Out There: Spoon heaven

My mom was European, and I think collecting spoons was a European shtick.

Art by Pepe Fainberg (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Art by Pepe Fainberg
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
I’m scheduled to travel to San Antonio early next month to deliver a couple of lectures, and I can’t wait.
And it’s not because I want to see the Alamo, or walk along the banks of the San Antonio River, or maybe see a San Antonio Spurs playoff game. No, I’m excited because I’ve never been to San Antonio, which means that when I get there, I can buy a new souvenir spoon.
That’s right, a souvenir spoon, the kitschy ones hanging on those twirling stands in airport souvenir shops, right next to the magnets and the key chains; the ones that in Las Vegas will have a little slot machine dangling in the middle, or in Cairo will have a little pyramid on the top, or in Moscow will have a tiny image of Red Square stamped on it.
What can I say – I love souvenir spoons. Always have. Some folks my age collect expensive watches, others accumulate sophisticated artworks, still others like Judaica. Me, I got a thing for $7.95 spoons.
It goes back to my youth. My mom was European, and I think collecting spoons was a European shtick. Before she immigrated to America, as she was bouncing from place to place after the war, she accumulated some spoons from places like Holland, Belgium and Haiti.
And then later in life, wherever she traveled, she picked up a new spoon. As a result, I grew up with a display of spoons from locales that once seemed so exotic to me – Mesa Verde and Cheyenne – hanging up in our hall.
When my mom passed away many years ago, my sister – since she lived close by – got all the big stuff: the dining- room table, the big bookcase, the fine china. Me, I got the spoon collection, since spoons fit handily into a suitcase bound for Israel.
And ever since, spoon collecting has been my passion. Okay, maybe not exactly my passion (“Jeez, what a nebech,” I can hear my kids say), but something I like to do.
FIRST OF all, it’s very practical and relieves much tension when traveling. You obviously can’t go all the way to Lapland without buying some souvenirs for home; so what’s it going to be? Some overpriced reindeer horns you don’t need? Indigenous Lapp artwork you don’t like? A Santa Claus artifact that would look out of place between the kiddush cups and the havdala set on the bookshelf?
When traveling abroad with friends or colleagues, I find myself at a distinct advantage. While they rack their brains over what to bring home to their spouses and kids, I’m on automatic pilot: just point me toward the spoons.
But there’s a catch. I’m not just any spoon collector, I’m an Orthodox Jewish spoon collector, which means my collection is defined by strict rules and regulations.
For instance, I will put on my wall only spoons from places where either I, my parents, The Wife, or any of my children have been (the jury is still out on whether my new daughter-in-law counts).
Some kind folks who visit our home – and have their breaths taken away by the collection on the wall – offer to add to it, and volunteer to bring back a spoon from their next visit to, say, Nova Scotia. But I must demur, because rules are rules, and if a Keinon foot has not trodden on Nova Scotian soil, then no Nova Scotian spoon will hang on this Keinon’s wall.
WHICH IS one of the reasons I so like my job – it has given me the opportunity to buy spoons on travels to far-flung locales.
As this paper’s diplomatic correspondent, I get excited when I hear that the prime minister is traveling abroad on a trip I might be sent to cover, only to be let down if his destination is a country or city from which I have already collected a spoon.
“Azerbaijan? Again?” I whined to myself last year when the prime minister was planning a trip to Asia. “Ah, c’mon, I already have a Baku spoon. Shouldn’t he go to Uzbekistan?”
I am a big believer in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s overtures to Africa, less out of concern about Israel’s international stature, and more because if he travels to even a quarter of the countries on that country-rich continent, that would give a huge boost to my collection.
One would think.
But this hobby is not without disappointments, nor is it tension-free. Regarding the disappointments, some countries – such as the four African states Netanyahu visited last summer: Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia – have not yet discovered the joy of souvenir spoons.
And as for the tension, first of all it is a little embarrassing, especially when others are around, asking an airport shop clerk where the spoon section is. For, as my kids remind me, what kind of dweeb collects spoons?
And, secondly, it has added a degree of marital tension, since The Wife and I do not see eye-to-eye on this matter.
For instance, how many spoons should one buy on each trip? Do you get one from each new city visited, even each attraction visited in each city, or do you suffice with one spoon per land?
Me, I’m a spoon maximalist; The Wife, unfortunately, is a spoon minimalist.
And then there’s the question of display. If I had my way, our living room would be a shrine to the souvenir spoon. The Wife has a different take.
“But honey,” I argued the other day, trying to convince her to agree to a fourth display rack on the walls of our salon, “every house has pictures on the wall. How many have spoon display cases?”
“Precisely,” she said, condescendingly. “And believe me, there’s a reason for that.”