The Shop At The Top on Table Mountain. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency(ANA)
The Shop At The Top on Table Mountain. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency(ANA)

A pandemic-era ode to every tourist's guilty pleasure: The gift shop

By The Washington Post Time of article published Oct 4, 2020

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By Liz Langley

Washington - Gift shops are the dessert at the end of any tour, gallery or attraction, sometimes better than the exhibits themselves.

Do I want to visit Baltimore's Edgar Allan Poe House & Museum? Of course. But do I want a "Masque of the Red Death face mask" from the Poe House gift shop? Be still my telltale heart - yes!

Right now, of course, I can only do one of those things and when it comes to future travels, my outlook is far less sunny than that of Mr. Poe. The evil twins, pandemic and penury, have turned my Bucket List into a Shot Glass List.

When I have a minute to escape this Bosch painting we're all in, I indulge in my new hobby - coveting. I look at websites of places I long to visit and, of course, the lovely trinkets I would bring back, and I wonder if I'll ever go anywhere again.

I accept, for example, that I may never get to go to Zagreb, Croatia, to give live appreciation to the conceptual brilliance of the original Museum of Broken Relationships. (There's also a Los Angeles outpost.)

Thanks to its virtual component, though, I can feel the heartbreak and think "Wow, that sucks," from afar. I can also support the museum by going to its online gift shop and buying a "bad memories eraser" or a chocolate bar whose mean-spirited label says it hopes you gain weight from eating it. The chocolate, like the sentiment, is dark.

A different kind of desertion is on display, and on sale, at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alaska. For thrift-store lovers, picking through other people's abandoned pants is more relaxing than meditation, and this place sounds like the greatest garage sale on Earth.

The centre is open, but if you can't get there, they do sell items online. There is probably nowhere else in the world you could buy a pure silver flute, a Nicole Miller wedding dress (size 6) and solar-powered snake repellent under the same roof.

Travelling to see family can be stressful, unless the relatives you are visiting are orangutans or other nonhuman primates who never show up to Thanksgiving and ask why you're not married yet.

I may never get to visit or volunteer at the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Borneo and meet the cousins before they go extinct. Anyone can help these gentle primates, though, by adopting an orphan orangutan or buying an orangutan face mask through Orangutan Outreach. It's a nice way to thank your kin for having no opinion about your leaving law school.

Everyone I know who goes to Prague comes back in love with this grand, soulful city, and I'm aching to join their ranks. In addition to many other sites, being the ray of sunshine that I am I would very much like to see the Franz Kafka Museum, and the surrealist statue of the author in the Jewish quarter where he lived and worked are high on the list.

If you're in a lighter mood, there's a Sasquatch mug designed by Coast Salish First Nations artist Francis Horne Sr. that would brighten anyone's day.

Animals don't have to be real to bring joy. I've romanticized Loch Ness and it's famous monster since my dad went there on a press junket in the late 1960s and came back misty-eyed over the locale, the people and the whiskey.

Whether I'll ever get to retrace his Nessie trip myself, I don't know, but the Loch Ness Center and Exhibition has lots of digital offerings and, of course, where Nessie is or isn't, tchotchkes abound. I could spend a fortune at Loch Ness Gifts, but I'm keen on the Nessie ashtray, partly because I thought ashtrays were as extinct as plesiosaurs, and also the Harris Tweed hip flask. Keeping the dad vibe going.

Thinking of all these trips is giving me a feeling I vaguely remember as optimism, like I might be able to buy these in person one day.

In the meantime I may at least get a "Finding Nessie" face mask, in the style of "Finding Nemo." If gift shops are, indeed, the dessert after the attraction, 2020 is definitely a year to eat dessert first.

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