postcards

Tiny missives: 100 days in Dinan

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It has been way too long since I hosted a postal project, but all that’s about to change.

Do you fancy receiving a tiny painting on a tiny vintage card, in the mail? I’m making 100 a day, starting this week, and would love to send one to you, my friend. Here’s the story…

Last month while we were in Paris, my family and I took a walk beside the river to browse les bouquinistes. You’ll have seen them I’m sure: the little green-box riverside markets that flank both banks of the Seine. They sell secondhand books and paper ephemera, and have been doing something similar, I believe, since as far back as the 16th Century.

We had left our village of Dinan the day before and I was looking for vintage postcards from the region, but then I saw these: tiny packets of photographs that tourists used to buy and carry home with them, from the days when cameras were rare and printing photographs was costly. Most of the packets were, I’m guessing, printed almost a hundred years ago, or at least some time between the first and second World Wars.

And as I turned them over in my hands, sniffed that old cardboard (is there anything better than “old book” smell?), I knew I wanted to give them life.

I’ve spoken in the past about how I believe postcards and other tourism souvenirs were made to travel and to be shared. The journey is the entire point of their creation. And yet so often, a postcard can sit unsent and unseen in a shoebox for years, or even decades. In 2017 my husband bought me a box of 1000 unused vintage postcards (most of them fabulously ugly), and I posted them to strangers and friends alike, all over the world, for the whole year. We called this the Thousand Postcard Project. A little while before that, we found some books of antique postcards and I sent those out too, then made miniature envelopes out of the tissue paper that separated them, and posted haikus into the world.

So as our little family all stood together in Paris, with the winter wind in our faces and the children moaning “Come on this is boring” because we were supposed to be en route to the Christmas markets, those tiny cards were calling to me and I couldn’t resist. I asked the bouquiniste, “How much for nine packets?”

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Later, I wrapped the miniature postcards in a scarf and carefully stored them inside the heavy 18th-Century writing box I’d picked up at the flea markets in Dinan (which was in turn nestled inside my suitcase, wrapped in rain-coats and stuffed all around with socks to protect it from bumps and bashes, and which I carried around for an entire month while we travelled), and promptly forgot all about them. This made for a lovely surprise when we finally returned to Australia, and I began the arduous process of unpacking after five months away.

Since then I have been pondering what to do with them next, and today I have decided! I will use them as tiny touchstones that will link me back to the time I spent in our French village: to the small and precious moments we shared, and the little lessons (and big lessons) we learned.

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The challenge: 100 days in Dinan

I have exactly 100 of these vintage or antique cards, each of them depicting a place or a moment from somewhere in France. So every day for 100 days I will take out a card and draw or paint something simple on it that illustrates our time in Dinan. (If you want to follow along on Instagram, I’ll hashtag #100daysinDinan whenever I share a picture).

It could be as grand as a castle or as simple as the tomatoes we picked up at the markets but, as I paint, I will be remembering the sunny day we visited that castle, or the way those tomatoes tasted, sliced onto baguette and sprinkled with salt.

Cumulatively, I hope the painting of these 100 cards will help take me back to Dinan in my heart, and help to keep alive some of the slow and precious lessons I learned during our time there.

The community: 100 tiny missives in the post

But that still isn’t setting the little cards free, is it. So the second part of this challenge is where you come in. Every day after painting a card, I will slip it into a handmade envelope and post it anywhere in the world.

Would you like one?

If you would, simply fill out the form below to share your address with me. This is all about community and for me these sorts of projects are sweeter for the sharing, so you don’t need to pay anything, join anything, sign anything or respond in any way. Just accept my thanks for being part of this little 100-day project.

The form will stay open until I have 100 addresses but, right now, I’m off to start painting!

UPDATE: I now have all 100 addresses so I’ve removed the form for this project. If you missed out, I’m sorry!

If you’d like to hear about my future projects first, you can subscribe to this blog using the box below, or subscribe to my monthly newsletter using this link. I also share what I’m doing on Instagram, and you can find me at @naomibulger.

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Thousand Postcard Project - by the lake

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"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. 

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Thousand Postcard Project: welcome to the wild, wild west

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These are some of the postcards from my ongoing Thousand Postcard Project for 2017. Aren't they wonderful? I am still a fan of all those blurry hotels and quarries, but these are true linen beauties! 

