Scavenger in a Strange Land

13 Apr

I narrowly avoid a collision with a motorbike creeping up the alley behind me as I turn to pick up the red paper that caught my eye. I pick up what turns out to be a half-used pack of rolling papers and brush off the loose dirt of a dozen footprints. The black rooster print and the Thai script definitely have potential to be featured on a book cover.

It is certainly not the first time that I have disrupted the flow of traffic to grab stray bits that will find a home in my stash. It is also not the first time I have gotten strange looks and a few laughs as the foreigner picking up trash off the street.

In India, the image of a raven on what turned out to be a matchbook cover started my obsession with Indian matchbooks. I spent the duration of my three month trip with one eye on the ground, and another on the glass cases of shops for interesting new designs, and occasionally swapped out a guesthouse’s matches with a more mundane design.

India and now Thailand have proved to be wonderlands for paper bits, if only for their lovely script. Vietnam has been less forthcoming with art supplies, although I have acquired a few lengths of silk, imagining the book covers that might come out of it all, adding in my mind some embroidery and appropriate closures. By the time I return home, the plastic envelope I carry will be stuffed with a combination of itineraries and ticket stubs, labels and miscellaneous paper bits. I will add them to my box of vintage postcards, wine labels, advertisements, old letters, stray game pieces, buttons, matchbooks, menus, and maps. Many of the bits and pieces will find their way onto book covers, some will ultimately be passed on, others will remain in my stash forever, as a fond reminder of places I have been.


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