Friday, June 26, 2009

Souvenir Shopping in Alaska. Not.

A gift shop on the Homer Spit in Alaska. You don't see that much native art and craft in regular gift stores.

"If two or more people gather in one location, the state of Alaska has mandated that a gift shop should immediately be set up there," said Bobsky, the rafting guide. His sarcastic remark came at the end of a trip where I'd had the niggling feeling that Alaska had been heavily "souvenirised". I said to myself, "Moose crap! He might be right."

Don't get me wrong. I like buying souvenirs. But souvenirs have to have meaning or value or both. I stopped buying stuff with "L.A" and "London" emblazoned on shot glasses, plates, mugs, ash-trays, key chains and T-shirts, a long time ago. My eyes simply glaze over.

I had that glazed experience so often in Alaska's ubiquitous gift shops that I have come back with no souvenirs. Nothing. That is a real pity in a state with rich native arts and crafts. It is also one of the more unfortunate aspects to this "souvenirisation" - the same old silly stuffed toy makes it to the shelf but native crafts don't. This may just be a reflection also of the fact that the tourist industry seems run entirely by people from the lower 48 and more than half of Alaska's settlers are non-natives anyway.

Then there are also things that I couldn't decide were creative or stupid. For instance, in Valdez, where the devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill took place in 1989, one gift-store was selling oil from that spill in vials. A little floating black blob can be yours for $6. Is this creative marketing or is it squeezing a tragedy for commercial gain?

Then there are earrings made from moose droppings. Moose eject neat oblong pellets which are dried and painted over and sold as ornaments. Again, it's creative till you think about whether you want shit dangling from your earlobes or have it fertilize the earth instead - where it arguably belongs. I'm not really sure.

Alaskan native art is alive. It's just not "souvenirsed" like stuffed bears. So serves me right to return without anything because I didn't have the time to go find native crafts. But I hope next time it finds me.


journovoice said...

Did you see any Sarah Palin dolls there?


Alaphia Zoyab said...

I saw Sarah Palin books. Of course I didn't open them.

Neodawn said...

Did you get to see Russia from there? ;)

Alaphia Zoyab said...

I couldn't see the next town let alone the next country.

fitnessfreak said...

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Nagesh.MVS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nagesh.MVS said...

Did you get to see Russia from there? ;)
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