Monday, September 26, 2011

postcards from Elsewhere

I am told that postcards are now obsolete.  That they are used only by white-haired grandmothers, sent from their cruise ship to their white-haired, granmatronly friends from the bridge club at their retirement home.  So be it.

But I shall continue to send them.  My reasons are numerous as the leaves of the forest or the vermin of the fifteen-cent-a-night Guatemalan hotel I once stayed in when I was ill from an authentic dining experience.  (The two young lads I was traveling with had assured me it was a nice place; heaven knows where we would have found ourselves had they felt at liberty to put us up in someplace cheap.  But then they had been similarly positive about the place they had earlier taken me to eat.)

But, returning to postcards:

They are, unlike any electronic communication, a tangible thing.  They sat with me at a table on the square, in the shadow of the great church near where various dark/bloody/glorious events had once gone down.  They bear the digressive stain of a coffee cup or aperitif glass, or the tooth mark of a reptile. They bear a postage stamp commemorating some glorious deed or meritorious individual whom neither I nor my addressee have likely heard of, but every schoolchild playing nearby most probably has.

They are, in other words, a thing of wonder.  A gift from far away to my recipient.  A little thing from Elsewhere delivered into their hands.  Words I have pressed on paper in partibus infidelii and sent to them and them alone.  Not just words, but a thing.  More than an announcement or a message: a gift.

Once received, a postcard makes a handy bookmark, to be found years later by your recipient as they are thumbing through their old book and recall that you were once in that wonderful place and thought of them when you were there.

Will your Love keep your e-mails in a scented box, tied with a lavender bow? 

I did not think so.

If you have a few centavos you can buy a postcard and a stamp  --  and you can borrow a pen if you have to  --  and you are in touch.  If you carry a laptop or iPhone, you are worth robbing.  If there is a cybercafe where you are, you might want to think about going a little farther on, but that’s just my opinion.

I sometimes find unused old postcards in secondhand shops or used book stores.  They are relics of an earlier age, now slipping away; a sentimental reminder of the world that once was there, that you in your mind's eye can see and all those tourists on their buses and cruise ships are unaware of.

In Rome one evening, passing over the river from the Trastevere, in a little square I had never seem before I found a lone cart selling antique postcards.  In the fading red sun in the deserted square and the tiredness of a day on foot in the city, I quite lost my head and spent an unconscionable amount: I bought fifty dollars’ worth.  But, oh, they were beautiful little things: Art Nouveau and Art Deco and World War I and biplanes and advertising and museum cards and Fascist propaganda and the war in Abyssinia and Papal Rome and watercolor scenes of the old city and the Tiber in flood and warships long-since disappeared beneath the waves.  Picture postcards from that lost world I so longed to visit.
Of course I never used any of them, as I could not imagine anyone else thinking them as wonderful as I did.  I found them the other day in a box and am of the same opinion, still.

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