nostalgia

Thousand Postcard Project - by the lake

thousand-postcard-project-lake

"Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains."
- Diane Ackerman (poet)

While we were on holidays in Tasmania last month, I sent off another big batch of vintage postcards for my year-long Thousand Postcard Project

I deliberately avoid choosing the postcards as I work through this project, and never try to match them to the recipient. That's because part of the fun of this project is the surprise for both of us: what will the next postcard depict? So after a long and slightly dreary (although funny) stint of roundabouts, freeways, dams, mines and nondescript mid-century motels, it was quite refreshing to come across this little collection of lakeside scenes. 

And maybe it was because I was on holidays but, as I wrote the postcards, I started thinking back to other lakeside holidays we'd had when I was a child. We used to drive to a country town on the NSW central coast, where we would rent a holiday house right near the mouth of the river.

Once, while we were enjoying a picnic in the park, our dog Moss went missing. He was only a puppy, and we were as distraught as you could possibly imagine two small children being when their puppy disappears. We searched everywhere and eventually found him, still in the park. He had followed his nose to a family with a barbecue on the go, and simply presented himself to them. He sat, he shook hands with the air, he begged, he rolled over. They were so impressed they gave him a sausage, so he did it again. By the time we ran up to Moss and threw our little arms around his neck almost sobbing with relief, he'd consumed two sausages and two steaks. 

Even today, if I walk past someone wearing coconut-scented sunscreen, the scent carries me instantly back to our lazy summers at the holiday house. To long morning walks over hot sand, past the river and down to the golden shore where waves crashed relentlessly and strands of my long hair stung my eyes like tiny whips in the wind, and I didn't care, and stayed all day. 

vintage-postcard-canoe
vintage-postcard-jetty
vintage-postcard-mountains
vintage-postcard-skiing
vintage-postcard-canoes
vintage-postcard-fishing
vintage-postcard-jetty-fishing

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One hundred years of silence

For most of her life, Mr B's grandmother lived in a mud-brick cottage that a previous family-member had built 160 years before. It was set behind the more recent family home in which Mr B grew up and, for the children, Nan's house was a second home, a happy place that seemed stuck in the previous century, where a never-ending supply of old-fashioned cakes and Sunday roasts issued from the wood-burning stove in her tiny kitchen. 

After Nan passed away, they found among her things a broken old Edison phonograph that had once belonged to Mr B's Grandad, and a big collection of cylinder records in beautiful old cardboard canisters. Mr B never knew his Grandad, who had died several decades earlier, and we don't think Nan or Grandad had ever played the phonograph. It was missing several important pieces. Instead, we think the phonograph had most likely belonged to his father in turn, and was just one of those things that never got thrown out. 

For a hundred years those old cylinders, whose only purpose was to make music, lay silent and forgotten in a cardboard box in the family home. Unplayed records are a lonely thought, don't you think? Like old postcards never sent. I picture the records resting all through the decades, guarding their music and waiting, still waiting, for another chance to sing. So we sent Grandad's old phonograph off to be repaired. 

And on Sunday afternoon, for the first time in a century, they made music.

Each cylinder contained only one track and, as far as we could tell, most of them were hymns. The very first one we managed to play was an old hymn called "Shall We Meet Beyond the River," which had been released as the Edison Gold Record we were playing in 1906.

I'll be honest, it's not Mozart, but to us it didn't matter. Mr B eased the record into place, wound the crank on the side of the phonograph, and slowly but with growing strength a crackly, slightly-distorted old tune broke one hundred years of silence and proudly entered the day.

To us, the music felt as though it hovered in the air like a time-traveller. A visitor from yesteryear: not ghostly, but as real and present as you or me. Layering one age upon another as if to prove, in a simple hymn, Einstein's theory of time relativity. 

And then the crank ran out of puff, the long-dead singer and his orchestra slowed and deepened and distorted further, and eventually the old record slid back into silence once more.


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Meals in the Mail (a new idea)

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* UPDATE 16 JULY 2017: please note that the official date to send recipes for this project has ended. However, you are still welcome to take part. There are no guarantees that your recipe will make it into the book but the sooner you send it, the more likely it will happen. I will be too busy delivering my Your Beautiful Letter course to start the book at least until the end of August, so any letters that arrive before then will still be part of the project. * 


I've had an idea. Shall we write a book together? A recipe book? 

Often I tell people that one of the nicest, easiest (and completely free-of-charge) gifts to enclose with a letter is a recipe. All you need to do is write or type it out neatly, fold it up, and there is something personal, thoughtful, and useful for your pen-friend.

