The sharp, metallic thunk of the letter box flap was answered by the satisfying swish of the mail as it sailed aimlessly across the floor. The polished wooden boards eased its passage into the well lighted hallway and yet ensured that when it eventually came to rest it had become an occupant of the apartment. At the first sound of the postman’s hand on the door’s firm closed mouth, and then of the paper being forced against its brass lips, I released the mug from my grasp. It settled uncomfortably on the kitchen table, the coffee, thick and black, half consumed and half not, slopped for a moment and then calmed like a placid sea. My eager feet took me expectantly and excitedly from the kitchen and across the carpeted living area, and from there onwards and into the hallway. After all, it was Thursday, and Thursday, as I had come now to expect, was delivery day. Thursday was the day that my mail regularly contained a source of interest, a reason for the call of my nervous anticipation, and also an answer to it. This was the day that when I bent myself in order to retrieve my mail I found that it always contained what I was looking for; always brought with it the postcard, the memento that sparked me into life. As reliable as the digital clock, whose barely audible clicks marked out the space between each Thursday, the postcards arrived, each originating from a different place, a new town or city visited, a new country entered, and each containing a glimpse of a different life, an existence far from the mundane of the everyday; of the ordinary.
I was not disappointed. Today was not to be an exception to the by now well established rule. As I stretched myself forward I could see the postcard jutting seductively from between the envelopes which tried to mask its existence, and yet as I picked up the pile from the floor I still managed to slip it to the back of the pile which littered the floor. This had become, for me, a ritual that I had developed in order to maximise the impact of receiving the card, and one to which I clung with almost religious zeal. I could discard the flyers advertising local take-out restaurants, the sealed invitations to extend my credit facilities and the less than interesting letters informing me of my financial situation. By the time that I had finally reached the bottom of my pile of mail re-discovering the postcard was like a revelation, an epiphany of sorts, for even though I knew that it would be there, and even though I understood that I had no way of ever fooling myself into believing that it wouldn’t be, I was still filled with a sense of both relief and urgency when I finally reached it.
This particular Thursday the postcard bore the legend ‘Piazza San Marco’ which hung in bold white lettering like a glorious invitation in the cloudless sky above the Doge’s Palace: Beneath it the photograph revealed a bustling and busy Saint Mark’s square, its cafes and gift shops stuffed with an eager cross section of tourists from around the globe, the scene begging for closer inspection to reveal each of the nationalities that it contained. I held the postcard lovingly in my left hand, and, clutching the rest of my mail in my right, I hovered for a second before discarding this mail un opened and unread then turning and heading into the kitchen and back to the table. My half filled mug was still waiting my return, its contents still warm, and, as I sat down, I wrapped my fingers around it. I looked for a second at the photograph presented to me by the card, before eventually turning it over.
The first postcard that I had received had arrived exactly six weeks earlier, and had done so, of course, on a Thursday. When I had picked this first card up it had been with a sense of surprise. Who, I wondered, would be sending me a postcard? Who did I know who was, at t his particular moment in time, resident in a country different to mine? And who, indeed, would want to inform me of their travels? This initial postcard was a picture book scene of the Swiss countryside, non-specific yet unmistakable. Giant meringue-like peaks rose effortlessly from the boundaries of lush green valleys in which nestled tiny wooden chalets, their low, flat roofs icicle-hung in the shade. The obligatory cows, pampered, tame and healthy looking, stood together happily in open fields as if they voices were saying that by coming here nothing but an idyllic life style awaited you. The whole scene was one of perfection, one which cried one to be embraced: Why stay where you are when all of this can be yours? Excitedly I turned the card over, eager to discover who had forwarded the card to me, and keen to read the words that they had written.
And so the pattern continued, without fail. On each and every Thursday a postcard would drop through my letterbox, and with the same feelings of excitement I looked forward to following the journey that was beginning to unfold before my hungry eyes. The second postcard arrived from Vienna, the third form Budapest and the fourth from Prague. Each one bore a photograph laced with the same style of enticing scene, inviting its recipient to embark upon a tour of the city, to partake of its culture and immerse oneself in its history. And to me, each one opened a new doorway previously hidden within my mind; a doorway which spilled out a torrent of imagination – visions which had been obtained through osmosis and had become embellished with artistic license. Visions which channelled my imaginations towards sights that I had never seen yet had created vivid pictures of deep within my brain. And as each doorway opened I knew that they could never be closed again; they were doorways through which once I had passed I knew that I would never be able to return through, even if my curiosity had wished it of me.
Two more postcards had arrived since the one that had originated in Prague, a city that for me evoked all the mysteries of the Gothic, and the darkest senses of the macabre. I have no idea from where these images came, or why they seemed so deeply ingrained within me, only that, to me, they presented the truest picture of this city that could ever be painted. It was as if I singularly had been afforded an insight into a city that has held intrigue and fascination for the curious for centuries; as if mine was the only true understanding of its disposition and character. The first, or more precisely the fifth, postcard came as a surprise to me, given the nature of the previous two. It arrived not from an ‘expected’ city, one which might have been regarded as a regular stopping point on a grand tour of Europe. No, somewhat perversely, this postcard arrived from Tirana, a city that I had always regarded as closed; a city of which I had no immediate knowledge, and yet it was to become one that was to stir my imagination more than any other had to date. Tirana spoke of subterfuge, of secretive meetings and disappearances that could never be explained. It was a jewel of a city teetering on the edges of modernity, yet still clutching determinedly to its past. A city that rose hopefully from the fertile Albanian plains yet remained overshadowed by the darkly menacing Dinaric Alpine mountains. A city that was both the emancipator and the jailor of a nation; one in which the ability to remain furtive was the key to survival, but one also whose roads stretched outwards over a countryside whose honest openness was borne on the freshest of air. And, just as this city was beginning to take me over and embrace me with its essence, so Thursday came around again, and I was returned to a new city, a new culture, and this time one of which I had some knowledge – Florence.
So my thoughts now became consumed not with mystery and but with sculpture and fine art. I could visualise the tight knit streets, opening without warning into the grandest of squares. I could hear the cacophony of noise as guests of the city mingled with those native to it, and I imagined myself as an impartial observer to the scene. I sat watching each group of people as they passed by me. Handfuls of locals walked with casual purpose, deep in discourse, whilst alien parties strolled aghast at the artistic splendour which they saw surrounding them. I began to wonder at the skills of the artists who had once trodden these streets, and tried to grasp hold of their inspiration. I saw what their eyes must also have seen, smelled the same smells and felt the same air seep into my pores. Art had replaced intrigue.
And now I turned over this, the latest of cards, the one that I had just received, the coffee still warm in my hand, and read,
Got here this pm (Mon). Train took ages – but great scenery. Worth the wait! Took ferry to hotel – which is ok – thought I’d send this card ASAP (Never known an Italian rush anything!!!) Beautiful here but hot and a bit riffy. T. told me of a good café not far from B. of Sighs (Aaaah) so I’m off there after I post this for a bite.
As always I read the card with interest and then paused for a while before re-turning it to let my imagination wallow in the photograph that it bore. I had long since abandoned trying to fathom how or why these postcards were arriving each week. I still had no idea about who either Nat or the unsigned ‘B’ were, and part of me ached at their broken communiqué. But, as I looked at the photograph and dreamed of Venice, I yearned for the delivery of the postcards to continue.