07 October 2021, The Tablet

The price of postage has turned sending postcards into an outlay rivalling a PCR test

The price of postage has turned sending postcards into an outlay rivalling a PCR test

I first went to the obscure town of Sepúlveda in Old Castile because I’d seen a pre-war postcard of a car mechanic’s workshop in a seventeenth-century balconied house built against the rounded bastion of an ancient fortification, punctured high up by a domestic window with a tiled canopy, above which rose a thin belfry surmounted by an unruly nest, occupied by storks. When I got there, the garage had gone and the rest had been tidied up, but there were consolations, such as the soaring squadrons of vultures in thermal currents above the meandering gorge of the river Duratón.

In small Spanish towns, for 30 years or so, I have habitually asked in the stationer’s, bookshop or general stores if by chance they have any picture postcards. Spanish shopkeepers are not always keen on selling stock. They may suspect buyers of taking advantage of them. So they keep goods hidden.

But, if asked point-blank, out comes a shoe-box from under the counter or from a dark cupboard. The shopkeeper lays out little bundles of postcards secured with elastic bands, often perished by age.

They show ancient monuments with accretions like the mechanic’s workshop, before they were smartened up, or demolished. More uneasily, they show what the town was proud of in the 1950s: a childrens’ playground, modern flats, fountains playing in a rainbow of artificial light. The cars are square-cut, the men hatted, the women lugging baskets and herding children.

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