Thursday, April 17, 2008

The lucrative popish market

I went to Rome in the fall of 2005 with a friend from college (the same friend with whom I had so many raisin-focused conversations in our college days). Benedict XVI was still relatively new on the job at that point, and the attention that attended the death of John Paul II had made St. Peter's Square an even bigger tourist attraction than usual. All over Rome, but especially near the Vatican, we saw kiosks selling popish souvenirs that were as gloriously, unironically tasteless as any Catholic kitsch you can imagine. Infant of Prague dolls? Light-up neon Guadalupe icons? Wall-sized posters dedicated to the Divine Mercy? All dignified and understated compared to what we saw for sale in Rome. Postcards, calendars, handkerchiefs emblazoned with the image of the late pope, sometimes alongside the image of the present pope. And when I say "alongside" I mean that they were awkwardly Photoshopped into a single scene, so that JPII appeared to be blessing BXVI. Usually there was a rainbow or some doves in the background. And there were other images that showed a giant, ghostly JPII looming over St. Peter's Square. And doves. Lots of doves. I wanted to buy a bunch of these and send them to my pope-loving friends and family back home, but they tended to be oversized and expensive, and I couldn't bring myself to spend more than a euro on something so hideous. So they stayed in Rome, and in my memory.

As I passed the souvenir shops opposite St. Peter's and beheld both popes, side by side in tchotchke form, I naturally began to wonder what would happen to the JPII merch once it stopped selling. Would it go on clearance? Would it be junked? And what happened to the souvenirs issued to mark the election of popes past? You know there were merchants who lost their shirts investing in John Paul I knick-knacks! When I got home, my friend T. and I began to speculate about opening a store in Rome that sold remaindered pope merch. John XXIII ashtrays! Paul VI shot glasses! After much discussion, we decided our store would be called Pope-pourri, and our slogan would be "Habemus Kitscham!"

Clearly this is an exciting time for papal souvenir speculators such as T. and myself. In the coming days I will be keeping my eye out for truly excellent Benedict XVI stuff. I wonder what a mint-condition, $20 "Christ Our Hope" teddy bear will go for 20 years from now?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw a segment on CBS "Sunday Morning" about Papal Cologne. Thought you might like to check it out.