Bob McNamara (9)
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Minnesotans get around—we have one of the highest percentages of passport holders in the country. And what we bring back are no mere objects, but portals, allowing us to return anytime. Here, nine well-traveled Minnesotans share the stories behind their favorite souvenirs.
CEO and creative director, Black: A Retail Brand Agency
When you say you collect dog collars, people think, dog collars? Really? But I just love old sterling; it has a patina. I like collars that have beautiful typography, like this Tabinet collar, dated December 15, 1838. It’s something about the kennel: “The property of Earl Talbot, the winner of the grand champion”—I’d have to clean it up to read it. I have 35 dog collars. They start in around the mid-1500s and go to the mid-1800s. I bought this one online from a broker for $5,000. I have no qualifications other than that I’m a tragically addicted shopper. I’ve walked up to people at auctions after they bought something that I wanted and offered a better deal. My home is 11,000 square feet. And there’s one room—the library—that has all these shelves. I wanted to fill them up. I have a big collection of taxidermy: a full lion, a full zebra, most of the woodland animals. I’m a big animal lover. I own three—well, actually, I have four dogs right now, because I have one on rescue—and a horse. It’s kind of like a little stampede. It’s gut-wrenching when you lose an animal. The collars are the only thing left of the dog a lot of times. It’s the evidence that this dog was living on the earth at some point in time. You know, a collar is kind of like the dog’s soul.
Sarah & Fred Haberman
Co-founders of Haberman marketing agency
We had never heard of Kazakhstan. This was in 1992. We were 26. Kazakhstan had been part of the Soviet Union and the wall had just fallen, so to speak. Sarah’s father introduced us to two gentlemen here who wanted to start a business there. There were probably only 50 to 100 Westerners at that time in Almaty, the largest city in the country. There were no fax machines, and we couldn’t trust the banks, so we carried $30,000 in cash with us. Everyone handed out a lot of gifts—we’d call it bribery. Then our investors left. But we created the first office-products retail store there. We’d go to the mountains to unwind pretty much every weekend. And often we’d go camping with this guy Sergei. We didn’t have any equipment, so the first time we used these burlap sleeping bags that would only zip up to our bellybuttons. When it rained, the tent would leak. But it was gorgeous. Wild horses would run through our campsite. The wildflowers were taller than us. You’d see a yurt and a sheepherder and that’s about it. We left after eight months. Saying goodbye to Sergei was the most difficult and challenging thing we’ve ever had to do abroad. He surprised us by giving us his hat. We’ve worn it since, but mostly what we took from Sergei was how we communicated with him, through stories around the fire. Our business now is storytelling, sharing the stories of
pioneers. And that was Kazakhstan: going into the unknown, scared out of your mind.
I think it’s in my DNA—I’m chronically curious. I’ve probably biked more than 120,000 miles. And now, with my Blue Zones project and as a National Geographic fellow, I travel to illuminate the human condition. Where are people doing things better than us? What lessons can we learn? Naturally, I pick up souvenirs along the way. From Okinawa, I brought back a traditional wedding kimono, which costs about $70,000 to make, is good for about 200 weddings, and is then retired. I bought it for $500 underneath a highway from a vendor. Biking through China, I stumbled across a guy who went into villages and bought 300- to 400-year-old furniture. I bought a whole shipping container of it: Ming Dynasty furniture at Ikea prices. Hiking around Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, I met this Mayan man making drawings on a 12-foot-wide scroll—absolutely exquisite. I said, half flippantly, “When you finish that, I’ll buy it.” He wrote me later: “Send $3,000 and I’ll send it to you.” With blind confidence, I did. Now, whenever I pass it in my house, I’m transported to this indescribably gorgeous lake. My whole house is landmined with memories; I can walk from one end to another and recall 13 expeditions.