Over the years, I have received some wonderful recipes in the mail, from family, friends, and strangers alike. First, I was thinking I might like to turn them all into a little "meals by mail" recipe book to share with you. But then I had a better idea: what if we were to share all of our recipes with each other? 

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Recipes 3
Recipes 3

So here is what I propose: 

1. If you want to take part, simply send me a letter. You need to send it by post, not email or in the comments. My address is: 

Naomi Bulger  "Meals in the Mail"  PO Box 469  Carlton North Vic 3054 Australia

So that this project doesn't drag on forever, let's say your letter needs to be postmarked by 1 July, 2017, to be included. 

2. In the letter, you will need to enclose two things: a) a recipe that you love (write it, type it, illustrate it if you like! anything as long as you like the recipe and it's legible); and b) some words telling me what makes your recipe special. They could be a sentence or an essay, or anything in between. Maybe the recipe was given to you by someone you love, maybe it is part of a family tradition, maybe you cooked it for a memorable occasion, maybe it's simply something that is always popular with your friends or family... just share with us the special meaning behind the recipe. 

3. It's not at all required that you decorate your envelope or include anything else, but of course you are welcome to do so and, if appropriate, I'll try and feature some of the more decorative envelopes etc in the book for inspiration. 

4. Maybe I'm the only one who thinks this is a good idea (Oh! Lonely me!) BUT if I receive enough recipes, I promise to turn them into a recipe-book or zine (how many recipes do you think I'll need for a book? 20? 30? More?), celebrating the recipes, the letters, and the wonderful way that food links us to people we love and memories we treasure.

Plus, I promise to send a free copy of the book or zine to every contributor. 

Are you in? Let's do this, to celebrate food, nostalgia, hand-written communications and community all in one go. Then we can stir, sizzle, mix and bake each other's recipes, and weave them into our own stories. And I would really appreciate it if you could tell your friends, because maybe they want to share their recipes, too! 

ps. These recipes, from top, are from my great-grandmother (via my mother), Ashwatta (via Ashwatta's Art on Etsy), and Meaghan (via @polaroids_and_snailmail). 

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Homecoming?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA When we turned the corner on the freeway on the way into Sydney and I caught a glimpse of that oh-so-familiar skyline, I waited for the feeling to settle.

That feeling of homecoming. Of nostalgia, of "this was always my place, and it knows me, and I have come home."

But the feeling never came. I thought, "There it is, I know that place," and that was that.

The next day we took a walk into Surry Hills, where I had lived and was happy for many years. At every corner I said to Mr B and the children, "We used to go for work drinks in that pub," and "I used to walk my dog in that park and there was always a man walking a white rabbit," and "Let's go in here, they make the best fresh juices in the city."

But this was no homecoming. It was as though I was narrating somebody else's life, a television show that I had watched over and over until I knew it by heart, and maybe I had even imagined myself into the show sometimes, but it wasn't REALLY me.

Later, we drove into the Blue Mountains to help celebrate my father's 70th birthday. On the way up, past the local movie theatre, past my high school, past the paddocks and trails where I used to ride my horse, I tried it again. But there was nothing.

Not even when I watched my children play with their cousin and their grandparents, which was pure joy.

I don't know why I wanted to feel like Sydney was a homecoming. Why did I need it? I LOVE living in Melbourne. Living here is the best life I've had since I left New York. I don't want to move back to Sydney. In fact, I feel a mild flutter of panic every time I think of it (which is weird, because my life in Sydney was actually pretty good).

So, why did I go searching for ghosts? Maybe I felt like I just ought to. I mean, how can you live for such a long time in one place, and not feel SOMETHING when you return? I don't have the answer.

And then twice, I felt it.

The first time, it was during a sunny morning spent at the beach with one of my dearest friends, Sarah, and her beautiful baby girl. I was never a beach-dwelling Sydney-sider but that morning, watching my children build sand castles and make friends with waves, sitting beside the friend I hadn't seen in three years although it felt like only yesterday, was like coming home.

The second time was when we arrived back at our house in Melbourne a day early, and an hour past the children's bedtime. They were hungry and exhausted, but they greeted this house like a long-lost parent.

"Look at these new chairs! They are LOVELY!" gasped Scout, about the same chairs we had had since before she was born. And then my darlings made their way into the playroom and reacquainted themselves with all of their toys, one toy at a time. Each toy was held and celebrated and cuddled. Cherished. Everything was as though it was precious and their best. The absence of 10 days had made their hearts grow fonder.

And seeing their happiness, I knew I had come home.

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