WISH YOU WERE HERE

by Edward Wilkinson Latham

OUTPOST MAGAZINE

*Taught as part of the Ryserson University Travel Writing Course

When traveling for a long time, inspecting the world at a leisurely pace and avoiding unwanted responsibilities, you meet a lot of like-minded free spirited souls and any traveler worth his salt carries a small note book crammed with names and numbers of these passing friendships. Always good for offering a guided tour of their home towns or even a sofa to crash on, a network of amigos gained whilst on the road, can be despite their fleeting duration, as precious as any other.

Up until three years ago I possessed such a notebook, crammed with names and addresses from around the world, but on one summer’s evening in Mexico City, I got off the bus after a nine-hour drive from Oaxaca to find that my bag had done a Houdini. With one sweep of the universes’ ursine paw, the life on my back including the much loved and repaired bulging notebook was no more.

Even wanting to keep people informed of my travels via postcards was now a challenge, except family and good friends. Incommunicado, I decided to make a visit to the Biblioteca National, hoping perhaps with a bit of searching, I would find some of the names and address I was missing. This is where my travel hobby began.

After three hours of hopeless research, a nap and a dribble on the varnished wooden table, I had only found one address out of the fifty or so I was missing. Surrounded by phone directories of the world, the idea dawned on me to send postcards to complete strangers. Just blindly pick them from the stack. Why only write to people I know? Branch out a bit. There are millions of people out there. I wasn’t even worried if they spoke English or not. I just thought, I always like to receive a postcard from a far off land, just as much as I enjoy sending them. So it began. I’m here, the weather’s lovely, seeing the sights, wish your were here etc. All the best. Eddie.

I wonder what Mr. Taku Fujikawa of Kyoto thought of the post card I sent him from Stuttgart last summer, of a large woman in lederhosen holding a platter of vulgar looking sausages. Does he say to his wife, if he has one, “Oh, another postcard from Eddie, good of him to think of us on his travels,” or am I on police file somewhere for postal perversity.

In a world inundated with electronic alternatives, supposedly to make our lives easier, I find it disappointing that the art of sending postcards is becoming less popular. A tactile mix of visual sensation and hand written personal message sent into the world on its own a journey to a far off destination.

So I keep these addresses in a new book. If it gets lost, I'll start again, but who knows, maybe one day I’ll check in with Mr. Charles Honey of Perth, Australia. I’ve sent him enough postcards to get free beer at least.

EWL © 2004