Confessions of a fridge magnate

KEITH AUSTIN
Last updated 11:05 07/04/2014
Travel Souvenirs
Michael Mucci

FRIDGE MAGNATE: Perhaps a fridge magnet from every destination might be a good idea.

Kiwi travellers' ugliest holiday souvenirs

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It was the pure awfulness of the object that started it; I shot in to the airport newsagent for a book to read on the flight and came out with a souvenir of the city being left behind - a garish oval fridge magnet of Sydney that doubles as a thermometer.

It depicts the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Tower in bas relief, all hovered over by colours not seen outside of Ken Done's studio. It's all pink and yellow (the sky, obviously) and Titian blue (the ocean). The stalk of Sydney Tower is purple; the bridge is aquamarine.

To be honest, I'm not sure what came over me, as I've never been much of a fridge magnet person.

Perhaps it was the practical side of the thing; after all, as I write this, the temperature in the kitchen is 80-something degrees Fahrenheit or 20-umpty-something Celsius (the scale is a little on the small side, as you can imagine).

So, with this gaudy objet d'art in my somewhat surprised possession, I boarded the aircraft for what was going to be a seven-country whistle-stop bucket-list tour around South America.

Which, I suppose, is when the thought occurred that perhaps a fridge magnet from every destination might be a good idea.

This may have had something to do with the flight being delayed for about five hours and the amount of booze I had poured down my neck in the interim, but I could not get the idea out of my head.

But how does one choose the objet of one's desire? Were tasteless, showy, crude and vulgar the watchwords du jour? Or, given that you would have to go some way to beat the artless heights of the Sydney souvenir, would perhaps tastefulness and a sense of place and/or history be the go?

In Argentina, it is obvious the fridge magnet industry is obsessed with the tango and the famous La Boca neighbourhood.

There is, therefore, a plethora of magnets jamming the two together, with lots of little, viciously entwined people dancing in front of brightly coloured buildings.

That seemed too easy and too obvious, so I opted for a tasteful rectangle showing a couple dancing, below which it simply reads "Tango, Argentina".

To be perfectly honest with you, I am not so sure now; the woman has an agonised look on her face and one leg is cocked up around her neck - indeed, her partner looks as though he is hustling her away from a burning building.

According to Wikipedia, fridge magnet collecting is a recognised hobby and there is one person (to wit, one Louise J. Greenfarb from Henderson, Nevada) who has amassed a collection of 35,000 (unduplicated) pieces.

More than 7000 of Greenfarb's magnets were exhibited at the Guinness Museum in Las Vegas before it closed. There is no generally recognised term for this type of collecting, but the online fridge magnets community (fridgemagnets community.eu) reveals a Russian collector has "proposed the term memomagnetics, derived from the words memoriale (Latin) and magnetis (Greek)."

Tempting as it is to go with sterilisopragmatics, from the Latin sterilis (useless) and the Greek pragma (object), the Russian's term seems to be catching on. Thus, a collector of magnets should be called memomagnetist, or a memomagnetophile. Or simply Magneto.

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In Brazil (Rio de Janeiro) the magnets were lacking in both taste and tastelessness, which is not easy in the magnet world.

I now have two in my collection, both of which depict that big Jesus statue (aka Christ the Redeemer or Cristo Redentor) and the cable car to Sugar Loaf Mountain.

Beyond this, there was little of note, although I suspect about now the place is awash with FIFA World Cup magnets featuring Jesus Christ kicking a soccer ball up Sugar Loaf Mountain.

In Cuba, I opted for a simple item fashioned out of clay and depicting the national flag. Overall, the standards here were pretty good, with national pride and Che Guevara and old American cars the main themes. I suspect this is because if you do otherwise and, say, paint Mr Guevara pink/yellow/puce and stick a cigar thermometer in his mouth, you will end up floating upside-down in the Bahia de Cochinos.

One of the brightest and best of the by now burgeoning collection (watch out Mrs Greenfarb!) is from Panama. It is a bright, primary-coloured rubber item of blocky, geometric shapes that depict the eponymous canal.

It is a triumph of hope over reality, a faux-Geoffrey Smart image that brings to mind the Beatles' Yellow Submarine and is as different from the actual canal as the Fab Four are from ... Justin Bieber. The canal itself, by the way, is a sort of grey, nondescript set of locks of interest only to the type of bloke who finds engine displacement and bore/stroke ratios of immense fascination. I can wait to go back.

On the mainland around the Galapagos Islands, I suspect there is a thriving industry of schoolchildren who, in art class, make flimsy triangular magnets from 3000-year-old tin roofs and then stamp the image of a dim-witted seagull on them. "Yes, of course it's a blue-footed booby, sir."

Our last two ports of call were Machu Picchu in Peru and Chile's Easter Island. I came away with a magnet showing the lovely peak at Machu Picchu and a couple of Incan priests of the type that were wiped out by the Spaniards.

On the other hand, Easter Island was a huge disappointment, as I was hoping to come away with something in the shape of one of the moai, the great, severe statues that dot the island - the one that supposedly looks like Malcolm Fraser would have been gold - but it was not to be.

Since that trip, I have added to the collection (we might soon need a bigger fridge).

These include a red and gold Mao magnet, two dolls in Vietnamese national dress, a tasteful circular item from Thailand, which spells out "Good Fortune" in Thai (I hope), and an indifferent lump of plastic from Guangzhou that seems to have been coloured in by the same people who did the Sydney magnet.

The trouble now is that my other half seems to have caught the bug.

She returned recently from a trip to Vienna with what is essentially a small china saucer showing a sepia-tinged illustration of St Stephen's Cathedral.

It turns out she bought this rather refined item in preference to a "bloody awful" ceramic bell with a clanger on a spring that you could ping to, say, order breakfast.

Honestly, she has a lot to learn about this collecting lark.

- FFX Aus

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