Mama Snail started me off collecting postcards. A writer, her first book was published when I was a child, at which time she went on long book tours. She sent me a postcard from every stop (see my very first post). It was so exciting receiving these views of places beyond my own garden, gaining a sense of them through Mama Snail’s words, and to know she was always thinking of me.
Since then, I’ve learned Mama Snail has always been a good letter writer, sending many postcards home to her parents as a young adult.
In honor of her birthday today, I sifted through Mama Snail’s many postcards, selecting one to share from each year I can find that she wrote.
Starting after her birthday in 1975:“I got my birthday presents last night–thanks! It was really funny–I saw the box + I instantly rushed in (?) “Wow, but what am I going to do with a Gucci briefcase?””Grandma Snail, a child of the Depression ever aspiring for the sophisticated life, had very odd ideas about what a hippie college girl might use.
“The gloves were much needed, + the Woody Allen book was great! Miss Dior is nice perfume–much more “daytime” than the stuff I was wearing. I think the See’s + the pistachios can go without comment. Send Clearasil. Thank you! Not much is going on up here, but the rain is coming down. Daddy–have you ever heard of Jorge Luis Borges? Great fiction. If you can get ahold of his short story book Labyrinths–read it. I think you’ll like it. The $ arrived yesterday, but I realized after having walked up the hill earlier today that it[‘]s Veteran’s day + the banks are closed. grumble, grumble. Mom, if Kennedy doesn’t run, who’s it going to be, [Henry M.] Jackson or Hubert H.?”
Referring to the Democratic party figuring out its candidates for the 1976 presidential election. Grandma Snail went on to become a delegate in Jimmy Carter’s campaign. “Basketball is fun, more fun than “making ship models.” Can you see my shiny face on the front of this postcard? And why are there only 2 girls!”
Bodleian Library, Oxford. Letter written by King George V when a child to Sir Henry Acland. Saw this today, Mama Snail wrote by the caption.
Sir Henry Acland (1815-1900) was an influential physician and multidisciplinary academic at Oxford. Acland was close friends with John Ruskin, but I can not find what his connection was with young George (b. 1865, r. 1910-1936). If you know, please comment!
“Here I am in Oxford! I’ve been here since Friday and I’ll be staying for the next week. I’ve been staying with the brother + sister in law of a little freshman friend of mine with him + the guy from Swarthmore at their place 17 miles out in the country from Oxford. This next week Jan (Swarthmore) and I will be staying with some friends of theirs in Oxford proper–using it as a base for exploring the South (I was going to be spending this Christmas week with Jackie, but it didn’t work out). Never did make it to Amsterdam–too much work. Got the Christmas presents + thanks! It was really appreciated. Also got the American Express card–though I don’t know what to do with it!”
Grandma and Mama Snail out of sync again. What a sign of the times. Would be very tricky to travel without a credit card now.
“Tell me what you want. The semester was fine, and I’m having a good time + believe it or not, I haven’t been sick once. I’ll send another card in a couple of days–keep you posted.”
Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy
The bridge was last rebuilt in 1345! Though traditional at the time, the Ponte Vecchio is now an unusual bridge for having shops right on it.
