20 September 2013

Real Mail Week, Part 4: Aerograms As Travel Guides

It takes you a while to discover the secret. The reason this letter is not just interesting but kind of brilliant.

David in Edinburgh, a guy you've never met or heard from before, sends you this homemade aerogram:

You unfold it. Inside, it looks like this: 

You keep unfolding and find an evocative story of wandering around Dublin.

Welcome to Dublin. You're going to love it. ... 
Big open field on the campus, tonnes of people lazin' about on a Friday evening. Sun turnin' orange and about twenty minutes left before it disappears behind the buildings on Dame Street. Smiling now, thinking back on it. You know that blue tint the sky gets on a hot evening in the early summer ...
You think: This is kinda trippy and definitely awesome. Writing with a serious sense of place and voice.

As you opened the aerogram, more sheets of paper, loose paper, fell out. You line up the sheets, take a picture.

You read the one on the left, the one with the pen drawing, trying to picture the guy who put his Bic to that sheet and laid down those lines, those words. Something about the story and imagery feels both intense and laid-back all at once--it conjures both the hushed urgency of a noir film and the youthful insouciance of a hostel lounge at 1am. The rhythms of the night. This one's from Edinburgh:
"They shouldn't stop the music at 9pm, it's too early. The night needs music, atmosphere, you know. I mean look at that moon." (Shakes his head in disbelief.)
I'd no idea what he was talking about but I looked anyway and smiled politely and said, "Yeah."
"No ... Listen to that moon."
So I did ...
You're confused about what's going on right now, what the deal is with this unknown correspondent, what connective tissue binds together these different pieces of paper, along with his desire to send them to you.

The Post-It only adds to your confusion. Different handwriting on this one, and a new city: Chicago. The tone is jauntier, the content more straightforward guidance than narrative:
If you visit Chicago, you must eat a Grilled Cheese sandwich. Take the Red Line El to the Belmont stop and on the west side of the stop there is a restaurant named Cheezys. It is delicious. You are now in Boystown-->go to the Gay Pride Parade and then to a BYOB comedy club. ...

Finally, you read the text on the inside of the aerogram. And it all makes sense.

Hi Doug,
David is my name. I have an idea. I've been reading your blog, it gave me an idea, thank you. I'm building an aerogram table/post box. I'm building it for hostels (well, just one at the moment).
People can sit around this table and use it for whatever uses a table has and if they like, they can send an aerogram postcard art to a hostel back in their home city or town. They could tell a story about life in Dublin for example: what they get up to at the weekends or after work or summer shenanigans, that kind of thing.
Then the people in the hostel in Dublin can read the aerogram and get a good first-hand insight into what the locals do in their own city for enjoyment. Like a travel guide, within a story, within a postcard, within an aerogram. You got any friends or blog followers that might be interested in telling me/you/everybody their story from home (for the benefit of the "OK now that we're here, what do we do?" traveler).
Imagine getting an aerogram handed to you with your room card. Best hostel service ever ...
You read David's letter and you grin. You grin and nod and chuckle and wish you'd thought of that. Best hostel service ever. And you think, too, that a writing table would be a good way to bond with people at a hostel, a way to break free from the modern-day hostel lounge situation of everyone staring at glowing screens, tweeting and Face Timing with all the people back home, collective isolation from the people around them. A way for them to do a little craft project, a shared activity, and trade stories about their respective hometowns.

Pithy sandwich recommendations in Chicago. Gritty, haunting street scenes from Edinburgh. A short-but-sweet travel guide, full of life and personality. What a fantastic idea for connecting travelers.

More details to come. Who's in? 

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