casing, just a bullet shell—the outside—but no inside. Nothing to make it explode.” He looked at me, skeptical. “It’s not dangerous,” I pushed. “Really, no…ka-boom,” I explained sheepishly, making a hand gesture that inspired a look of deep pity from my chauffeur.

We reached the bag and my passport was taken to another room by one gentleman and my boarding pass handed over to another. The officers crowded around as I slowly unzipped my luggage, pulled some of my clothing out onto the table and located the pendant, still attached to the chain, in a small plastic bag with a pamphlet explaining its significance. The guards looked at each other. A man in a uniform took it from my hands an sat down at the table, slowly. He cautiously removed it from its ziploc and turned it over gently in his hands. He stared at the bullet, he looked at me, he looked back at the bullet, he looked at me. He called the guards over, and they caucused. Five large official Jordanian officers, crowded around my gag gift, whispering about me in Arabic.

At long last, the main officer set about filling out a form, taking down my passport information and continuing to shoot me suspicious glances. “So,” I piped up quietly, turning towards my original captor, “I’m not going to get the bul—I mean, necklace—back, am I?”

“No,” he replied, quickly and without emotion.

“What’s going to happen to it?” I whispered, before I could help myself. It was foolish to belabor the point, but sometimes you need to know.

“It will be destroyed,” he said, handing my passport back to me and turning around to usher me back to my gate. On one hand, I shouldn’t have cared. I wanted to get back to my family, and I wanted to make my flight, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Chandler—the sparkle in her eye I had imagined during the gift’s presentation, the joy I had anticipated feeling, with the knowledge that I had found a good present. All of this happiness, so swiftly dashed. It wasn’t just the bullet that was destroyed that day, but also my dreams.

Luckily, there is a middle ground between useless trinkets and things that can be mistaken for explosives, so I focused the remainder of my travel-shopping energy on items that fit within that category instead.

First up on the agenda is this handwoven kilim runner that I picked up in Jordan, which is looking a bit more saturated in pictures than it does in real life, but you get the idea. It’s long, at about 2′ x 10′, and I’m not totally sure what to do with it yet, despite that I carried it MILES AND MILES through the ancient city of Petra to get it home. I thought it would make a great rug in the kitchen, but it seems a little narrow and a little long, and Max isn’t a fan. Maybe for the hallway? Maybe we’ll just throw it on the floor in the bedroom during the summer or something, just to change things up? Even with one closet between two people and a dog, keeping a bunch of extra rugs around still seems totally logical, right?

Okay, I kind of blew my figurine rule in Egypt, but only because I thought these little southern-Egyptian carvings were cool and I liked the way they looked a little worn down and chippy.

Aside from a replacement present for Chandler (a table cloth, flamboyantly decorated with fake egyptian gods and fake hieroglyphs, with matching napkins), that’s basically all I bought on my travels. And then I came home and did this in my kitchen in a day and a half, remember?

And then I flew off to Portland to visit Chandler. Having been exactly one year since I’d been there the first time, it was really great to see her, Winifred, and catch up on all the great stuff she’s been doing in her place since I left! Look how big that kitty got!

Of course, we had to stop at some of the fun Portlandilicious spots. And by “spots,” I mean places old ladies frequent. I really like visiting the Rejuvenation store when I’m there, just to scope out the clearance section (no dice), but this little black porcelain hook caught my eye. They’re even part of the “Chandler” collection.  For $10, it was fated. Oddly, this tiny tiny little thing is incredibly motivational towards working more on the kitchen, since I can just see it looking all amazing with this hook hanging a cute towel next to the sink. I really want to hang it. Now.

Chandler and I promised to relax and have fun, but we ended up falling into a couple house-project traps, as we tend to do. On a hunt for curtains for her bedroom, we stopped in Urban Outfitters and I found a nice little hand towel, designed by Elizabeth Dunker of Fine Little Day. It is triangles! It is blue! It is nice! It is mine!

I knew I couldn’t skip the Pendleton Woolen Mills factory, and stopped in to check things out. They didn’t have much I was interested in the first time around, but on Thursday morning, I heeded the store manager’s advice and pulled a Grandma’s Funky Furniture (ye olde readers might recall that moment of coming unhinged), stole the car, and waited outside until opening with baited breath.

Oh joyous day! Double-runs of this fabric on discount! I ended up buying about two yards for myself, and playing Pendleton-mule for Anna, who needed a couple of yards flown back to NYC. I can’t decide what the hell to do with it, but when I do it will be incredible. Like, beyond incredible. Trust.

