Through A Different Lens

A mug and its (personal) history
a mug
A sentimental item: A mug Elke Reinauer bought while in Vancouver many years ago. Photo: Elke Reinauer

I don’t use Google Lens often. It’s an app that is scanning almost everything and showing users the results on Google. One day I was curious to find out if the app could tell me more about a mug made of clay that I had bought in Vancouver, nine years ago. It is the only thing left from my household in the Yukon. The only thing that survived many years of moving around. It’s a greyish mug in the shape of an owl, with a white belly.

As the camera scans the mug, I “go back” to Vancouver, in my mind, where I bought the item in a huge bookstore. At the time, I was looking for self-help books because I was heartbroken. I was fleeing Whitehorse after my boyfriend broke up with me. I thought a trip to Vancouver would help me get over it. It turned out I was on a shopping retreat. Wandering up and down Robson Street, I found things I needed for our household in Whitehorse: my roommate and I needed a saucer, because we always left stains on the table when using a bowl for gravy. A proper saucer would help. I didn’t need new bed sheets and linens (I bought them anyway, along with a very expensive saucer made of fine white porcelain). I kept the saucer (and some other things I had bought) in my hotel room. Egyptian cotton sheets in rose, cutlery, cotton napkins, scented candles, and a pink duvet for my bed—all the result of my shopping retreat and all piling up next to an umbrella—the only thing I was using because it was raining in Vancouver, of course. When I realized I needed an extra suitcase to bring my new stuff to the Yukon, I bought one. Shopping kept me busy during the day. And browsing through self-help books became another way to be distracted.

I felt like I needed a quick fix for my heartbreak.

A friend of mine suggested that I go have sushi and enjoy Vancouver. Okay, I tried. But as I sat down with my shopping bags at an Asian restaurant, I broke down inside. I couldn’t eat the sushi. I went back to the hotel and cried my eyes out.

I bought the mug in the shape of an owl, with hope. I owned only big mugs at the time, the kind one could buy at Starbucks. My boyfriend and I used to share coffee from one big mug. A nice ritual which I enjoyed. Maybe he will come back and then we can share our coffee from this cute owl mug that I spent a ridiculous amount of money on, I thought.

When I left the hotel, I also left behind a few self-help books. They were too heavy for my suitcase. My suitcase was full of cutlery, cotton napkins, new bed sheets, a duvet—and the mug. Oh, and I forgot the expensive saucer. So, we never had gravy in a saucer; we kept using a bowl for that.

I went back to Whitehorse, realizing that my ex-boyfriend wouldn’t come back. I was left with my heartbreak and with all of the stuff, which I didn’t even unpack—except for the mug. Every morning, I sipped my coffee from the mug that was in the shape of an owl, touching her brown beak that was moulded out of clay, holding on to the cup and watching the sun rise over the hills. “Hang in there,” my roommate would say.

Eventually, I recovered from my heartbreak—and so did my bank account. When I moved back to Germany, I took the mug with me. Nine years later, I still wonder what would happen if the mug were to break: Would I buy a new one? Google Lens lead me to a shopping website in the U.S. that showed me it was still possible to buy another one. It’s still manufactured.

I am not keen on ordering another mug. Mine became like a friend over the years—serving me and bringing me joy every morning. It has a crack in the white glaze on the owl’s belly. But it’s not leaking; it’s not broken.

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