If you'd like a postcard, you can still ask for one here

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Thousand Postcard Project: 116-158/1000

postcard-seagullsHere are some of my recent favourites from the ongoing Thousand Postcard Project. ΔΔ The postcard above just really appealed to me. At the time, I couldn't tell if it was the colours or composition but, later, I realised it was because it reminded me of the badly-drawn book covers on the old Mary Stewart novels I used to read. Mary Stewart was my guilty-pleasure airport-but-not-only-airport author: she wrote romance-thriller novels, often set in 'exotic' locations, with obscure literary references. I devoured them! A lot of the books were written in the 50s, 60s and 70s, so the cover-art involved this kind of upright, amply-bosomed heroine, generally among rocks or ruins or cliffs. 

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ΔΔ I think this postcard is one of the best of the lot, because it is so gloriously BAD. Here is what I imagine happened:

The marketing minds behind the Howard Johnson's hotel decided that a postcard was needed in order to draw in more guests. They sent one of their junior staffers out with the company camera and a roll of film, and told him to capture the 'beauty' of the building at night, with the neon sign proudly lit. But the junior staffer forgot to bring the tripod, and when they had the film developed, every photo was blurry. Rather than do it all over again, they just picked the least blurry of the lot and went with it. 

I wrote something along these lines on the back of the postcard before I sent it and, last week, I received a reply in the form of another postcard, depicting... traffic. On the back was written, "I see your blurry hotel photo and I raise you Birmingham's round-about." I will TREASURE that postcard. I'm still giggling. Blurry hotels and round-abouts are why I love this Thousand Postcard Project so much. 

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ΔΔ Here is another fabulously ugly postcard. An open quarry. WHYYYYY? Who came up with the idea that THIS was what would draw visitors to their town? 

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ΔΔ This beach photo made my 'favourites' list because it doesn't even bother with a location. The caption on the back just says something along the lines of "enjoying the sand and clear water" (I can't remember the exact words). I like to imagine that this beach photo was used to promote at least six or seven locations. You could just pick a State famous for beaches (like Florida or California) and shove these postcards in every tourist stand up and down the coast, for people to send to their friends. 

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ΔΔ Badly drawn illustrations are always my favourite. This one in particular because the man in the blue suit and hat at the bottom of the picture is carrying papers. What is written on them?? 

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ΔΔ According to the information on the back of this postcard, this was the coastline where the pirate Blackbeard hid treasure. It's not the Cornish coastline I imagine when I think of pirates and smugglers and caves, but maybe I just read too many Famous Five books when I was little. Do you think there could still be treasure buried in all that sand? 

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ΔΔ The biggest sponge exchange in the world. Who knew there were sponge exchanges!? I guess I should have known, sponges weren't always the synthetic bouncy things we use in our kitchens today, but still, wow!! 

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ΔΔ Remember what I was saying about badly drawn picture? I think this postcard is GREAT because they have taken a weird rock formation and decided it would look more spooky by moonlight, and still managed to do a terrible job. Framed smack in the middle of the picture, with the best fake ghost-story-moon ever, and some pretty flowers all around for a softening effect. If you are going to draw rather than photograph a famous thing, surely you'd take the opportunity to give it a slightly more artistic composition? 

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ΔΔ These vineyards were in upstate New York (from memory) and the person I was sending the postcard to just so happened to live in the same State, so I set her the challenge of finding this exact spot and taking a photograph of whatever is there now. 

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ΔΔ Another brilliantly boring photograph. Clouds! Dear traveller, unless your friend lives in the desert and it has never rained ever in their whole life, odds are they have clouds at their place, too. Send them a picture of a quarry or a blurry hotel instead! I thought this postcard was so boring, I decided to find pictures in the clouds to liven them up for the recipient. 

Well folks, that's the end of this update. I'm still writing postcards so don't think I've forgotten you if you're still waiting. A thousand postcards is a LOT of postcards to write! And if you're reading this and you're thinking "A crappy vintage postcard is what I really need in my life right now," I'd LOVE to send one to you, too. Go to this page to give me your address, and keep an eye on your letterbox. 

