Big Question Marks

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Great Postcard Hunt

Over the past few months, we've been doing our best to catch up on mail correspondence to our friends scattered abroad. While we were traveling, we mailed a lot of postcards from exotic places to people back home, and even to people we met along the way. It was fun to find some pretty postcards, spend an afternoon in a cafe on on the beach writing a few lines about our adventures, affix a cool postage stamp (after the usual intense hunt for stamps!), and finally send them away. Sometimes, when we were living in the same place for long enough, people would send us letters, postcards, and photos. It was awesome. So naturally, we want to keep that up.

I won't go into my usual rant about how sad I am that personal messages to one other keep getting shorter and shorter — though over the course of a few years we have watched correspondence shrink from letters handwritten on paper to emails, to Facebook posts, to text messages, and now to 140-character posts on Twitter and Blackberry one-liners — but Adrian and I both do feel strongly about keeping alive the traditions of physically writing a letter and dropping it in the post. Why? Maybe we're a bit old-school. But think of the last time you received a hand-written letter in the mail. Wasn't it a great feeling? And if you think about it, isn't is worth the 57 cents, or even the $1.70 in postage to totally make someone's day?

So naturally, I was thrilled when I stumbled upon a project this week that not only shared my views, but had facilitated a worldwide network of postcard swapping! It's called Postcrossing, and was organized in 2004 back by a Portuguese student who, just like so many of us, loved to receive real mail. Since then, more than 4 million postcards have been swapped worldwide with the help of the website. The idea is, you send a postcard to an address randomly given to you by Postcrossing; the receiver registers it online once it arrives; after that, your address goes into the bank for someone to write you one. Hence turning your mailbox "into a box of surprises", as the web site puts it. So with my first assignment to write a quick postcard to Belarus, we'll see what happens.

However, we've learned finding a cool/pretty/interesting Toronto postcard is no easy task. Since our return, we've been keeping our eyes open for interesting ones to send abroad... without a whole lot of luck. Surely there must be something more interesting around here than the CN Tower, Chinatown, and Niagara Falls! (In fact, we found one eerie postcard combining a badly Photoshopped Lake Ontario scene and Niagara Falls, where it looks like the lake is draining INTO the falls! Very apocalyptic.) I'm half ready to start making my own. I recall only ever having this problem in a tiny town in Burma (Pyin U Lwin), a place filled with ornate horse carriages and not a single postcard depicting any of the town's quaint charm! (I actually suggested to a keen market merchant to start making his own.)
Funny we'd have the same problem in Toronto... how about postcards of the albino squirrels, the hippies of Kensington market, the old houses, the flashing lights of Honest Ed's, that flatiron building on Front Street, or even Toronto Island? Perhaps the old graveyard in Cabbagetown, High Park, the subway stations, the Italian churches in our neighbourhood? If anyone has any suggestions of (a) where to find awesome postcards in Toronto; or (b) what we should use as subject matter once we're fed up enough to start making our own, let us know! For now, we'll leave you with a page of gorgeous Toronto postcards from years ago... at least we had urban charm, once upon a time. (Nowadays it just appears we have a lot of fireworks.)

... not the most exciting finds so far! (-d.)