Postcards From Vienna
by Annie Agathopoulou
The first thing I ever bought from Vienna was a postcard. It was November of 2014 and having decided that nineteen was a good age for this specific young individual to start experiencing the wonders of this specific world all on her own, I set out to do just that. Just me, myself, and what experience those nineteen years could afford me.
Looking back, I can only assume that that postcard (featuring a sketched rendition of Vienna’s renowned Opera House) was purchased in an attempt to successfully mould myself into the shape of a worldly tourist. As I had found myself alone and not insignificantly uncertain about what to do, what to see, where to begin, I latched onto what was known and familiar: the well-established practice of purchasing souvenirs.
It might sadden you to hear that this Viennese postcard never reached its full potential. To put it simply, no words ever adorned its crème surface. Still, before the whys and why nots make their appearance, I should clarify that I thought long and hard about what this postcard could become, to whom it could belong, to which countries it could travel to reach a destination that would take it somewhere very much out of my reach. And it was somewhere amongst this undoubtedly intense percolation that I realised that this card, the one that I chose, the one that some people might claim it also chose me, could never exist in any place where I was not.
Of course, it is entirely possible that I am overly sentimental about this whole thing, and that the feelings I have for Vienna simply seeped into this seemingly insignificant postcard, making it into something more, and to be frank, something less. After all, it has already been established that this postcard never became what it was meant to be: a carrier of words, of thoughts, of feelings.
As I now once again walk those well-known cobblestone streets of Vienna’s 1st District after a year spent within the four walls of my home, as I take in the baroque of the Hofburg, as I walk amongst the 3000 thousand roses of the Volksgarten, all places I have revisited with my mind’s eye time and time again, the details of this first trip keep tapping on my shoulder, taking me back to the time when my love affair with this eccentric, beautiful city first begun. It does not come as too big of a surprise, then, that the memory of this long ago purchase also keeps fizzling and resurfacing amongst my current recollections, now, when a different postcard is brought onto the proverbial table.
Coincidentally, it is as I am behind an actual table that this postcard-based rumination begins to take shape in my mind. Sitting in front of one of the many arched, wooden windows of Café Central, a different postcard that features Egon Schiele’s purple stylised flowers now lies face-down on the veined marble of my round table, a postcard that is about to become what its counterpart never was: a vessel heavy with words, soon to belong to someone else.
In sorting through my thoughts, in deciding which ones are worth being immortalised and which ones to remain only mine, I look at this carefully selected little item and I know that years from now I shall recall sitting on these velvet seats, at an hour when the sun was at its highest and yet the shade cast by the adjacent white and grey buildings captured everything in a soft glow, and I shall remember how grateful I was that I could be at this here, and this now.
It is in this very simple manner that the nature of the postcard has made itself known to me. Somewhere amongst all these intricate deliberations I realised that a postcard’s significance does not merely lie within the words that will become etched on its surface, or those thoughts and feelings that their owner will share with their chosen recipient. You see, long before the words there had come the memories, and long before the thoughts there had come the decision of why buy this postcard and not another one. Sometimes this decision comes down to nothing more than an issue of price, size, or a different kind of (in)convenience. More often than not, however, it has been a matter of intent, a decision based on what this card symbolises, of what I want its recipient to understand, even of what I want them to feel, if such a thing is ever possible where the feelings of others are concerned. And simple as that, before I have even begun, before the postcard has left my side on this side of this world, it has become a memory.
In the end, maybe what I am asking of this laminated piece of mass-produced art replica is more than it could ever give me. And maybe once it has been tattooed with my pen it will finally assume the size it was originally meant to take. But maybe, simply, the ancients were on to something when they said that verba volant but that scripta manent. I wonder, if they knew of postcards, would they have included them in their announcements regarding the permanency of the tangible? Would they have pointed out how a postcard begins to become in the blink of an eye, in the touch of a fingertip, and from then on it turns into a photograph richer than any camera could ever capture, stored as it is, in a place much more sacred, vast, and infinitely more personal?
Rainbow Rowell once said that we should start as we mean to go on, as good a reminder as any for me to just start writing on it already, instead of falling deeper into these postcard-related existential thoughts. Or maybe I will go for a walk under the setting sun and create yet another memory for me to share when the writing finally does begin. Summer afternoons in Vienna, you see, are things of wonder…
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