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Desautels: Let's talk about my collection of shells and small rocks

In this week's column, Bob Desautels waxes about places and memories
Bob with Cindy in Paris

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast”.
Ernest Hemingway

Both of my desks, in my home and business offices, have a number of shells from various regions of the world where I’ve traveled.  I also have a collection of many small rocks that also come from countries afar. I’m not quite sure why I collect them. 

This mystery is compounded by my total lack of reverence for places in general. Particular cities, country sides or ocean locales have never had much of a hold on me.  Yet, I love picking up these rocks or shells and reminiscing about the experience I had in the place it was found. 

These simple objects bring back memories of my traveling companion (usually my wife, Sue), breathtaking vistas, my favourite meal or wine, an unusual stranger, a piece of art, great architecture . . . often allowing me to once more experience my deepest emotions. 

I even remember some profound realizations or insights discovered while standing on a far shore or in the middle of some great metropolis.  In other words, I literally, emotionally and intellectually, get to re-live those marvelous experiences (and I save on save on airfare!).

Of course, it doesn’t always require a rock or shell to jog my memory. As Hemmingway suggests, some places, and experiences, stay with you forever.  They continually “bubble-up” from your subconscious, or memory banks. 

My most remembered “moveable feasts” frequently involve someone I loved, a beautiful view, an ocean front, a great meal or bottle of wine, unique architecture, and epiphanies brought on by happenstance or an unusual travel experience. Sometimes, just a plain old yearning to go back to a place will bring up past pleasures.  

Although I do often go back to certain places, it is always a novel experience. It’s never the same. This bolsters my conviction that places do not hold any magic…it is never quite the same because you are not the same person. You’re different. It is we who are the vessels of these memories. 

This is so obvious to me that I truly wonder why so many religions hold key places in their history as sacred.  Especially since most great faiths preach spiritual lessons, not physical.  In my opinion, there is so much misplaced devotion! And, of course, unnecessary wars, including the infamous Crusades.

Despite telling my parents that “I was through with church” at the tender age of 14, I’m still most familiar with the Christian religion.  I’m aware that it is widely held that the great sage Jesus, some say divine, was born in Bethlehem. 

That’s interesting historically and sociologically, but from what I remember his teachings were born in the mind and soul - and that’s where you’ll find solace from his teaching - not his birth place.  Forget the great pilgrimages to holy sites and look inside… let the feast be with you.

Bob Desautels is a successful restaurateur, author of two books and former professor at the University of Guelph's Bachelor of Commerce program.

Visit him at his blog

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