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.