I’ve been wallowing in nostalgia for the past several evenings, a side benefit of pruning files, organizing photos, and reducing clutter. When you’ve married into a family of pack rats, as I have, this is a never-ending chore. But it has its peculiar joys. (Think, Marcel Proust.)
While wading through family records, I’ve rediscovered travel documents from my time as a student in Paris. They have triggered fond memories, and led to shared stories over dinner and a glass of wine.
Now that so much of the world has gone digital, some of the nostalgic magic of foreign travel has been lost. Does this imply our personal histories will be less rich, less redolent of memories triggered by old documents?
Just look at my student visa, for example. The colorful stamps, the distinctive shapes of different countries’ imprints. The handwritten details. It’s a cultural artifact from the pre-digital modern era.
Rhapsody in Blue
From the appearance of the original document, it’s clear that the French consular clerk was using a fountain pen to write my particulars on the visa. The style and color of the handwritten details are distinctively French. When I lived in Paris, everyone used fountain pens; and almost all pen cartridges were filled with the same shade of blue ink.
That pervasive shade of blue is inextricably linked to that milieu, my student notebooks, the people of that time and place. To the love letters I wrote my boyfriend, now husband, from Paris — written with a fountain pen that often bled through the flimsy airmail stationery. Letters that appeared during my “archeological dig” into our family files.
Despite the convenience of writing on a keyboard, computer-generated documents lack the mystique of those penned letters. The foreign stamps, the sketches in the margins.
And with today’s digitally scanned and recorded border crossing protocols, my passport remains empty, no matter how many trips I take. So it’s hard to remember when I’ve traveled where…