Postcard From Paris 1981: Second Hand Store Finds

August 6, 2017 by Darren Clarke with translation assistance from the one and only Vincent Tremblay

For decades now, three to four times a year, I make sure to stop by my local Goodwill and  see what the lost world of used clothing, music, artwork, electronics and kitschy household goods has to offer me.

A quick search of my house will offer up the fruits of my labour: The Donnie Brasco, waist length, burgundy, leather jacket in the downstairs closet, the massive naturalist/impressionist painting in my music room, that I bought just for the crazy cool grooved wood frame but ended up falling in love with the painters’ rendition of a remote, autumn, blur of trees and leaves surrounding a small lake, there’s the pipe smoking, bespectacled, wax candle monkey, “Bandstand Miller,” which has an honoured spot in our living room after managing to charm my wife with his irreverent cool, a thick National Geographic compilation of some of their best pictures, too many t-shirts to mention, and much, much, more.

Lately I find I don’t really bother much with the t-shirts and jackets and music and instead focus more on books. Goodwill and other used goods places get some crazy books. Books that don’t immediately grab people’s attention but that manage to embrace a certain place, a certain time, a certain sensibility. And then some. They capture that other thing, that residue of purpose and design, that particular resultant panache of bygone times.

So it was that I ventured into the Goodwill store across from the Pen Centre in St. Catharines recently and stumbled across first, a Reader’s Digest Great World Atlas, I’m always a sucker for an Atlas, let alone one that tells you right away that it’s “great,” and a $1 book that had everything I look for in a recycled find: Cool retro design, a different language, and tucked into the heart of it’s pages, a post card from Paris 1981. Even better the post card was in French, which despite the efforts of many teachers through the years until Grade 9, I can’t read.

Mystery.

The book itself wasn’t French. Some of the words reminded me of Polish but I thought that was mostly because Polish was the only one of the East Europeon languages I had much/any familiarity with. It was in the neighbourhood of Polish but it clearly wasn’t.

So, a French postcard, an East European book- mysteries to be solved.

To me all mysteries should involve something East European. First and foremost, to be candid, in large part due to the Olympics, I fell completely in love with East European women as a young man.

Of course there was West German figure skater Katarina Witt in Calgary, but I was more a fan of the summer Olympics: the high jump, long distance running, but more, swimming and diving. Lean, sun-kissed, beauties, shimmering with water and light, Ukrainian divers, Czech swimmers, leaving me in awe of their otherwordly elegance. And while all beautiful women suggest there is more to discover within, East European women suggest that beneath the surface swims entire undiscovered countries, constellations, galaxies, all humming along ready to tear down and build back up your understanding of the universe.

Over time my appreciation for all things East European has only grown as I have met, worked with and become friends with people from the region. There’s a certain twinkle in the eye, a certain contentiousness, a certain playfulness, a certain earthiness, a certain “come here and let me cut you down to size,” about the people I’ve met. There’s a real joy, an organic connection to this mortal coil, a certain “real-ness,” that we just don’t quite grasp here. I think the dynamic for my relation to the people I’ve met from Eastern Europe is best summed up in the Waterboy’s song, Whole of the Moon-

“I spoke about wings
You just flew
I wondered, I guessed and I tried
You just knew
I sighed
But you swooned, I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon.”

If this were the eightees the story would end pretty much as a mystery, particularly the book. It doesn’t appear to mention the country it was published in. But we are in the information age.

And, I know a guy.

We’ll start with the Post Card. Before we do though, you have a choice. You can walk away with the idea of the world of possibilities that could be contained in the writing on the post card and in the book, or, you can keep reading.

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The guy I know for the French translation is Vincent Tremblay. Here’s what he provided as translation for the back of the Postcard from Paris, 1981, the front of which was adorned with a very 70’s feeling shot of a pretty woman, in no particular hurray, strolling through wild grass and flowers-

Dear Annie,

Your nice letter arrived this morning and brought us great joy. This time I’m not putting it off like the one from Christmas or else it will get forgotten about. So now it’s our turn to wish everyone over there a happy Easter. I hope you are doing very well as well as all the others. Here everyone is well, Marie continues to work hard since All Saints Day. She found a job as Administrative Assistant near Paris but to our joy found a job nearby and will be returning in mid-April. Patrick is training in the army and is returning in February and is getting married the 8th of August. He lives in Saméon so it’s not too far away. The rest are still in school, but I will still make sure to give them your best of wishes, oh how time passes! Natalie is in England right now on a trip and her English is getting better.

Thanks again for all the lovely postcards,

Kisses to the whole family,

Annie and Ruehel Decombe

For the book I turned to the guy everybody knows- Google. Google tells me the books title is Croatian and translates to, “Book for Every Woman.” The book itself seems to be an all-purpose source of information for a woman, particularly a mother. Going by the pictures it seems to dole out basic first aid information, a large assortment of recipes, child rearing tips, health tips, gardening tutorials, fashion suggestions, and a vast crosssection of, “How To,” directions. According to some Google translated reviews the book it also teaches Dream Interpretation as well as Horoscope and calendar details.

The best part of the book though for me was first, the overall look, the art of the book and the random inserts from whoever had owned the book. There was over course the Post Card but there was also handwritten recipes, prayer cards with a picture of Pope Paul VI on it, Nanaimo Bar directions.

At first when I saw Vince’s translation of the Post Card I was underwhelmed. What I was expecting I don’t know. Espionage maybe, infidelity, scandal perhaps. But then I thought- This is what we are truly a part of, ticking away in each others vicinity, filled with prayer cards, new and copied recipes, messages kept for decades, some nuanced, some pretty straightforward, here we are ticking away, both more profound than we can imagine and less original than we might hope.

Here we are balanced perfectly between following partially explored indoctrination, expressing heartfelt affection for a fellow human being, saying a prayer to a higher power and making Nanaimo Bars.