Today is the five-year anniversary of Stowaway! Hurrah!
In that time, I’ve gone from Chicago to California, from Wellington to Waterloo, from Budapest to Buenos Aires, from Luang Prabang to La Paz. One of the reasons I write this blog is so that readers can stow away with me on my trips to various places, and as usual, thanks for your patience as I catch you up on where I’ve been.
I won’t be catching you up today. Today I’m continuing my job and housing search in London, because I really want to try living here for at least a little while. Today I’m just going to rest on these five-year-old laurels and appreciate the journey that took me all over Chicago, around the world, and here to London, the latest home for this Stowaway.
As ever, thanks for reading. There’s still much more to come.
I’ve handled lots of currencies by now, and by far the most baffling set of coins I’ve encountered is the British. Not so much how they add up—it’s all on the decimal system—but the sizes and shapes. Look: you’ve got one penny, two pence, five pence, ten pence, twenty pence, fifty pence, one pound, and two pounds. Most of them make little sense as physical things.
What genius decided to make the two pence coin only slightly larger than the ten pence? When you’re feeling around for change in your purse, and you triumphantly emerge with just the coin you need to make that purchase, how crushing to realize you’re still 8p short because all you have is a couple pennies with an inflated sense of importance.
Then there’s the five pence piece, bane of my grandmother’s existence when she’s counting up the change in charity boxes and forever losing sight of them because they’re so tiny. Fiddly little coins, she calls them, and she’s not wrong. They’re so small and light (smaller and lighter than the penny, which is only one-fifth the value, because that makes sense), it’s a wonder anyone can find them in their coin purse at all. I’m pretty sure there’s an alternate universe populated solely by missing socks and millions of 5p pieces.
Why are the twenty pence piece and the fifty pence piece heptagons? Is this another Masonic conspiracy of some sort? Seven’s a significant number, right? Seven deadly sins, seven days in the week, seven wonders of the world, seven dwarves, seven shopping days til Christmas… At least there’s no worry of mixing up these coins with any others; the 50p piece is so large, chipmunks could use it as a dinner plate, and the 20p piece neatly fits within the circumference of the 10p piece, proving that we hold within us the ability to be twice as much as we are.
But there’s one coin you won’t find me puzzling over: the pound. The pound is a perfect coin, slightly smaller than the 10p but thicker than all the other coins, with a heft to it that lets you know immediately you’re holding a coin worth something. It’s thick enough to have writing around the edge; usually it’s the Latin for ‘an ornament and a safeguard,’ but there’s also a Welsh slogan (‘true am I to my country’) and a Scottish one (‘no one provokes me with impunity’—of course that’s the Scottish slogan).
At least it’s better than the former set-up, which worked according to the ancient Roman system, wherein 240 silver pennies equalled one pound of silver. This resulted in things like the half-crown, worth two shillings and a sixpence, which is less than a guinea but more than a tanner, and a few bob was much more than a few farthings, but not always equal to a florin. What? Yes. That foreign language you’re reading in a Dickens novel is the language of a money system standardized in medieval times. Spare a ha’penny, guvnor?
Of course, there are real reasons for these sizes and shapes, mostly related to when the switch from old money to the decimal system was made in 1971. But this is funnier. Final fun fact: since the switch to decimalization was made partway through Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, all the coins in the decimal system have only ever worn the face of one monarch.
Sometimes, it seemed as if the only cars in Peru were VW Beetles. I got almost all the colors of the rainbow just in Cusco and Lima alone. I never did see a purple one, so I’ll have to head back sometime and see if I can spot one.
I didn’t meet that many people who had been to Zagreb, Croatia before I visited, but everyone who had been suggested I go to one place: The Museum of Broken Relationships. Well, with a name like that, of course I had to check it out.
The museum started as a traveling show, for which the founders asked people to donate something that symbolized their ended relationship as a means of coping with that end. The founders, Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić, see submitting to the museum almost as a ritual, like a marriage or funeral, that can formally recognize the end of something once vital to one’s life.
The rooms were labeled with themes, like “Rage and Anger,” although on the whole, I didn’t find the themes that useful a division. The stories are interesting enough on their own, and there’s too much overlap in the end of a relationship among rage and heartbreak and loss to divide it all up into rooms. Maybe the only theme I would’ve taken care to separate items into would be “Death,” because it’s one thing to read about how two lovers broke up, and quite another to read about the tragic circumstances of a loved one’s death. I’d separate those out, to reduce the emotional whiplash.
The museum displays about 15% of its collection; they accept any donation (except things that are racially, religiously, sexually, or ethnically offensive), and they only have so much room. I imagine the turnover is pretty good, so that you could visit every year and see almost a whole new exhibit every time. They don’t turn donations away, as they really seem to want to be a physical place for people to locate their pain from a broken relationship.
They also don’t change the written story submission at all; they encourage people to submit in their native language, and they employ translators to do their best in changing it into English (the language of the museum). They accept multiple objects, tiny objects, large objects. They let the donor decide what’s being displayed and how it’s being talked about, and it seems to me that in doing so, they’re radically addressing what it means to be a museum at all, and what it means to curate one.
It was as fascinating and emotional as I’d been promised it would be, so I’ll pass on what other travelers told me: if you’re going to Zagreb, go to the Museum of Broken Relationships.