5.28.2013

in which i try to mail postcards from spain

We used to send a lot of postcards from our travels, but that is a ritual lost to time and email. A few people do still get postcards, though: my mother, Allan's great aunt in Vermont, and in this case two friends, for specific reasons. I bought the postcards, tucked them away, and kind of half forgot about them and half kept on the lookout for a post office from which to buy stamps.

Every time we saw a mailbox - yellow in Spain, marked correo - I remembered that I didn't have stamps, but I never saw a post office. We asked about stamps at a souvenir store, and they told us to go to a tobacco shop. Anytime we saw a tobacco shop, I would remember the stamps, but we would be busy, or looking for something else, or they were closed for Sunday, or for the long midday break, or for whatever reason, I didn't go in. In a few different cities, we asked again, and would be directed either to a tobacco shop or a post office. Then I would forget about the postcards until we either saw postcards for sale or a mailbox. Repeat as necessary

So now it's the end of the trip, and I have one postcard from London, two from Barcelona, and one from Ronda. And no stamps. I'm envisioning putting the postcards in envelopes and mailing them from Canada. In Bilbao, a woman in a souvenir store said I can buy stamps in a tobacco shop, but it was Sunday. On Monday morning, after breakfast, I remembered the postcards and, amazingly, Allan saw a tobacco shop up the street. Sure enough, I can buy stamps there.

(I'm not sure what the deal is with tobacco shops. In Spain you can buy cigarettes from machines at many bars and cafes. The tobacco shops sell loose tobacco, pipes, cigars, and bongs, but also stationery items... and stamps.)

So now it's the final day of the trip. I have stamped postcards and one day, plus the airport, to try to mail them from Spain.

In Barajas, after our meal at the bar, I ask the host if she knows where there is a correo in town. She does not, but she asks someone else, who quickly directs us four blocks away. Four blocks later, we come to a green postbox for postal service use only, the kind that are gray in Ontario and I can't remember what colour in the US. We walk around more, trying t spot a yellow correo. All over Spain, giant recycling and trash receptacles are found curbside, and neighbourhood residents carry their household trash and recyclables to them, because big trash trucks could never negotiate the tiny winding streets. In Barajas, the glass recycling bins happened to be yellow. So everywhere we walked, we saw flashes of yellow, thought we saw un correo... only to realize it was a recycling bin.

After many blocks of walking around, we asked again at a newsstand. A very friendly and helpful news agent directed us to the exact spot we would find un correo. We went there... and it was green, for postal service use only. WTH?? Doesn't anyone ever have to pay a bill through the mail anymore? Or perhaps the letter carriers pickup mail as well as deliver? We walked all around - suddenly the world was full of yellow - but never found a mailbox.

I figured there would be a mailbox in the airport somewhere. And we went back to the room.

Tuesday morning, we woke up early, took the shuttle to the airport, checked in, had breakfast, and went to our gate. There was a second screening before a series of boarding gates. I overheard someone say that once we went through that screening, we could not return, and I needed water. We stepped out of line.. .and I suddenly remembered the postcards! There was still time before boarding, and I ducked into a newsstand.

"Hay un correo en el areopuerto?"

The friendly news agent told me that I could not buy stamps in the airport, but there was a little box where I could mail things. I told her I had stamps, and asked where I could find the little box. This was all in Spanish, but by now I was well versed in my mailbox vocabulary. She gave me exact directions to the little box.

I told Allan I was going off to find the box. It took a few moments for me to get the postcards and figure out where Allan and I would meet up... and we heard someone calling to us.

It was the newsstand woman, telling me she would mail the postcards for me on her way out of the airport, after work. I protested, No, no, puedo, puedo, I can do it. She insisted, saying (in Spanish) that I had a flight to make, and I would have to walk all the way around the airport, and she would pass the box on her way home. She said the mail wouldn't go out til the next day, and I assured her, that was fine, that was perfect. After a few rounds of "are you sure" and "no, really", I handed her the postcards. I said, "Mi madre dice 'gracias' a ti," which made her laugh.

And that is the story of how I mailed postcards in Spain.

4 comments:

laura k said...

Argh, this was full of typos, spellcheck not accepting my changes. Should be fixed now.

tornwordo said...

Thanks for the great read about your adventures in Spain. I have combed over them the last few days. I absolutely adore Spain and loved hearing about your experiences and reminiscing about my own.

I had similar postcard issues in China. Plus the added bonus of government workers lying about postage prices and ripping us off. My folks got the postcard from Shanghai 5 weeks after I mailed it.

laura k said...

Thanks, Tornwordo! I loved Spain, too. I'd love the chance to get to know it better. That's probably not in the cards, but I'm super glad we went.

Postcards, argh!

Tom said...

Thanks for telling this amusing and helpful story! I am currently in Barcelona and have had exactly the same problems you described. :D Postcards are easy but stamps and especially mailboxes elude me. The closed tobacco stores on Sunday caught me too, on the one day I had time to look for stamps. I'm leaving for the airport to go home in a half hour and hope to mail my postcards before I fly home. Gracias! :)