I can’t believe I’m about to write a blog post advocating going to the store. I am not much of a shopper. I quickly get mental overload at any kind of mall, and I don’t particularly like schlepping from one store to the next. My problem, according to my daughter, is that I tend to look for something specific when I’m shopping, and thus I get easily frustrated because, most of the time, I can’t find what I’m envisioning. For me, shopping is not a pursuit in and of itself. Rather, I am always trying to buy something particular I want. Therefore, online shopping usually works well for me, because whatever the search engine returns is already what I am looking for. If only, however, it were that easy! Because quite often, Google or a specific store’s site does not return what I am imagining. Or I spend hours running down various virtual rabbit holes only to return with nothing and then I give up the search altogether.
Lately I have found that there’s something to be said for going to the store. For one, by going to a store I’ve discovered great items I didn’t know I was looking for, such as the thermos French press coffee maker I spotted yesterday when my daughter and I were reviewing kitchen items and housewares at Crate & Barrel. We’ve been in shopping mode because a) my daughter is home from college for winter break, and as an avid baker she’s a good judge of practical kitchen stuff, and b) I’m finally in the frame of mind to outfit my kitchen in our new country home in Indiana. This is something I’ve been dragging my feet on as I have not thought about outfitting a kitchen since I got married 30 years ago, and even then we never did the wedding registry thing as we got married quickly and left the country (the story of that you can read in Jumping Over Shadows…) and didn’t want to haul all those household items across the Atlantic. Most of the stuff I have in my current kitchen I either inherited, was gifted, or accumulated over time when I realized I needed things like a small sieve and happened to spot a cute one in a magazine.
Anyway, that thermos cum French press (Bodum Columbia Thermal French Press) is sheer genius! I love my freshly brewed coffee in the morning, and I’ve been wrapping one of my mom’s kitchen towels around my glass press to keep it warm. No more! — at least when I’m the only one drinking coffee in the morning and it has to sit around for a while.
Furthermore, when you spot something in a magazine, someone else has already curated the offerings for you, and in a way that’s also true of online shopping. What you see depends on what you typed in or the myriad of cookies that steer what you’re going to see. When you walk into a store, nobody knows what you’re looking for (unless you have a salesperson help you, which sometimes makes sense), and you can take it all in uninhibited, even by your own preconceived notions. Thus, when my husband and I visited the showroom of an Amish furniture shop, we ended up buying a table that I only noticed walking around the showroom even though I had come with print-outs of tables I had seen online. This table caught my eye because of its beautiful hand planed surface. Again, we bought something we did not know we were looking for. When buying chairs, a sofa or an armchair, I, the one who doesn’t like going to stores, insist on doing so in order to actually sit in the chair for a while. In my opinion, you have to physically experience the furniture you’re going to live with before you buy it, and you can only do that at a store or showroom. Thus I have found that many a chair whose looks I liked in a catalog, felt uncomfortable once I sat in it. Clearly, it wasn’t the chair for me!
Lastly, going to a bookstore is its own experience. While a bookstore might not carry a particular book you’re looking for, and amazon is superior in meeting those specific needs, looking through a bookstore’s shelves yields its own kind of treasures, especially if it’s a well curated bookstore. Thus I love the “memoir” shelf at Powell’s in my own neighborhood, simply because it’s one of the few bookstores that understands the difference between memoir and biography, and some literary memoirs can be found there that a bookstore focused on volume cannot carry. That being said, I would not have found David DuChemin, the photographer whose books taught me most of my photography skills, had I not spent an hour looking through the photography shelf at Barnes & Noble a few years ago, when I was specifically searching for a book that would explain what makes a good photograph. I leafed through all the books they had, and DuChemin’s Photographically Speaking offered exactly what I was looking for–a photographer who was analyzing his own pictures, drawing lines and circles through them to explain why he’d shot it that way.
Plant shops (this one is in Liberec, Czech Republic, my grandparents’ hometown, where many scenes of Jumping Over Shadows take place), to wrap this up referring to my title image, are the main way for me to satisfy my green thumb because I’m not enough of a horticulturalist to even know the right search terms to look for the plants I want. Plus, you gotta inspect plants for health before you buy them. In any case, going to the store offers the magic of discovery, and since I’ve decided that I want to do more “real” things this year (as opposed to online things, not that anything online isn’t real, it’s just the way I think about it), I will be going to the store more often to see what I can discover.