B calls my office the “bazaar.” So true. Right now one chair is stacked with textiles from Bhutan, including an elaborately patterned kira (woman’s skirt) that may have belonged to a member of the royal family. Peacock fans from India, painted Tibetan chests, a pair of Indian ladies from a shop window in Kolkata, a curvaceous brass dish for Turkish Delight, a Balinese dancer’s twinkly headdress, tiles from Lisbon… The real question is, “When does the sale start?”
My “collector gene” kicks into high gear when I shop for spices. Our pantry, aka “the museum of travel,” is exploding with so many exotic salts that I never again need to buy any form of sodium chloride. Currently B and I are in negotiation over a second pantry strictly for my collection of dried peppers and peppercorns. There’s always something new to try. I recently came home with a tin of incendiary smoked red peppercorns—just the thing to brighten a dish of braised lamb and vegetables. Or to toss at a pesky mugger: Spices are so versatile!
I’ll always make room for the rare or unusual spice: fragrant Moroccan saffron, plump vanilla beans from Costa Rica (who knew?), Bhutanese thingnay, the Kingdom’s homegrown Sichuan peppercorn, to name just a few. Sahlep, used in Middle Eastern drinks and desserts, is the latest. It makes stretchy ice cream, if you can believe it, but I’m planning to use this orchid tuber flour in a traditional Turkish quaff of warm milk, sugar and cinnamon.
Shopaholics know that sometimes you just have to pounce. The handsome Burmese Buddha I found in Soho last year was the culmination of a tedious eight or nine year search—my own fault for not pursuing the magnificent one I originally found. At the time, it was our children’s tuition or the Buddha—for years I’ve been asking myself, “Did I make the right decision?
There’s always the one that got away. I still dream of a gorgeous antique Sri Lankan “sofa” with a dark, carved wooden frame, scrolled arms and a woven rattan seat. Exquisite and completely out of reach, apart from the minor problem of shipping it home. But I’m willing to wait: Did I mention my birthday is coming up?
My secret weakness? Pointy-toed kitten heels. I have them in leopard, nude patent, black suede and more. My closet hardly rivals Imelda’s, but it’s filled beyond its modest capacity with shoes bought at unmentionable prices. Note to self: Add second closet to list of items up for negotiation with long-suffering husband.
Good thing I broke my ankle a few years ago: A trip to Paris now means a stop at Repetto for their ballet-style flats—so comfortable, so chic, so sweetly priced. I have them in multiples: black, navy blue and, very soon, fire engine red. When you find something you love, I always say, “Stock up!”
We will not discuss my other weakness, except to say that pearls are involved. Ssshhh! No talking!!
Serendipity knows that it’s all about the experience. “Shopping is about happiness,” she told me. “About making your life a little better.” She was talking about cupcakes, but I have to say, I get a flutter when those boxes arrive at the front door, especially when there’s something beautiful—velvet ikat cushions, say, or a new mortar and pestle—contained within.
Shopping when traveling is also about the experience, as much about capturing a vivid moment far from home as about the object itself. Whenever I look at the Thai temple tigers that now guard our front door, I remember a hot, smoggy day in Bangkok and monks in pale orange robes running to catch the Chao Phraya riverboat. Those tiger cubs evoke the pleasures of the day: cool breezes as we chugged upriver, office workers and school children hopping on and off the boat, the sight of fruit and flower offerings floating on the water—and of swimmers raiding the offerings for the cash tucked inside.
I’m thinking hard about creating the same kind of pleasure for you. Will a personally curated collection of exotic spices and cookware give you a lift? How about one-of-a-kind textiles, or a set of ivory-handled fish forks that I ran across at an antique shop? Do you enjoy the back story that goes with each? Good. Then that’s settled.
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