Chachke Chick

I tend to associate the word Chachke (more correctly spelled Tchotchke) with people who have nothing better to do than collect worthless trinkets and display them amongst the clutter in their home. Which makes sense, since according to Wikipedia, the term has a connotation of worthlessness and has long been used by Jewish-Americans and in the regional speech of New York City. (The word “tchotchke” derives from a Slavic word for “toys.” Apparently, tchotchkes are often given at Chanukkah as part of a game.)

I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised then, when after admiring my souvenirs from my last trip I realized that I was a Chachke Chick. Considering I am 1/2 Jewish and from NY, this would be the only justifiable reason for it. That, and probably because I consider myself a sentimental person. I admit that I am guilty of buying these cheap souvenirs. I enjoy squeezing them into my already over packed luggage, so I can then take them home to add to my expanding collection of trinkets, or just admire them for a day and then pack them into another case for safe keeping. I’ve even gotten my family into chachke collecting, though not voluntarily.

When I recently returned from my trip to San Francisco and reflected on my chachke shopping, I thought about how many other things I had brought home or collected over the years, or better yet given to my family. I started to wonder if every time I gave someone something they secretly rolled their eyes. But then I realized something. Although these toys might be worthless to everyone but the person who buys it, they most certainly do have value. For me, each time I look at them, I’m reminded of where I was, who I was with, the type of day, the weather, and everything else associated with that moment. Who’s to say that the only things worth buying and collecting are those that cost tons of money? Yeah, maybe they’ll have a great resale value in 50 years, but should I forego buying a memorable souvenir simply because it didn’t make me broke? I think not.

And so, when I came back from SF, I brought with me:

  • 4 ceramic vases with bamboo stitching from Chinatown – thoughtfully signed by the artist
  • A toothpick holder, tree magnet and wine bottle cork, all from Muir Woods
  • Two spoons (that can be used as necklace charms) I bought from a street vendor that have little images of SF, covered in colorful beads and coated in resin
  • A hat made to look like a cat, that I bought from a woman on a street corner (perhaps this doesn’t really constitute a chachke, but nevertheless it’s on the list.
  • A pin from the hotel I was staying at (Hotel Des Arts), promoting one of their artists

While some of these do serve a purpose, a few of them really don’t. However, I will say that I made it a point to buy something that was built or created in SF. When I’m visiting a city/town I want to support that community, and so I would rather buy a spoon covered in resin from a guy that lives in SF, than some expensive scarf made in Malaysia.

Hotels des Arts

I recently visited San Francisco and stayed at Hotel des Arts in the French Quarter (tucked between Union Square, the Financial District and the Chinatown Gate). Despite it’s not-so-artsy surroundings, the interior more than makes up for it. Although their website does give a description of what they’re all about, it lacks the true character this place has. The concept for the hotel (which really looks and functions more like a nice hostel) is to showcase work of artists from all over the world in every room and throughout the building. The result is an eclectic mix of eye candy from the minute you arrive at the front desk to when you tuck yourself into bed.

When you enter the building you have the choice to either walk upstairs to reception or take a ride in the retro fire engine red elevator with black gates. The space is clean and bright and does a good job of really putting the focus on the artists. I stayed in the room by Kate Durkin. The staff is friendly and helpful and there are free maps for the taking. Being that it does function more like a hostel, you run into the high likelihood of noisy neighbors, which I experienced. This is of no fault of the hotel, but just a warning to some of the type of people it attracts – young adults who act like they’re still in college. All in all though it definitely added to my SF experience. My friend and I stayed there together, and the vastly diverse amount of artwork was always a topic of discussion between us. If you’re a 20-40 something, appreciate a new experience, and neither need nor want the amenities and pampering of hotels, this is definitely the place to stay.