In the recurring series Souvenir Stories, Emily Spivack asks accomplished storytellers about memorable objects they've brought home from their travels. Here, Jessica Koslow, chef and owner of L.A.'s Sqirl, tells of the collection of sands she's gathered on her travels.
I collect sand when I travel, especially if I’m going to a destination close to water. I gather the sand in a bag and when I get home, I transfer it to identical vintage glass spice jars. I write the date and location on the bottom of the glass and put it on my shelf where the TV would be. Essentially these jars of sand are the centerpieces of my house. At this point, I have about ten of them from places like Marlborough, New Zealand; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Carver, Massachusetts. When I pick up sand, it has to happen naturally—it has to be a part of the trip’s trajectory that I wind up close to a body of water. And I tend to I bring it back from places I don’t think I’ll get a chance to visit again.
A good friend, a third-generation cranberry farmer, lives in Carver, and on Thanksgiving a couple years ago I went for a visit. We just sat by the water for a while. It was freezing but I didn’t want to forget that moment, that snap in time, so I picked up some sand—well, more pebbles than sand—and brought it home with me.
I also have sand, or rather, black volcanic rock that I got when I visited my ex in Marlborough. He is a winemaker and was working on a vineyard there. I was living in New York and he was in New Zealand, and we really missed each other. I visited him and we were happy to see each other but it was freezing. We were camping in a van on a tundra and staying in places with no heat so we were kind of miserable. It was one of those memories of being twenty-something and just roughing it but also being glad to be together. It felt important to bring sand home from that trip.
Some of my family lives in Buenos Aires. For them, it’s a harder life. When I visited, I picked up some sand by a river and it was full of junk. It was gravelly and you could see the trash in it. I took it with me because it’s an indicator of what my family goes through just living there.
If I don’t bring back sand, I’ll bring back something like an incredible knife from Kyoto or a piece of handmade clothing—all maker pieces. And the land is also a maker, right? So each jar tells me a little something about where I’ve been. It’s also a reminder that I can flip-flop—I can be an urban creature, but I can also go into nature or be in environments where I feel out of place. None of the sand from my collection looks the same. It is all as as dynamic as we are.
Chef Jessica Koslow is the owner of Sqirl, the Los Angeles restaurant with a devoted fan base. Emily Spivack is a Brooklyn-based writer and the author of Worn Stories. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @emspivack.