traveling solo has endless benefits, but when it comes to packing, it becomes way more intense when you can’t rely on borrowing your friend’s toothpaste/toothbrush/undies/entire wardrobe. while i rely on extensive packing lists and reliable essentials, i never leave without my talisman. you know, my talisman. oh you know, those charming little soul keepers that keep you safe and seeking. you do know, don’t you? ah well, keep reading friend. and never, ever leave home without it again.
inevitably, the reason why we travel is to collect experiences, ephemera, … and to leave pieces o our souls upon cobblestone sidewalks and in the warm air surrounding a sunset and in the smeared imperceptibly into the rims of wine glasses. and while a talisman helps to bridge that gap between what is kept and what is left. the keeper of secrets and pieces of our souls, an object that witholds the subtle power of where we’ve been and where we’re going, and with this power, relentlessly fights against evil spirits that may cross our paths, no matter where those paths lead us.
they are objects, yes, and more often than not some non-kitschy souvenir or significant piece of ephemera collected from our travels. a talisman’s power is said to increase with intention. they are often not chosen by us but chosen for us, given to us, or sometimes they choose us. that undeniably spiritual connection is felt as soon as such a tiny little soul keeper is spotted, in a hidden shop in morocco or at a festive holiday stand in venice or sitting beside your sunday sangria in a plaza in madrid. the ones that i’ve held close inevitably have a story behind them, and stories ahead of them. and a raconteur i will always be, i’ve jotted these tales below for you to discover and uncover and reveal, at just the right time, what your talisman will be.
the first was an old coin from morocco, that i kept around my neck as a reminder of the palpable magic and mystery of the country and the week i spent in it. an old coin that i strung around my neck just outside of a tricky little oddities shop in a coastal town along the west coast of the country. it kept me safe, arguably, from a blinding sandstorm while surfing in the eastern side of the atlantic, from the aggressively audible whispers heard among a passerby in the souk, telling me “i could kidnap you right now and one one would know”, from a winding and endless cab ride in what turned out to be an illegal taxi that got pulled over and offered its american passengers to the cops as payment without hesitation, and from a drug deal in the streets of taghazout that went very very very badly. when i left africa, unharmed and enlightened, the coin stayed on me, continuing to ward off evil spirits and keep me safe and searching. when i returned back from the US, it helped keep my wandering spirit alive and alit when it felt dulled, lost, and stagnant. my first talisman.
the next, this charming little italian man that i picked up in the christmas markets in venice. traveling during the holidays always pangs me with a bit of homesickness, and something about this cheery, charming little yarn man reminded me both of the tiny little bear stuffed animals i preferred as a child, and brought me back to receiving gifts on christmas, and also added a little bit of playfulness to my photography. he was my muse.
he came with me on another solo trip through the south of spain, and somehow snuck away from me at a 100-bed 8-floor hostel in sevilla. ok, so maybe i had something to do with it in my rather drunken state… however, i realized he was missing as i hastily packed, threatening to miss my train to granada. pepito!!! i exclaimed. i blurrily remembered having him last in the common area. i ran in and rummaged through the couches, looked under every table when someone asked me what i was looking for. “um, it’s a little italian yarn man. you know… a gondola man? who works on a gondola? …presuming his is also made of yarn??” i didn’t know what i was saying and time was running out. “oh yeah! yeah! he has a hat?” the guy asked me. this, to me, was a dumb question. “he was on the table last night and a girl was playing with him. a girl with brown hair.” he informed me.
“ah! does she still have him? where is she?”
“yeah she does. um, i think she’s staying on the 4th floor. or maybe the 6th? it’s one of those her name might be elena but i’m not sure.”
holy shit. it was 8am on a sunday at a youth hostel and i had 7 minutes to leave and this is what i had to work with. i sprinted up the stairs. i knocked on every door on the 4th and 6th floors. if someone answered, i gave them my disjointed story. “hi. i’m looking for a girl with brown hair named elena maybe, and she might have this little yarn man that means a lot to me? a little gondola man? answers to “pepito”? currently boatless and probably a little frightened?”
nope. other than a bunch of groggy and crazy looks, i got nothing.
finally as i closed the last door on the 6th floor and began descending down, it opened again. “hi, is this what you’re looking for?” a sleepy-eyed brunette in her hostel-version of pajamas held pepito in her hands. “YES! yes! thank you thank you! you found him!” i ran back up the stairs. “i wanted to keep him…” she said. i had no time for this. “he means a lot to me. you can get one, in venice.” with that i snatched him and ran to grab my pack, a cab, and ultimately a train to granada with my talisman and travel buddy kept close this time.
while pepito occupies a very important spot on my shelf and in my heart, my talisman since 2010 has been a tiny little elephant figurine procured from a street seller in madrid. it was a hungover sunday and i was sharing sangria and stories from the night before with my best friends. a peddler approached us and began his spiel and before we could all answer in a prepared and collective “no, gracias” he had placed an adorable little elephant in front of each of us. “we will each have one,” i said, and no one fought back. 4 euros later, we each had a bit of that city, that experience, and the souls we connected with during that year that would transcend boundaries of time and distance.
hence, “phanty” is perhaps one of the most well-traveled elephants to ever exist. with thousands of kilometers, all under his thick patterned skin, he now will set off with me to the motherland, our home country together, on another trip. where the solo portion will be highlighted by this little reminder of so many wonderful people, places, and experiences, continuing to ward off evil spirits and to keep mine strong and searching.
tell me about your talisman. share with me a story about the keeper of your wandering soul.