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Thousand postcards > 86/1000

postcards-1 The other day as I sat at my desk writing on old postcards (they smelled like old books), Scout sidled up to me. "Postcards, postcards, you are forever writing postcards," she said. Then she and Ralph began rifling through the box, pulling them out one at a time to look at all the pictures. I told them they could choose one each and I'd send them in the post just like all the others, so Scout chose an awful-looking yellow flower that looked like a weed, and Ralph chose a photograph of a replica of the Mayflower. The postcards are all numbered, so they will have 75/1000 and 76/1000 in their possession, once this entire collection goes out. In total I've sent out 86 postcards so far. This is fun! 

Here are some from the most recent collection that I've really been enjoying. The postcards above... I loved that 'bear visiting the picnic' picture, because, what even!? "Hey, tourists, come visit us and wild killer animals will invade your lunch!" Also I wanted to draw your attention to the reverse sides of the postcards with it - I just love the art deco lettering in the one on the top... and the one-cent stamp costs (if only!), including one with the one-cent stamp still on it. 

postcards-4ΔΔ These ladies! This postcard makes me so happy

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ΔΔ It's just funny. A bad drawing of a lonely room that once belonged to someone famous. And funny perspective, like those photographs real-estate agents take to try and make rooms look bigger than they are: why is the chair on the left so small compared to the other one? Is the room 100 metres wide?

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ΔΔ Every time I look at this I hear music from Elvis movies in my head

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ΔΔ Ok now while technically I can blame a respected artist (John Milton) rather than a middle-management postcard maker for the hilarity in this image, seriously, what? The pasty-white guy in Tarzan-style animal skins and a safari hat/ladies' bonnet, doing the Dolly magazine shhh-pose, is supposed to be Comus, the Greek god of revelry, known for his debauchery. You see the humour in this too, right?

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ΔΔ Oh the glorious and over-the-top colour in these linen postcards! Recently I read an article about these postcards, which were apparently printed by the millions in America during the depression and war eras. They were created as a kind of panacea to the everyday challenges people were facing, in the same way that the movies of the time were so often full of joy and dancing and lighthearted fun. 

It said, "The America depicted on linen postcards was just about always surreal in color and exaggerated in perspective. It didn’t matter if the subject was a natural wonder, a cityscape at night, the exterior of a hotel, the interior of a restaurant, or a hulking industrial facility. Linen postcards made everything look larger than life."

I have been loving finding them in my box of vintage postcards. The texture is so lovely in the hand, and the colours are truly other-worldly, and so much fun. I totally get it! 

ps. Don't know what this is all about? I'm sending a thousand vintage postcards in one year. If you'd like one and you haven't already signed up, you can ask for one here

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I like the thought of that

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Thank you, anonymous person on Post Secret

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Thousand Postcard Project: 1-25/1000

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Last week a box of a thousand vintage postcards arrived for me in the mail. They are all between 40 and 110 years old, and most of them Americana - old postcards advertising hotels and stores, landmarks and movies. 

I decided they'd spent enough time tucked away gathering dust in boxes and drawers, and that it was time to give them life at last, so I launched the Thousand Postcard Project, with the goal of posting each and every one of them before the year is out. 

I've just popped the first 25 postcards into the post, to finally make their way out into the world. I'm numbering each of them, so that I can keep track of where I'm up to in this project.

Here are some of my favourites from that first batch: 

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ΔΔ A good 50 or so years have passed since this photograph was taken. I like to imagine what all these people at the swimming pool are doing now, if they are still alive. I wonder what they remember about that day in the sun. (It's Camp Kanesatake at Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania. Did you happen to be there at some point in the 1960s or 70s? Is that YOU I see?)

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ΔΔ Ghost towns of America. I've visited one like this, and it was fascinating! I call this guy "dude with donkey" and he makes me smile. The caption on the back of the postcard is deliciously kitsch: "The Old Prospector // Accompanied by his faithful burros, the grizzled Old Prospector stands in front of the entrance to the Gold Mine tunnel.

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ΔΔ Hand-drawn postcards are always sweet. But look at that car! It dates the card so perfectly. 

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ΔΔ The back of this postcard tells us that this is the general store at the Deserted Village of Allaire in New Jersey. "Entering this store is like walking into the past," it says. Holding this postcard is ALSO like walking into the past. 

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ΔΔ I love this because it is so fabulously dull. The good people of the Travel Lodge, Mt Vernon, Illinois, chose this photograph as the best way to advertise their hotel. On the back, it boasts all the latest amenities. "Direct Dial Telephones. Electric Heat." Take me there! 

