We left with backpacks, cameras and journals; that’s all that was necessary really. Not a cell phone, a tablet or a computer. Yes, it was wonderful last week to Skype with my son in Thailand and WhatsApp with him today as he sat in a thatched hut in Laos. But I feel privileged to have travelled with the promise…I’ll write soon.
Understandably, it was wrenching for loved ones to wait for letters and postcards to arrive and hopefully read that all was well. But that was the beauty of it; to receive that correspondence and devour those long awaited words. First eagerly, but then more slowly to take in every detail. Those letters could also be secreted away and brought out again and again, just to feel closer to that person so far from home.
We had planned only a basic itinerary for our six month backpacking trip. Yet it was enough to inform our parents to send a letter to Poste Restante Dehli on such and such date, then to Kathmandu by another date… and on and on. That was our only means of communication, we agreed only to resort to collect phone calls if necessary.
Poste Restante is French for ‘post remaining’ or mail that is held. One could also refer to it as General Delivery. At the time, walking into one of these main post offices on the other side of the world was an experience in itself. They were often dark and musty with a uniformed postmaster sitting with disinterest behind an untidy, wooden desk. Not wanting to be disturbed, it was usually a performance for your mail to be located as he hunted the tall shelves, layered with endless cubby holes. You waited with anticipation yet also with trepidation. Will there actually be anything for me, did they send it in time? And if they had, you did not carelessly tear open the envelope. You found a place to open it carefully, then read, hoping all was well back home. I have a distinct vision of the steps to the Poste Restante in Hong Kong; crowded with backpackers eagerly reading their long awaited letters from home. Not only did we correspond frequently with our parents, we also received many letters in return.
And thankfully, every one of them was kept. Each letter and postcard recounting the tiny details one forgets through the years. To read them now evokes images and memories that electronic gadgets will never replicate. They are now hidden away, somewhere safe, in the hope that one day they’ll be appreciated for what they represent. A time when words were chosen carefully and written in your most presentable penmanship. A time when words were savoured. In fact as travellers, most evenings we would happily write by candlelight which would shed a more romantic sheen on the often basic hostel we found ourselves in. Updating our journals or writing long letters on carefully chosen stationery became a relaxing ritual, with the added comfort of knowing how much pleasure they would bring. Once they finally arrived on the distant shores of Canada and Scotland.
It seems my love of paper and stationery was with me even before I jaunted off to Asia. For some reason I can’t explain, I have always adored it.
My collection began on my first trip to Italy when I was 18; that lovely ‘Florentia’, with its paper of finely embossed gold, woven through vibrant flowers and leaves. I remember it was displayed on my desk once I returned home and I couldn’t bring myself to use it. It was just too beautiful. I now wander into the tiny shops when I return to Italy and find it impossible to not treat myself to just one more bundle of notes or calling cards, anything will suffice really. And I gladly use them now, as often as I can!
That first purchase prompted me to also collect hotel stationery. That one sheet of paper and envelope encapsulates a moment in time and place, each with a unique letter head and often foreign language. It evokes the sights admired and the time enjoyed, in a place you’ve been fortunate to have visited. And so I admit, since that backpacking trip in 1989, I have taken just one piece of paper from each hotel. However, nowadays, I often have to ask as it appears that
stationery is a dying art, much to my dismay. Though I’m sure the demand has diminished, what with those handy tablets and computers! Of course we couldn’t live without them, however there’s nothing I’d like more than to reach into my mail box tomorrow and discover a waiting letter. Post marked from Asia, with stamps that hint of where it’s from, with an address that’s just yours, with an exotic letterhead…ah, one can but dream. Let’s see if he reads this!