Tag Archives: France

PAR AVION

A month or so back, I received a long blue envelope in the mail, and inside was an irregular-shaped post card sent to me from my friend, Beth, who is living in Bordeaux with her husband, Kris.

The postcard was lovely, and contained greetings from Beth and Jason, our pal who was visiting her for a few days.  They met up in Paris and sent the card, of what, I can’t say just now, perhaps a panorama view  of the Seine—something outsized and requiring special wrapping for its overseas journey.

What I was most taken with was the envelope. Baby blue and impossibly thin, I hadn’t seen such a thing in years. Hadn’t seen it since the Seventies, probably, when I wrote my brother in the Navy when he was posted abroad.  In those days envelopes had to be stamped “AIR MAIL” if it had any hope of arriving in a timely manner. Mail, so marked, was bundled and loaded onto cargo planes bound for Europe, or Japan, other  exotic locales.

The rest of it got dumped into the hold of some slow boat to China, or Athens, or Hamburg, and arrived, oh, really, who can say? A lot can happen to a canvas bag heaved onto docks and flopping around the damp of a cargo hold, and who knows how much of it gets where it is going.

All mail is air mail now, of course, or mostly all of it.  But back then, air mail was expensive and postage was assessed by weight, and thus, the thin blue stationery.

I would drive my grandmother to the post office and we would pick pads of note paper and envelopes, the same blue color, onion-skin thin, so we could write my brother. The post office sold pre-stamped sheets of air mail stationery—and we filled up the blank backside of the paper,  and then spent a minute or so performing arts and crafts as we folded along dotted lines and made flaps from the odd triangular wings until we had a self-contained letter and envelope, all in one.

The business side of the envelope was pre-stamped with proper postage, and the words  “par avion”  and “air mail” jumped off the page. I mean, really, does it get any more cosmopolitan than that?

Beth has been in Bordeaux for almost a year now, and she and I chat on occasion through Facebook.  We make plans to Skype or FaceTime  but somehow that never quite happens. I think, well, I will write her a long newsy letter, but that never happens, either. 

But something about that thin blue envelope made my hands itch, made me tear off her return address in France—a physical address—and save it. Something in the familiar feel of it sent me to the office supply store and the post office in search of air mail letters.  

No one seemed to know what I was asking for,  although the older clerk at the post office remembered  that  “foldy paper” people used to buy.  I returned home discouraged and rummaged through my stationery drawer looking for any old thing.  

Still, the idea of writing Beth in France on short fat note paper left me completely and utterly cold.

It lacks cache.

I eventually had luck on-line, and found  air mail envelopes, the colorful ones with the red, white and blue checked borders, sporting a round crest with “air mail” in three languages.  The ultra-thin paper is on its way, but it must be in some back corner of a warehouse somewhere, because it has been a couple of weeks and still no sign.

I think Beth needs real mail.  I think I need to write her real letters.  I think those letters need to look like something.  Something to remind me that this piece of paper is traveling a great distance, and it is of some import, even if it is full of nothing more than the gossipy goings-on of our friends.

I will write small, and neatly, like I did on those winged pieces of paper long ago.  I will admire  the blue ink on the blue paper, and think it pretty, those shades of blue. I will take my time to write, then post the delicate envelopes, making a special trip.  I will go inside.

It doesn’t matter what Beth does with my letters once she gets them.  It only matters that she gets them, from me, and that they go par avion.

Bon Voyage, Y’all

On what was the most frigid day of the year to date, I bundled up my car and my pal, Alice, and headed for Louisville, to meet up with friends, one of whom is leaving for France in a couple of weeks.  Beth and her husband will be in Bordeaux for three years, for his work, and we feel so sorry for them.

Oh, the boring the vineyards, and the fruits they bear. The sea, the fabulous foods,  all of old Europe on their doorstep, these two will suffer, I tell ya.  Even so, it’s a big thing to pull up stakes and move away, so far away, for three years, even if you have the sea and croissants for comfort.

So, Alice and I came from the west, and three other pals traveled from the east, so that we might get as much of Beth as we could before she leaves us. The plan was simple, but elegant.  We would meet mid-afternoon, visit—jaw, as my Appalachian friends put it.  We would stretch our legs between eating and drinking establishments and jaw some more.

We started at  The Eagle, on Bardstown Road for drinks, and little nibblies, including the Eagle’s signature pickle platter.

Apparently this is a thing.  Has been for a while.  Pickle platters.  This one  was artistic and charmingly curated, with three kinds of pickled carrots, pickled green beans, and a compote of just pickles, all lovingly brined back there in the kitchen and served on a little rustic board.

After an hour or so with pickles, and the sharing of grilled cheese and southern greens and artichoke dip, we pulled on our scarves, our hats and gloves and moseyed over to Carmichael’s Books, just across the street. Writers can be counted on for this, if for nothing else.  We will flat do our part to keep a great bookstore going. 

Carmichael’s is an independent bookstore, with two locations in Louisville, neither one large or sprawling.  They are small, in fact.  Which makes their impact more impressive.  They don’t carry everything, but you don’t even notice, because, on every shelf, and everywhere you look, you see something you want to pick up and buy. 

My friend, Jason, an Anglophile, led me to the tiny history section, and pulled out at least five books I might consider to further my education on the British monarchy.  We lost ourselves completely, each one gravitating to a corner, soon to have our necks bent over the pages of a book, and when we weren’t standing stock still reading, we were seeking each other out to share what we had found.

Books and magazines bought, we wondered in and out of a couple of unique speciality stores, dropping money like breadcrumbs on this cool thing and that.

But now, really, it was time to eat again.  So we headed to Douglas Loop to Migo, which specializes in small plates and tacos, and pitchers of grand drinks.  We ordered one of those pitchers and continued our conversation, a quiet chat to the left, a group chat to the right, a story for the whole table.

There is something sweet about old friends that don’t see each other often but are never far from each other’s minds. I noticed the slow and calm way the day unfolded, with an ebbing and flowing as we changed seats to have a quiet word with each other, small conversations that settled in among larger ones, the nesting dolls of intimacy and affection.

We weren’t quite ready to bring the day to a close, so we toddled across the street to Heine Bros. for coffee, using the excuse of needing the caffeine for the drives home.  Now we sat in companionable silence, much like we do in the mornings of our writing retreats, a little family, happy in ourselves.

Finally, though, we had to move.  Kris and Beth were off to Chicago the next morning to get visas from the French consulate.  A thousand tasks for such a move, and we were fortunate to find this one Saturday to see Beth before they leave.

And, really, no goodbyes. We love Beth and Kris, and three years is a long time, but I don’t think we were sad.  There is such joy in this opportunity for them.   Jason will see Beth in June.  I plan a September visit.  They will get home at least once a year.

The hugs and kisses flowed, and flowed again.

And so, they will go, and they will take our hearts with them.  And I hope they know we will wait patiently for their return.   That we aren’t going anywhere, haven’t gone anywhere.  That we are all here.  Right here.