The small cardboard photograph rests between my thumb and index finger. It is a standard 140 x 89 mm. For my friends that need Imperial measurements, that’s roughly 5.5 x 3.5 inches. Scrawled across the back in (barely) legible handwriting is a simple message. It only has slightly more than half of one side to use, as the other “half” is dedicated to postage and address. The author cheats a little bit and the words flow undeterred across the postcard’s Maginot line.
I’m hardly a deltiologist, but I’ve collected a few postcards over the years. I’ve sent far more. I wonder what the opposite of a collector of postcards is in Latin. Any help on that front would be welcome, for that is what I am. On the beaches of Agadir, I composed cryptic messages to back home. Rumours abounded that Moroccan censors read all outgoing postcards (“Hey Jamal, check this out. This guy is telling his family about how amazing couscous is”). And why shouldn’t they? Postcards are such a strange concept. We send personalised messages to loved ones, without any privacy safeguards. A simple letter at the very least gets an envelope. I faintly remember several television sitcoms using the “holding an envelope up to a light bulb” trope (“I see letters! And words!”). With a postcard there is no need. Everything is out there.
This, of course, is why postcards have a strange feeling when you read them. They can range from an exceptionally vague and bland description of what the sender has been up to (“Went to the beach yesterday. Sun was lovely! Wish you were here…”) to an intense personal message that not only ought to have an envelope, but really should be legally required to (“Went to the beach yesterday. Wish you were here. I mean, I really, really, wish you were here. I get these urges…”).
I wonder sometimes about how people keep their postcards. Do they display them for others to see? It seems the front of a fridge or tacked onto a corkboard is just a natural resting place for a postcard. For me, it has always been to read the message, and then, for whatever reason, to display the picture side. The message will always have personal meaning between the sender and the recipient (if it originally did, of course), but mostly it seems ephemeral. Maybe there are other ways to keep and display postcards that other people have. I’d consider a standard rotation, where upon receiving a postcard the message side is displayed for two weeks and then flipped to the image side for posterity.
I bring all this up, aside from my general fascination with antiquated communication, because I plan to use this blog to share virtual postcards from my upcoming travels, along with some more expansive travelogue writing. I’m embarking on a two-month bohemian adventure through central Europe. It’s bound to be filled with late night scribbling, café loitering, museum wandering, beer tasting, and other petit-bourgeois fascinations. I can’t wait!
But, before I go, I’ll leave you with a rarity: a postcard from home.