It was a postcard. It appeared inside one of several boxes of old papers that someone decided to discard at the CDF and, therefore, came first to my hands to check if there was something useful or valuable for the archive. And there was plenty of that. Virtually everything there was interesting material... although most of the documents were seriously damaged by humidity, dirt, insects and other living things — as the pair of geckoes that came out of the boxes as soon as I opened them.
I said it appeared all of the sudden, and it immediately caught my attention because postcards are not a very common element among the material we preserve in archives, the historical and social memory of our community. But there it was, showing me, on its illustrated face, a bunch of camels crossing a road somewhere on a deserted spot. Nothing too special. I wouldn't have had any reason to keep it, if I hadn't turned it over and found a text written in English that started with a "Dear M."
It was a love postcard. A woman who had met a man —probably an old member of the CDF— during a research project in a country in the Near East, and had had a brief but intense story with him. Her words were those of someone who loved and who knew as a fact that she would never see again the object of her feelings. It was the sweetest "goodbye" and "thank you" I had ever read. A true jewel.
And there I was, twenty years later, ignoring the identity of the protagonists of that story and their final destiny, but fully aware of the huge value of that piece of reality I had between my hands. Needless to say, I decided to keep the postcard. Because those of us who work with cultural heritage, knowledge, information or historical artifacts, need to be remembered, from time to time, that the elements we recover, organize, make visible and disseminate were, are and will be part of a story.
A human story, with people who write a couple of lines to thank the love they received. And others that keep those lines, despite being aware of the unavoidable effects of distance, time, and oblivion. Maybe for someone like me to find them and remember —or learn— that life is, too (or above all), those little, big moments. And that libraries, archives and museums are meant to rescue and treasure those fragments. Fragments that hide behind a book, a portrait, or a clay pot.
Or a postcard with camels crossing a sandy road.
Text & picture: Edgardo Civallero (email@example.com)
Publication date: 1 November 2019
Last update: 1 November 2022