Keeping in Touch

Guest Post by Sandra Clayton

When you are a travel writer there is not only the need to reach family and friends but book and magazine publishers as well. Nowadays it is likely to be by email or text. Yet little more than a decade ago most contacts were by snail mail. And to achieve this, of course, you needed a post office.

Spanish ones in particular could be something of a challenge. They often had no sign on them as if trying to keep their existence secret, and even when a resident pointed one out to you its opening hours or even which days it opened might not be shown on its frontage. You just kept turning up with your postcards and packages and hoped to catch it unawares.

The counter clerks were invariably thin and stressed and even apparently simple transactions, like dispatching an ordinary-looking brown envelope, required them to consult huge directories, their supervisor, and each other, in low whispers while the customers on the other side of the counter drooped in the airless heat behind a yellow line painted on the floor.

The culmination of every transaction was signalled by slamming a rubber stamp from ink pad to envelope or document half a dozen times with a force that made the windows rattle. With this hushed, bureaucratic complexity on one side of the counter, passive endurance on the other, and the execution-like effect of the rubber stamp, I wondered if Franz Kafka got the idea for his novel, The Trial, from a Spanish post office.

A particularly memorable one was in an old worn building in a narrow street in a small coastal town in the Balearic Islands. The big, square room had a bare wooden floor, flaking walls, a very long deep counter, a large, slow-moving ceiling fan and looked like a scene from a movie set in war-torn Europe. A large family stood hunched in front of the right-hand clerk clutching documents and gave the impression of having been there a long time.

At the left-hand end of the counter, a middle-aged man waited so long for his envelope to be processed that as soon as the clerk raised her rubber stamp he lurched away, blank-eyed, towards the door and had to be called back to pay. The fee had been overlooked among the whispered consultations, enormous directories and hammer blows of the rubber stamp. It was all probably futile anyway, since the contents of his lumpy manila envelope would never have survived the rubber stamp.

When our turn came we hoped the foreign destinations of our envelopes would not consign us to a fate similar to that of the family on our right. Whether they were registering a birth or a death, buying a marriage licence or querying a social security cheque, their documents were still unprocessed when the rubber stamp at our end of the counter finally fell. We flinched in spite of ourselves, then staggered out into the sunlight with a vague feeling of relief to find ourselves still alive and at liberty.

Communication is so easy nowadays. But not as colorful.

In the late ‘90s Sandra Clayton and her husband David sold up their home and set sail in a 40-foot catamaran. Since then they have covered around 40,000 miles and visited more than twenty countries. Nobody has to sail to enjoy her books. They are written for anyone interested in travel, people and places or a different way of life.

Sandra’s first two books about their travels, Dolphins Under My Bed and Something Of The Turtle, were originally self-published as PODs and both were Finalists in the travel category of The National Best Books Awards sponsored by USA Book News. The latter also achieved second place under general non-fiction in The Written Art Awards sponsored by Rebecca’s Reads.

Both books have since been taken up by Bloomsbury Publishing, with Dolphins published in May 2011 and Turtles – now under the new title Turtles In Our Wake – in March 2012.

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Posted on May 17, 2012, in Travel. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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