I know only a fraction of one line of the song, but it wafts through my head often, conjuring up the bittersweet feeling it was written to convey.

"Hmmm hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm,"La la la la la la la,

"Da dee dum da da da,

"Among my souvenirs ..."

Souvenirs are one of travel's small, yet essential, pleasures.

What, really, is a souvenir? A salt-and-pepper set in the shape of the Leaning Tower of Pisa? A jackalope postcard? A foam plastic Statue of Liberty crown? A T-shirt with a map on it?

In Japan, one of the most common souvenirs is a decorative L-shaped gizmo used to dig out ear wax. I can't imagine presenting that to someone without causing offense. Nor can I imagine using one myself - especially one with bells on it to announce my hygiene habits.

In Nashville, it's not a souvenir unless it has the face of a country-music star on it.

In Texas, you can find everything and anything made into the shape of the state.

These sorts of things are fun (my Liberace refrigerator magnet is a prized possession), but since I've become a frequent traveler, I find myself bringing home fewer "official" souvenirs than accidental souvenirs - items that are souvenirs only because I have brought them home as memories of a trip.

My collection of hotel soaps is displayed on my bathroom vanity, as is a small dish filled with shells and rocks - a black pebble from a grubby beach in Estonia, a handful of tiny shells from an exquisite little motu in French Polynesia. Though I can't remember exactly where they all came from, they're all pretty and are from faraway places and that's enough for me.

On my desk, I keep an acorn and a tiny sand dollar from a glowing vacation in Maine and a subway token from a visit to New York City.

In my kitchen, I have a Caribbean spice especially for fish; a jar of Jamaican jerk seasoning; a tasty and potent spice that is on every table in Japan; and a pair of kiddie chopsticks decorated with pictures of dancing pickles and eggplants, also from Japan.

The wonderful house slippers I bought in Paris several years ago only recently became too tattered to wear and I have sadly retired them. I shopped for a new pair in Japan, where slippers are a way of life, but found none I liked to fit my large Western feet.

I buy lots of postcards, both the sublime and the ridiculous. I virtually never send them from the road, but instead bring them home and mail them when I have a few words to impart to friends - "congratulations," or "thinking of you," or "get well soon."

I like bringing gifts home for friends, but have a very strict policy about keeping my luggage to a minimum. So I have come up with souvenirs that take up little space. Sometimes I invent collections for people, which makes future shopping for them easier.

One friend gets Christmas ornaments. These are great fun to buy. They don't have to be official ornaments - anything small enough to hang on a tree will do. One friend gets foreign coins, which she loves. Another, who works in the fashion biz, is about to start a collection of foreign fashion magazines. I have my own collection of newspapers from here and there. My husband is - more traditionally - getting a pretty respectable T-shirt collection.

Personally, though, my very favorite souvenirs are photographs.

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I have very few photos of myself standing in front of famous sights. I do have lots of photos of my feet standing on the grounds of various sites. I have them dangling over the edge of the Grand Canyon; tickled by the water of a Maine lake; planted on the cobblestones of Red Square; surrounded by delicate red leaves fallen from Japanese maple trees.

These and each of my other photographs remind me of not only a place, but of a moment.

I remember walking alone one evening on a quiet residential street in Oslo, Norway. The summer sun bathed the buildings in a rich glow and I was suddenly filled with a feeling of intense freedom and happiness. I took a picture of that feeling - though to anyone else it would look more like an uninspiring photo of an ordinary street. It's the most potent souvenir I brought home from Oslo.

A souvenir is a memory made tangible, and memories come in many forms.

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