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Entries in travel (68)


Three’s A Charm

Earlier this year I wrote about a fashion mission I undertook: three holidays, three vintage finds. One of them was an antique cash register key that had been repurposed as a pendant. Quite cute in itself, but I decided the necklace would be much more quirky and individual with a little collection of charms.

I’ve never been a fan of charm bracelets: they were too irritating, dangling around the wrist and getting in the way. Also, they were extremely popular when I was a teenager, and that instantly reduced their desirability in my eyes. But a charm necklace I could do.

So far I have collected three little pendants: the aforementioned cash register key, a little sterling silver heel, and an antique Moroccan coin gifted me last year, from a warm-hearted woman who took an instant liking to me. I am currently on the look out for some kind of hat pendant, but I haven’t seen anything I like yet. 


A Serendipitous Loss

I love the smooth opacity of stones such as turquoise, lapis lazuli, malachite, chalcedony – such magical names! – and have collected quite a few pieces over the years.

One of them was an amazing cabochon turquoise ring, set in sterling silver. It was extraordinary because of its size, and the fact that there were no inclusions to mar its clear robin’s egg blue surface. It was egg-shaped, and about an inch in length. Then alas, one evening the stone felt out of its setting while I was walking home. I mourned its loss for a suitable period, and set about looking for its replacement.

It took me three years, and I found it in a little jewellery boutique in a laneway in the Barri Gòtic in Barcelona. The jewellery was displayed in the open on white cubes, each ring attached to a steel cable, but one was still able to try them on. I eventually decided on my favourite: it forms a solid, curved oval, hollowed out off-centre, and is inset with sterling silver. It is a ring of substance, minimal yet striking with its vivid colour. In fact, I like it much more than the original ring I lost.


The Hat’s Out of the Bag!

This hat is most likely a reproduction, custom-made for a theatre

A shopping time limit and baggage allowance together are not two conditions conducive to tranquil vintage shopping. So when a friend and I were browsing in the Zoo Emporium in Sydney, I did not expect to buy anything.

Not until, however, I looked up at a looming mannequin and saw a 1920s style fan hat that literally made me catch my breath in awe. “Look!” I gasped. My friend’s eyes nearly popped out.

Our amazement was due to the sheer size of this theatrical extravaganza of ostrich feathers. It must have been a metre wide. “Try it on!” my friend urged. I paraded around, testing its balance, supposing it would be too expensive anyway. Upon enquiry, we heard everything in the store was half price, and the hat was $33. Our jaws dropped. Even $66 would be cheap.

“You must buy it!” my friend declared firmly. Assuredly, but what on earth would they say at check-in at the airport? She pooh-poohed my concerns. Easy for her. A plastic bag big enough to fit the hat was found. Conveniently, it was transparent, enabling the airline staff to see the harmless contents.

A more modest version of a fan hat from a 1914 fashion plate by George Barbier, for ‘Journal des Dames et des Modes’

Later that day …

Waiting in line at check-in, I hoped that I would get the male steward. They’re nearly always a little more easy-going than the gimlet-eyed women. Unfortunately, I was waved to another counter manned by a woman. And that’s when the trouble began.

My carry-on baggage clocked in at an acceptable 10.4kg, but the stewardess eyed my handbag and hat in disapproval. I had three items. Her lip curled. “Can you fit the hat in the bag?” No, I explained, I couldn’t possibly do that because the hat was vintage, fragile, and it would get squashed. Adding my handbag to my baggage still made the latter too heavy for the overhead lockers.

“I’ll have it under the seat in front of me,” I pointed out – but no: I would still be carrying three items. The woman asked the male steward his opinion. He shrugged. I had the distinct impression he thought his colleague was making an unnecessary fuss.

Helpfully, the stewardess suggested I remove clothing from my bag and put it on, so that the carry-on would be light enough to fit my handbag. I looked at her like the nincompoop she was. It was practically still summer – what did she think I had in my bag? A fur coat? I didn’t have enough clothes in there to put on to make a difference.

I needed to lose weight fast, or I would obliged to pay an extra $70 to check my baggage – which would defeat the purpose of buying a cheap flight. It seemed we were at an impasse, but for a divine inspiration that struck me suddenly: “What if I wear the hat?” I asked.

Did such an enormous hat actually count as a hat, or a piece of furniture?

The woman stared at me. I could see the cogs ticking over. Did such an enormous hat actually count as a hat, or a piece of furniture? She referred to the steward again. “It is a hat,” he shrugged. “People can wear hats.”

At last she was satisfied and warned me that I would have to wear the hat through security, and on board the plane. “Okay,” I replied meekly, suppressing my triumph.

Approaching security, I paused. Was I really going to put on the hat now? I rather suspected that the mere sight of it on my head would be enough to have security tackle me to the floor and slap handcuffs on me. I decided I would not wear the hat, and I sailed through with flying colours. No-one was at all interested in me or my belongings.

I did suffer a slight check when I saw the same steward from check-in scanning our boarding passes, and rather sheepishly tried to obscure my hat behind my body. He grinned and waved me through. I was going home!


A Stitch in Line

Last year – literally a year ago – on my last night in Barcelona around 10pm after a Spanish guitar concert in a medieval church, I managed to squeeze in some last minute shopping before I left for Lisbon the next day. It was a cool and rainy night, and as I was slowly making my way back to my hostel in L’Eixample, I found one little boutique still open. I slipped in, and determined to find something to buy.

I saw little that interested me except for this one sweet shirred dress that reminded me of the floral frocks I wore as a child. Impulsively, I decided to buy it – it was only €30 or so, and it made me feel nostalgic, honestly. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that deep down I felt I had not bought enough souvenirs from Barcelona. In fact, I was doing my bit to help the flailing Spanish economy.

A day dress from 1836–40, Victoria & Albert MuseumAnyway, I am rather partial to shirring – or smocking, if you prefer to call it that. It’s a popular decorative technique for children and women’s clothing (and maybe men’s clothing in the 1970s) that involves the creation of a multitude of tiny gathers in the fabric in parallel rows. It works best on soft fabrics. Today elastic thread is usually used, but once upon a time it was painstakingly sewn by hand using ordinary thread.

Check out Make It and Love it for a tutorial if you want to try your hand at it. I won’t be – I’ve two left thumbs when it comes to the sewing machine. I’ll just be buying mine. 


Spanish Souvenirs

Last year I got lost wandering the streets of Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic. This was a good thing (unlike getting lost in the Fez Medina, which was terrifying), because it is a wonderful way to discover all the hidden nooks and corners of the district, and all the delightful little shops hiding in them.

I spent a wonderful hour or so browsing in the shop Art Montfalcon, and eventually came away with a bundle of ceramic jewellery: a necklace and earring set, as well as two rings (oh, and a cool resin necklace that was supposed to be a gift, and which I, erm, ended up gifting to myself [hangs head in shame]).

The rings I only wear occasionally as they are fragile, but I adore the necklace and earrings and often show them the town. Thin, delicate disks, fashioned like buttons with holes through which the cord is threaded, are painted like textile swatches with different patterns. The colours – mint, chocolate and persimmon – are so pretty. They are Spanish souvenirs I will always treasure.

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