AND I GOT A DOGGGGGGGGGG DOG DOG DOG DOG DOG DOG DOG. (just in case you, you know, forgot.)

We love our Miss Mekko. She’s the best dog. She is putting on weight and seems to be getting more happy, content, and confident everyday, which is pretty great to watch. She is still all I know how to talk about to anybody with at least one working ear.


27 Comments

  1. I once had a cute little keychain in the form of handcuffs, each ring about an inch in diameter – it got confiscated, too, at Hong Kong Airport a couple of years back. The security woman kept repeating “Dangerous! Weapon!” and pointing to the silhouette of handcuffs on the warning signs. I asked a couple of times who she thought I could actually take prisoner with them, but in the end I just gave up.

    Those are some awesome treasures, and that is one of the loveliest puppydogs I have ever seen.

  2. Whoa, that is some scary story. For a minute I thought they might have subjected you to a strip search. Glad that it went “well” for you.

    Those carved figurines are awesome. I have been to Egypt a few times, but never saw anything like them. Never made it further south than Safaga though.

    Your dog (dog, dog, dog, dog)! All I can say is keep those pictures coming. That and give her anything she wants.

  3. Hi,
    I am sorry for your presents but still you are so lucky that this happened to you in Jordan, a civilized country (they still have habeas corpus there…). Imagine an Arabic tourist who wants to enter the US with fake bullets… This is scary stuff. The normal security procedures the US pulls off ( i am from Germany) are already so bizarre it tops your interlude in Jordan by far. You should really be glad that the Jordanians caught you and not the security people which check the flights to America.
    So celebrate that you are at your beautiful home with your cute dog and be able to do other things than decorating a prison cell in Guantanamo.
    All the best wibke

    • Oh, believe me, I have no illusions about what it means to be a privileged, white, American traveler overseas, or the egregious policies that the US regularly pursues in the name of “homeland security.” I hope I don’t come off as if this was some experience of great suffering or personal trial—I certainly am lucky that at the end of the day, I’m allowed to go home and make light of what (for me) was a comical situation of misunderstanding and minor-minor-minor disappointment on my blog. A bit disorienting, yes. Truly frightening? No. Threatening? No. My point was never to pretend or convince anybody that I’d actually been victimized here or the subject of some great injustice or extraordinary circumstance. If that wasn’t clear and I have offended, I’m very sorry.

      • I wonder how the security scrutiny would have been on the other side of the border as the Israeli authorities are much more paranoid and intimidating. Would they have let you take it because it was from their country?

        As an expat living in Jordan I am happy you brought a piece of Jordan with you.

        The whole episode made me think of Russell Peters story (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUXsw3n_iCA). Jordan is generally pretty relaxed when it comes to foreigners and harsher about their own people.

  4. Scariest travel moment ever: flying out of Cairo airport, tripping blithely through security, bags on the belt, pockets emptied, through the machine, over to the belt….no bag. No bag. Nobagnobagnobagnobag. No bag containing passport, money, cards, essential reading materials. I think I owned, at the moment in my life, a boarding pass and some chapstick. I’m not sure if I was more scared about having no identity or being bored on the plane.

    I freak out and run around. Chatter incoherently to a bunch of nice Egyptian security guys. They end up escorting me briskly through the airport pointing at everyone else’s bags – “is this it? This? This?”. I was tempted to start shopping for an upgrade.

    Turns out that some overly helpful member of a group had collected my bag for his friend, but I was able to wrestle it back. While surrounded by my Egyptian security gang.

    Moral: I always go through the machine with my passport in my hand now, but only because they object when I also bring my book.

  5. HOW IS MAX NOT A FAN OF THAT RUG?!?!?! Sigh.

    Mekko’s nose is made out of velvet.

  6. First and most importantly, PUPPY! I so want to snuggle that cute dog of yours.
    Secondly, I love your travel treasures and your blog, thanks for an entertaining read.

  7. Biotiful carpet, biotiful textile, biotiful doggie. Good acquisitions!

  8. I do kind of wish I’d bought the light up minature Vegas sign whilst I was there, but instead came home with maternity clothes. I don’t hink I did Vegas properly.

    By the way, have you seen the Converse with Marimekko prints? They are gorgeous!

  9. Those figurines look a little judgy. Are you sure they approve of your apartment? Mekko looks like she’s wearing mascara.

