Monday, August 8, 2011

The original Twitter*

A dear friend back home recently ran across a postcard I had sent from a long-ago work trip to mining-blighted rural West Virginia and wanted to read the message I had penned back to me over the phone. The trip had made a strong emotional impression on me and I cringed inwardly at the thought of hearing what banalities my eight-years-earlier self had seen fit to pen. Surprisingly, the few sentences I had jotted down really seemed to capture the feelings that my time in and around Whitesville, WV, had evoked.

I know I've written my share of trite "XXX is beautiful, wish you were here" notes on the back of postcards, but the chance to pair a few pithy -- but funny, heartfelt, informative, or otherwise meaningful -- words with an appropriate keepsake picture keeps me firmly in the camp of those practicing the lost art of postcard writing, as a recent New York Review of Books essay described it.

Travel blogger Doug Mack complained, and rightfully so, about essayist Charles Simic's seeming contention that the doddering elderly are the last keepers of the postcard-writing flame, but the piece is otherwise a loving tribute and the flurry of comments it inspired show that postcard fandom is alive and plenty creative.

On my first trip abroad, writing postcards gave me a reason to linger in dauntingly sophisticated-seeming cafes or bars without feeling so horribly lonely and out of place. It's sent me poking through dusty shops in small Turkish towns for something to remember an obscure destination by. Perhaps best of all, it's led me to some very memorable places: An imposing concrete monument to Soviet bureaucracy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan (top); a battered and weathered trailer in Dead Horse, Alaska (above); a grandly renovated 17th-century caravansaray in Mardin, Turkey (left). All post offices.

* Props for the post title idea to "james," a commenter on the NYRB article.

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