Only 975 to go... 

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Would you like to receive one of these postcards in the mail? I'd love to send you one. There's a form on this page for you to give me your mailing address (I'll never share it). 

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New year, new project (1000 postcards)

postcards-2 It wouldn't be January without a million people making plans, would it?

Mr B and I spent the days after Christmas slowly recovering, and hatching schemes. He bought a book called The Barefoot Investor and declared that this would be the year we take back control of our finances. I let the children consume their very last icy-pole and bucket of chips while we were in Bendigo, then returned home and emptied the 'fridge and pantry of all the leftover chocolates, cakes, biscuits and ice-creams that had made their way into our house over December. I declared that this was the year we would take back control of our health. 

And then together, Mr B and I hatched a plan that involves YOU. 

He purchased for me a giant box containing one thousand vintage and antique postcards, all unused. The postcards date from around 1905 through to the 1970s, and have been waiting all these years for someone to stick a stamp on them, scrawl "Wish you were here," and send them into the world. 

Well, that someone is me. I have decided to launch the Thousand Postcard Project for 2017, a year-long project in which I intend to send a thousand vintage postcards to people anywhere in the world. Each one will include a unique message: maybe a short story, a snippet from my life, a recipe, a poem, and so on. 

Every now and again, I'll share photographs of some of the sent postcards on my blog, so you can see what they look like (I'll only show the picture sides of the postcards, never people's addresses). 

Would you like to receive postcard from the Thousand Postcard Project? Fill in the form on this page to give me your postal address, then sit back and watch your letterbox for a little vintage surprise. 

 

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Tangible texts

postcards Yesterday I brought home a small, fat parcel from the post office. It had Mr B's name on it but upon opening it, he handed it across to me, saying, "This is for you."

He'd ordered for me a stack of late-Victorian postcards, all used and most of them still carrying their stamps. We spent the evening looking over the wonderful illustrations, reading through the spidery, handwritten messages, and marvelling at how far these postcards had travelled in distance and in time. The connections they represented.

"Your cat is OK," one of the writers said, "sleeping every day in the sun." Others spoke of holidays, of family, of the weather ("How do you like this snow and weather we are having? I haven't had a sleigh ride since Christmas...").

But what really struck us was how little was said on several of the postcards.

Sometimes, people simply wanted to say "I'm thinking of you," and a postcard was the best way to say it. Postcards were the late-19th and early-20th Century versions of SMS: simple words that reinforced "You are loved," or maybe, simply, "You are not forgotten."

In the backlash against the cold, digital, instantaneous messaging of today, there is often a whole lot more weight given to those who write a lengthy letter. And I love a good epistolary chat as much as the next person. But sometimes I don't have time to write a long, newsy letter. Sometimes I just want someone I care about to know that they are on my mind and in my heart. Likewise, when the people who love me are busy it is still nice to know they are thinking of me, even if they don't have time to sit down and write five pages about their lives.

I think the fact that I hold these tangible texts in my hands today is a testament to the reality that our words have power. Because a simple "Thinking of you" can mean so much to someone that they hold onto it until they day they die.

∇∇ "From a friend guess who" postcard-1-front postcard-1-back

∇∇ "All is O.K." postcard-2-front postcard-2-back

∇∇ "Wish you many Happy Birthdays" postcard-3-front postcard-3-back

∇∇ "Faithfully" postcard-4-front postcard-4-back

∇∇ "From your sincere friend" postcard-5-frontpostcard-5-back

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The first of June

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Last night I had a dream that it snowed in Melbourne.

I was awake before the rest of my family and I looked out into the still-dark garden and saw whorling white. Raced upstairs, and woke everyone up. We played in the blanketed garden in our dressing-gowns until we were all wet and frozen, and then came inside for hot baths and hot chocolate.

The mornings are growing colder. My garden is gathering into itself for the coming winter dark, and thick steam from the shower in our cold house has more than once set off an over-enthusiastic smoke alarm.

Comfort-food cravings. Warm, oatmeal porridge in the mornings. Hands wrapped around steaming mugs of tea, cold fingers tingling against hot porcelain.

I return inside from training climbing roses, tending straggly gaura, pruning back salvia, and wash my cold-stiffened hands. Boil the kettle for a cup of tea. Sit down to write another postcard, and make tiny envelopes out of century-old transparent paper.

(Smells like old books).

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