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S. Irene Virbila on 'The odd stuff I bring back from vacation'

October 11, 2011 |  2:58 pm

Flask brush1 (1 of 1)Friends used to make fun of me when I came back from a trip to Europe or Asia, expecting me to pull out treasures from my suitcase. 

Years of working as a freelancer and traveling for two or three months or more at a stretch have trained me to be very disciplined. I hardly ever buy anything on these trips. Why? Because if I buy that glazed ceramic mortar-and-pestle in Barcelona, I am going to have to carry that object with me for weeks from train to train, hotel to hotel, and on and on. One time when I did buy some things,  my bags were so heavy, I almost missed my plane because I couldn’t walk fast enough to the gate. That cured me.

If I buy anything now, it has to be small — a set of Laguiole steak knives, a handsome whisk, a silver ladle from the flea market, an antique fountain pen.

Nothing breakable. I once found a gorgeous oval casserole with crackled glaze in the outdoor antiques market in Nice, perfect for roast duck. I wrapped it carefully, hand-carried it on the plane and while I was going through customs bleary-eyed, somebody knocked into my cart and it flew off and broke. 

So what did I bring back from a recent trip to Berlin? These wonderful handmade brushes for cleaning flasks and decanters. One: They're something I can use. Two: They’re unusual and beautiful. Three: They’re small.

I loved visiting the old brush shop DIM in a Turkish neighborhood of Berlin, with its 1920s cabinets and a gracious clerk who explained with gestures what each brush is for. Like the wonderful brushes from Sweden’s SRF Hantverk, they’re made by the blind.

DIM, Oranienstrasse 26, Berlin; 011-49-302-8503-0121. Open Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Unfortunately, no real online presence, though a few items can be seen at this site. But if you know anybody going to Berlin, send them to this shop with the instructions to buy you something small and useful.


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-- S. Irene Virbila

Photos: flask brushes. Credit: S. Irene Virbila /Los Angeles Times