Dreams of poste restante

I’m into a passage in the writing where I talk about the functions that were once bound up in discrete, dedicated spaces now being, in William Mitchell’s words, “completely smeared across urban space.”

It’s a simple shift with profound implications for how we experience cities, and I’m definitely having fun exploring those. (Surprisingly, that’s been the primary valence of my writing these last few weeks: fun.) But it’s also reminding me of one of my major fantasies, at the age of 12 or 13, which was to have poste restante left for me c/o the local American Express office, the way a Paul Bowles or a Graham Greene protagonist might have, in Saigon or Tangiers.

Man, that sounded romantic to me. And while I bet you could still do that if you were absolutely dead-set on it, what would be the point? The functionality of the American Express office has been smeared out just like everything else, so there’s nothing and no place to serve as expat social nexus in quite the same way.

Girding the globe with digital networks has undeniably made life easier, in so very many respects – as long ago as 1994, it was cause for marvel that I could use my then-Washingtonian bank card to draw baht at a street-side ATM in Bangkok – but I must say, it’s been at the cost of a certain panache.

2 responses to “Dreams of poste restante

  1. nick sweeney says :

    It’s not too long ago — fifteen years or so — that the Kathmandu post office was the space in which you made international phone calls, unless you were in a nifty hotel.

    What remains? The foreign missions: embassies, consulates. The minority-denomination places of worship with a nod to expats. (My home town still has a Swedish church and mission.) Places of refuge.

  2. dbursik says :

    Reads like the musings in a J. Peterman catalog or mid-1980s Banana Republic catalog (i.e., the colorful efforts from the original owners). :)

    Sensibility and style preserved somewhat in The Territory Ahead publications. Dying lifestyle/art form.

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