  10. That airport scene made me shake in my boots at my desk as I was reading this post but I don’t blame you one bit for pressing the issue about where the bullet would go after they confiscated it from you! You worked so hard to scour and find the perfect gift for your friend! Be thankful there was no cavity search involved though—unless of course those Jordanian officers were of the Lucas Entertainment variety! I love that long rug and I LOVE LOVE LOVE those Egyptian figurines! I have an obsession with Russian toys of the same nature—especially of the holiday variety!

    On another note, Miss Mekko looks so svelte and regal! I love her!

  11. Sorry about the airport drama and all but THAT DOG!!! God she’s so lovely to look at! That sweet puss I just wanna kissy-face her all day!! Our Sidney is one of our two rescues and we feel just like you do- Best dogs ever!! (see my pups here if you like http://sunsetsandswimmingpools.blogspot.com/p/my-pics.html)

    Happy Weekend!!

  12. yay for falling more in love with your pup every day!

    and can’t wait to see what you do with that fabric. swoon.

  13. oh, she is the prettiest one.

  14. ok, I love that you say “Even with one closet between two people and a dog…” – as if the dog has clothes that she keeps in the closet! it just shows the love you have for this newest member of your family. she is beautiful. DOGDOGDOGDOGDOG!

  15. How scary! My son once took a bullet casing with him when we went on a cruise, he was like 6 and for some reason liked to carry it around. 2 flights and International waters later I discovered it upon returning home! Wow the good old days.
    Love the rug! Would look awesome in your hallway Maybe paint your hallway walls black, hang some awesome art in funky vintage frames sprayed white to compliment the white woodwork (or just hang the frames). Your DOG DOG DOG would love returning home from walks, hah.

  16. Had a similar experience in Turkey involving a grumpy boyfriend and a grumpier airline desk attendant. Does not feel great when you’re called to back room w/no explanation and your ticket and personal belongings are marked with a red flag for the remainder of your trip.

    You’re a great story-teller, glad you made it back!

  17. Hi, I liked your story very much…things are really getting crazy in the travel dept.
    BTW, I really love the rug you bought and if for some reason you would be willing to part with it, I would be thrilled to purchase it. I’m serious…I have been looking for a kilim with similar colors for some time now. Please let me know if it is a possibility.
    Thanks…

  18. “Uh, miss? Do you do martial arts?” the large man asked me at the airport in Detroit.

    (looking behind me like something out of a movie): “Um…nope…?”

    “Well, is that a throwing star in your bag?” he asks, while signaling for backup security.

    I try not to laugh. But I’m also kind of freaking out. They take apart my bag. Two dudes are standing behind me. Nope, it’s the spinner part of a Swedish Christmas angel mobile, coming back with me from Stockholm. And all was right with the world again.

  19. That loving doggy face is to die for! I just re-watched the Lady and the Tramp (one of my faves from childhood) and was reminded of the opening quote:”In the whole history of the world there is but one thing that money cannot buy … to wit – the wag of a dog’s tail’. Totally sappy but perfect representation of a dog lover’s perspective.

  20. That fabric is GREAT! Absolutely great. I’m jealous and I want some. Even better though, I want your dog wrapped up in that fabric. Such a cutie!

  21. Thanks, papi ;*

  22. Those figurines remind me of the dolls in the Disney World ride, “It’s a Small World”. I could probably live in a room filled with them!

  23. We adopted one of our dogs, Jerry, from Sean Casey four years ago. I swear to God, I always dreamed of having a dog named Jerry….and when we bought our house in Brooklyn our dog Luna was lonely as we were now a bit far from Prospect Park to visit daily like we used to and so I looked on Petfinder (where I’d found Luna) and there was Jerry. A pit bull mix who looked skinny, scared and I just knew. He’d been found on the street near some projects in Brooklyn. I filled out the application and immediately got a call. We went to visit Jerry and we fell in love with him. He rescued me. I swear, he is the best thing that ever happened to our little pup family, the complete and utter joy he brings every day is priceless. Congrats on Mekko! I hope you all have a loving, happy home! xo

  24. At the Cairo airport, there was a group of high school students going through security with us. A couple of them bought fake wooden snakes…you know, the kind you can get here that are jointed and move kind of like real snakes? They were in the carry ons, and were all confiscated b/c of a concern they could cause panic in the air for being too much like real snakes.

    Thought I’d share just so you know something even more innocuous than a gangsta necklace was confiscated. I’d like to think the guards were just fucking with them….

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