Sent from Arles, France
All’s well that ends well, and our stay in Florence after the first 2 days (stayed six in all) was just fine. Went to the Academy (saw the David) the [can’t make out, post mark overlaps], the Bargello, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Duomo + [can’t make out, post mark overlaps] several other churches + museums, the beautiful Boboli gardens in back of the Pitti Palace, and the Piazza de Michaelangelo [sic.] + the Forte Belvedere. Changed pensiones–this time got one with a sane owner–good room too–25′ square with a 14′ ceiling, chandelier (?) + breakfast–10,000 lire (double).Then to Nice; [can’t make out] out 2 days–weather beautiful (cleared up in Florence too)–we were paying 29 francs a night for a double–$6–on the French Riviera! Beautiful, but too resorty to spend much time. Now in Arles–this weekend ( Sat, Sun. + Mon) their spring festival, with dancing + bands in the street + bullfights in the arena (Roman). Today we take a daytrip to Avignon, (20 min. train ride) to see what that’s like. Leave on Tuesday for Carcassonne; stay there a day or two, then…well, haven’t decided yet…Anyway, hope you all are well + fine–I’m doing great. Say hi to everyone…”
“How are you? I’m having a fine time up here–and skiing isn’t as difficult as I’d imagined. I mean, I can even do it!..I’ve had two lessons, one more tomorrow (handsome blonde ski instructor named “Skip” (!) in [can’t make it out] stretch pants…). Vail is a “Resort” with a passion, but I’m enjoying it while it lasts. Hope you’re doing okay, have a nice Christmas, in case I forget to say later”
Bridge of Sighs, St. John’s College, Cambridge
“Leaving London for Scotland tomorrow, been having a marvelous time, doing all sorts of things I missed last time around–daytrips to Kent (saw the Dawkins, who send their greetings–had a nice lunch there), to Hampton Court, to Oxford + Cambridge yesterday. 2 plays + tonight Lena Horne with the Strausses. Finally made it to Harrods (god!)–bought a riding crop–+ went to Fortnum + Mason, finally went to Hyde Park + Regent’s Park, a small museum in Mayfair called the Hertford House, + The Tate + The V+A museums. Wonderful wonderful wonderful! Our hotel near Victoria Station was perfectly adequate, the one with the Strausses on Sloane St. positively elegant. Stay tuned, am ok, love”
“Hi! We’ve been in Merida, staying at this hotel–Hotel Grán–the oldest building expressly built as a hotel in the Western Hemisphere (supposedly)…a beautiful city–seems very Italian somehow. Cozumel was great. Merida culturally rich–went to the ruins at Chichen Itza, now on our way back East to travel on the coast of Quintana Roo, staying in a beach town called Playa del Carmen; then on to Isla Mujeres, off the coast of Cancun. Taking planes on the long hauls–cheap + more comfortable than busses!” Mama Snail was pregnant with me Seems to have been sent from Mérida, Mexico, stopping in Santa Ana, California before reaching Grandma and Grandpa Snail in Los Angeles.
November 2000:Caption: Prayers performed as part of a tooth-filing ceremony in PeliatanTo Grandma and Grandpa Snail
“Fantastic day–Ubud is heaven on earth–saw dance performance tonight as beautiful and other-worldly as one could hope for. Thatched roof hotel room, flowers, Temples–I can’t believe I am here. Much love”
Caption: California Roosevelt Elk. Roosevelt Elk are readily seen in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. A protected herd of 200 roam freely and graze alongside California’s Redwood highway 101.
“Steve and I are on our way to Oregon tomorrow–today we saw a herd of these Roosevelt elk. We’re staying up near the Oregon border tonight. Got to see where the Klamath River meets the sea–seals surfing in the waves, Native Americans fishing for salmon–saw a pelican dive in + catch a fish almost too heavy for it to take off. Hope camp is fun. Love”
Mailed from Eureka, California, the postcard seems to have stopped in Reno, Nevada before reaching my summer camp in Sattley, CA. Camp was over by that time, so the folks kindly forwarded it to me in Los Angeles.
Seville was Mama Snail’s favorite city on our trip to Spain. Since she sat in the Plaza de España for quite a while painting several watercolors, a couple selling t-shirts there came to take a look. They were first surprised, then completely flattered to see their goods unedited from the scene. In her travels, Mama Snail has found sketching and painting in public a great way to meet people, especially when she doesn’t speak the language.
Silverlake is our home neighborhood in Los Angeles. It’s been a bohemian enclave since its origin in the 1910s (and what Forbes–I think it was–recently called the hippest neighborhood in the U.S. Of course, we hipsters resent this :) ), and this is probably what Mama Snail is referring to re. the neighborhood where she was staying in Paris.
January 2007:I know I shared this one recently–it’s one of my favorite location postcards. I just love the rich color contrast.
March 2013:In Puget Sound, Washington“Well, we’re drawing to a close here, it’s going to seem like it was all a dream. Today we take the ferry back–arrived in the dark so this should be amazing. We’ll see the Rem Koolhaus library in Seattle, see Suzanne + then head home. See you!”
See you, Mama Snail! Happy birthday!