Being in Kyoto for four days now, I’m very templed out. I’ve seen tea houses, zen gardens, and plenty of shrines. This morning I threw in the towel on seeing the sites and decided to head to Nishiki Market to try some Hamo (eel). As I biked towards the city center, I found myself in the hip part of town. The hipster movement is pretty much THE movement for the Japanese at the moment. They have the look, the atmospheres, and even the pretentious attitudes. There are Asian beatniks everywhere. I have to say that I find the hipster movement a little fascinating: The fashion choices, the unwritten rules, the musical ambiguity, the grassroots culture. This is a genre that loves to be ironic, and I got a lesson in it today.
As I was peddling my bike down a narrow street, I got sidetracked by an awesome looking antique store. Now, when I travel, I love to go anywhere to rummage through antiques. In India, I went to a junk market and came out with three cameras (all pre 1930) and photo album. Later, I had the photos inspected by a professional in the states, and he discovered that one of them is a photo of Arundel Castle in England circa 1890. I paid $20 for the set. So imagine my excitement when I saw the junk flowing out of a basement stairwell.
I went in and looked around. Stuff everywhere, Van Morrison playing, it was very western. I quickly learned that all the antiques in this store are from either England or France. I was bummed at first because I was hoping to find some asian souvenirs for mom. But my disappointment quickly subsided when I found a stack of old postcards. Postcards, photos, letters, and cameras are my favorite antique store finds. Anyone who knows me well, knows this about me.
As I was thumbing through these postcards, I was reading some of the messages, looking at the postmark dates, and then the picture. I found one that caught my eye. It began with, “My dearest Mellie,” The postmark was 1928. Cornwall, England. This is the year my grandmother was born. I thought about that opening: My dearest Mellie. Simply beautiful. The rest of the card could have been nonsense with an opening like that. We just don’t write with that sincerity anymore. I wondered if it was still a common way to call on someone in England today. I sat it aside from the stack.
I fumbled through a few more to find another, “My dearest Mellie.” 1924. Then another, 1926. “My dearest Mellie & Jack.” 1931. “My dearest Mellie.” Addressed to Miss Chanders 1919. I found a couple of postcards addressed to Mellie from a friend, Ehtel. I start recognizing some patterns, so I went back to my original- “My dearest Mellie.” addressed to Mrs. R Reynolds, Heaps of Love, Bob xxxxxxx. I surmised that R is for Robert, and this was a postcard from him. After finding a stack of 17 postcards addressed to Mellie, I learned that Jack was added in 1929, he must be their son. The address never changed: Sponder, near Derby, England. There was even a “Dear Mom & Dad.” Love Jack, 1956. I grew more and more fascinated as I delved further into this family. I read about visits to father, trips to France, business ventures, the unusually sunny weather, the rain, and the view from the tower in Blackpool. I started to think, ‘What about my own postcards, sitting at my hostel, ready to be written?’ How would I tell my story to those I love?
I was interrupted when the fresh faced hipster, working at the counter, walked over and reminded me that the postcards are 400 JPY. He gave me an awkward look as if I couldn’t afford a $4.00 postcard in some weird japanese hipster pretty woman antique scenario…. oh wait, I couldn’t afford it. I decided to buy just one, the original one I found:
10:45 AM Thursday
My Dearest Mellie,
Just a P.C. Trust you are well. I am fairly well & comfortable at the home (the postcard was a railway convalescent home in Cornwall). Am just out for a ramble.
Heaps of Love,
I walked out of the basement antique store, thinking about my purchase. I loved it. I thought about how my generation is obsessed with antiques. “Oh, this looks so vintage. It would look so great in my loft apartment on my reclaimed barn wood coffee table, next to my 1950’s Mr. Magoo mug.” I’m guilty of thinking this too. I thought about the possibility that the people who buy Mellie’s postcards probably won’t even be able to read the english handwriting on them. It will be a meaningless purchase, simply for decor. Yet these postcards meant the world to someone, once upon a time – irony. These postcards are a symbol of love and devotion, something more than a fancy old picture with a pretty handwriting and red English stamp. I was happy, because at least I was able to save one postcard. At least one will be treasured.