The whole world in the palm of your hand
I collect snow domes. I admit it. In fact I have about 250 of them.
There is just something about those small plastic dome shaped containers with the submerged scenery and little white flecks of plastic which give the effect of snow. They come in many shapes and sizes.
There are classy domes: large glass balls with an intricate model of New York or London and a built-in music box that plays New York, New York or Rule Britannia. And the grass roots domes: tacky and incongruous. Snow falling on the Alps is nice. But snow falling on Uluru is the Holy Grail.
My collection started before I met my wife. As it turned out, during our courtship she admitted to a small collection of her own. But as any collector knows, the secret of a meaningful collection is obsession, and Rachel simply lacked the necessary psychosis.
As time wore on, and the initial pleasantries of our romance had been dispensed with, Rachel made it clear that a house full of snow domes – on window sills, on the TV, on bookshelves – was definitely not cool. What had been my pride and joy was banished to the garage.
There it stayed until 2007 when I was elected to the House of Representatives. Among the many ways this moment changed my life, one was that I now had two offices – in Geelong and Canberra – which I was duty bound to decorate. And so the snow domes were on their way to Parliament House.
In transit calamity struck. Eight of my best domes met their maker. To the great credit of Qantas they scoured the internet and one by one eight beautiful snow domes arrived in Canberra from the four corners of the globe.
Each country has a different view on the cultural value of snow domes.
Almost every snow dome is made in China. Somewhere deep in the industrial suburbs of Shanghai is a factory whose workers know intimately the places of pride for Icelanders, Indians and Iowans.
But it is hard to find a snow dome from China itself. They make them, yet as a medium they shun them.
The height of snow dome culture is in the USA. Every state, every town has one. If you don’t have a snow dome then you don’t exist.
There was a time in Australia when every state capital made a snow dome contribution: a swan from Perth, Flinders St Station from Melbourne, the Storey Bridge in Brisbane. Yet in recent times our snow dome culture has been on the decline.
While Melbourne and Sydney produce the fancy glass models, the rest of the country seems to be reliant upon a generic snow dome displaying tropical fish with “Australia” on its base. This is a tragedy.
And so with the Australian decline in mind I arrived in Israel last week with low expectations about prospects for my collection.
Amidst a busy schedule I managed to steal a few moments to check out the local snow dome scene. And to my astonishment I discovered that the Holy Land has embraced snow domes with an American zealotry.
Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Nazareth are all getting in on the act. Jesus, the Dome of the Rock, and the Temple Mount are underwater and covered in snow.
A large glass dome of the highest quality depicted the crucifixion. It looked vaguely blasphemous. I left this one on the shelf.
In the Old City I sought to purchase a modest glass dome depicting David’s Tower. Such a model is worth about $15. But the starting price from the friendly market trader was $200. In respectfully declining the purchase I was told the base of this particular snow dome had authentic stones taken from the Temple Mount itself.
It was a bold play to justify the price. But I still walked out only to find the trader following me up the street with dome in hand. Every step we took the price dropped. Eventually I agreed to buy it and another dome depicting a camel for $30. Both vendor and vendee were pleased with the interaction.
A feature of snow dome culture around the world is the celebration of Christmas. Snow dome Santa’s loom large in December, for ‘tis the season of snow domes.
So it was that my most special dome from this trip fitted both the season and the place: a swaddling baby Jesus in a manger purchased in Bethlehem.
It will sit proudly in my Parliament House office where it will play its part – provided this confession doesn’t condemn me to a short public life – in taking the wonders of the snow dome to the heart of our nation’s capital.
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