Sunday, February 3, 2013


It must have been the most astonishing array of stuff that could be produced in an attempt to satisfy the great demand of tourists, that everlasting desire to take a momento, or two or three, home; to retain a little piece of the place, well, its image, character or feeling, as a reminder, so as to recall the excitement, difference and interest of being there - maybe just the camaraderie. It seems that the collecting of such things tries to extend the emotional diversions of tourism - (see ). Every place has some trinkets that have been made specifically for it. This might mean that a name is printed onto the same object that is distributed to every other place in the world to be differently coded; or that a replica of some associated image has been produced for sale; or perhaps at best, some local craft or material is produced for the visitor, sometimes in miniature. The word 'kitsch' is frequently used for these things. More brutally, it has been labeled as 'trash.' Its function is purely to remind either the visitor, or to inform others when the thing is given as a gift upon return, for which the declaration is: "I have been to . . .(the place that this thing comes from). "

These items are rarely decorative, but repeatedly try too be. They are infrequently functional, but again, they sometimes try to be. They often try to be quirkily humourous. They do not have to try too hard to be differently eye catching. They are rarely of any quality, making little effort to be anything but attractive for the passerby who might later wonder why it was purchased; asking what it might have been about the item that was seen as either desirable or attractive. These things are rarely value for money, as tourists are seen to be easy touches - here today, gone today, never to be back to return or to complain. These are the souvenirs for 'chance customers.' The term comes from the Shetland Islands, the Unst storekerper Harry Henderson, who, the story goes, (as related to me by my late Uncle Bertie), was asked by a local about the price of an axe he had on display in his shop that sold everything one could contemplate and more:

"How much is the axe?"

The figure was given.

"Gosh, that's a lot!" was the concerned response.

Thereupon, Harry Henderson made his statement of protest that is so very much to the point:

"Do you think this is London where cheats live by chance customers?"

Tourism involves the constant delivery of 'chance customers' - impulse purchasers. The goods are priced appropriately - high. One senses this change as soon as one gets into the departure lounge at the airport where monopolies and passersby come together in an avalanche of demands for unusual payments of cash for ordinary products and services.

The Giants Causeway Visitor Centre seemed to have what must be the most complete collection of souvenir possibilities ever seen, all priced accordingly.  se photos.     The centre appeared to set the example for the world, as a catalogue of what a souvenir might be; a veritable encyclopedia of such items. The new building had been totally and completely themed. It looked as though the items for sale had been given the same treatment. These things had all been based on a few rocks shaped as hexagons, but the adaptations and variations amazed. There were the usual cups, spoons, tee shirts, frig magnets, and tea towels, but with more and more options. The invention was intriguing. As well as there being several versions, styles and sizes of each of the usual fare, possibly all to suit the varying budgets, there were more and more objects trying to satisfy every possible whim a tourist might bring to bear as a demand by way of available choice. At the very least, one could admire the democratic approach of the selection on offer - everything from a few pence, (this is Northern Ireland), to hundreds of pounds.

The only challenge for 'best of all quantity and most varied number of souvenirs' was the tiny tourist shop opposite the Visitor Centre that was tucked into the side of the adjacent hotel. Here half a shop of black and beige Guinness paraphernalia adorned the walls and island displays making the place feel crowded with only four people in it. One was left wondering what Ireland might be without Guinness. The image was everywhere. This private company had promoted its image so successfully that it was now a national icon, making it seem that Guinness was Ireland. Indeed, one wondered what might be left if Guinness decided to close shop? Not much. It would become a challenge between the sham impressions of green shamrocks, magic stones (Blarney), strange names, jokes, and Danny Boy, everything seen in Irish pubs outside of Ireland that Eric Google satarised in his song 'Plastic Paddy.' One wonders if these clichés would be able to sustain their identities without the core Guinness image. It is indeed an odd circumstance when intoxication holds a place together.

 It really is also a very strange matter that in a world that has Guinness everywhere, a visitor to Ireland might want to purchase some merchandise and other paraphernalia branded with the Guinness logo to take home again. The provenance of the piece so branded seems critical. "I purchased that in Dublin," changes the object and makes it totally different to one purchased down the road at 'Crazy Charlie's' or the like, that is also made in China. This subtlety is of interest when one is pondering the sense of what an object might be, say, in the context of an artist's studio being relocated - (see and ). This situation seems to support the idea that there is a substantial change in things with different contexts, e.g. when relocated or perceived by another. Place, it appears, is paramount, like personal connections.

 Tourists purchase trash and kitsch to remember place: the feelings, emotions and experience of being there, at the place visited. The souvenir becomes the reference for reminding in the same way as the religious icon, but with a different aim and ambition. Icons seek to remind - to bring to mind once more - the origins. The souvenir is the item, the real piece of having been there. It is the evidence that can be held, displayed and spoken about, pointed to as part of a past when times were different: when everything was different, elsewhere; when we were 'free' of the burdens of ordinary life as tourists.

Souvenirs hold the full complexities of the experience of place for one to recall - to ‘mind’ # - in other places and at other times. They offer us a good example of the relationship between meaning, memory, form and place, even when as a cliché and when kitsch. Architecture plays an important role in this mix, but is less transportable and more intimately 'everyday.' So it is that images and models are used for tourism: consider Bilbao; and the Brandenberg Gate resin model and that of Chatrtres Cathedral. Then one recalls the small piece of the Berlin Wall.

Just what the finer implications of this situation might mean for an ordinary private life beyond the perversions of tourism, needs to be considered in more detail. If objects can change thinking and lives, and vice versa, in such a profound manner so simply, then we need to be much more careful with our making of our forms in architecture, as they touch and involve feeling and thought intimately, constantly. This situation can be seen to involve a mental health issue involving both the maker and others, for each leaves something and brings something to a thing. It is an aspect of architecture that needs far more attention.


Interestingly, in Shetland dialect, for one to 'mind,' is for one to ‘remember’:

"I canna mind dat," is simply saying: "I cannot remember that."

The Shetland dialect is an interesting subject. It is written phonetically and makes more sense to the novice when read aloud, unrehearsed. It includes a mix of old, and clipped or shortened words. One could consider it to be a 'lazy' tongue, or an efficient language - or is it that Shetlanders have a great urge to get sounds out fast, for they do speak with a natural speed? For example, the place on the west of Mainland called Sandness is not pronounced as it seems. Shetlanders say 'Sanness' and have no idea what one is saying when the place is sounded as 'Sand - ness' even though the origin of the name is just this, being descriptive of the place as a sandy ness or headland (Norse).

After making a comment on a beautiful sunrise at 9:30am during mid-winter, the answer given was:

"It's bonnie yon."

"Yes, indeed," was my reply.

The four sounds communicated what it would take an English-speaking person ten sounds to say:

"It is very beautiful over there."

Deconstructing the four sounds, we get:

It's                    It is                   (which is simple English)

bonnie              very beautiful  (familiar to us from Scottish poems and songs, especially those of Burns)

yon                   yonder              (old English for 'over there'; also in old Scottish songs: 'yon bonnie braes')

'Yonder' is an expressive old English word, now seen as poetic, that remains in use in Shetland, but has faded from general English usage, like 'thee' and 'thy' that remain in the daily chat in Shetland. The use of these old worlds make the dialect seem quaint and archaic. The succinctly expressive quality of the Shetland dialect is as attractive as and integral with its delicate, precisely sweet, musical sounds.

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