Updated: Sep 3
Louis DeJoy is determined to destroy the US Postal Service.
He knows that the institution is a mere shadow of what Benjamin Franklin envisioned it to be. The bulk of communications between individuals, groups, companies and government has long since migrated to the electronic media. Emails have replaced personal letters. Few use ‘snail mail’ anymore. Hell, by the time that lovingly prepared marriage proposal is delivered, your dearly beloved will surely have moved on to his/her next crush.
What keeps the Post Office happening is direct-mail advertising and packages, leaning heavily on the mail-order giant Amazon for much of its through-put and, hence, its very survival. But the one thing the ailing Post Office actually does well – mail-in ballots – poses a threat to Donald J. Trump’s re-election strategy, so America’s Gangster President sent a hired goon to kneecap it.
As a kid in the 1940’s and 50’s, I used to visit our local Post Office to purchase war saving stamps then pasted them into a little cardboard booklet that declared: “America needs more tanks, ships and planes.” When every last square was covered with a stamp, I proudly returned the booklet to the Post Office and exchanged it for a War Savings Bond.
In those days, being a postal clerk or mailman was a highly respected job and many returning veterans went into the Postal Service. That’s no longer the case. 700 mailboxes disappeared to who-knows-where last week while mail sorting machines were bludgeoned to death. Food is rotting, newly hatched chicks are dying, and much needed medicines are causing an awful stink in the back rooms of the same postal outlets that used to sell us War Savings Stamps. Now it’s a war on the Post Office itself.
How did we get from there to here?
We only have ourselves to blame.
Americans are not a nation of readers. We’re a nation of TV viewers, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter addicts, and champions of baseless gossip. We thrive on lies and innuendo. We are not thinkers and communicators. If anything requires more than 2.5 seconds of our attention, then we’re not interested.
Pictures are okay, but even the language of pictures – like the language of flowers in the decimated White House rose garden (post-Melania) – is something lost on this generation. Memes. GIFs. You know what I mean? Quick, meaningless entertainment. The cheaper and dirtier, the better.
So, if your attention span allowed you to get this far into my post, here’s what I’d like to say: the ability to compose and post, to receive and read, a hard-copy letter is still important.
The history of painting offers many portraits and other themed pictures focusing on the impact of a letter on its recipient. The vast majority of these letters are held in, or falling from, the delicate hands of girls and women. There is still much to learn from these paintings, although nobody really values art interpretation, not anymore. But if they did, then they’d find a rich bouquet of imagery that conveys complex and contemporarily pertinent stories and parables. After all, humans invented art to free themselves from a reactive relationship with the earth and destructive relationships with one another. To do that, they needed to communicate.
The impact of handwritten letters on the gentle sex has been a favourite theme of painters throughout history. Here are 2 works from the easel of Spanish painter Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta of the late 1800’s. Both depict Madrazo’s favourite French model, the lovely Aline Masson, first in her boudoir immersed in book reading, then later in her parlour immersed in sadness after opening a letter that we, the voyeurs, will never get to read. A fallen rose in the foreground suggests that the girl had surrendered her virtue to an unworthy suitor who subsequently betrayed her trust.
Well, at least he had the good graces to write something more personal than a string of emojis. Poor Aline!
John Everett Millais’s (1829-96) ‘Clarissa, 1887’ appears to have the same problem as Aline. She’s all dressed up with no place to go. The letter she’s already begun to shred confirms that this gorgeous study in ochres and raw sienna has been stood up before a much-anticipated afternoon of unbridled passion in a rented room above the apothecary’s. Or maybe the dude’s gone back to his plainer but much wealthier wife in the Cotswalds. Millais wasn’t kind to his subjects, sometimes drowning them in swamps (Ophelia, 1852).
Of course, not all letters convey rejection and lost love. Auguste Toulmouche’s (1829-90) ‘The Love Letter’ (below) suggests that this young woman’s amorous projects are on track to fruition. The proliferation of flowers and flowery fabric motifs tell us that she is in the bloom of life and the gold upholstered armchair confirms a comfortable liaison with an economically secure partner. A luscious pink satin gown complimenting a slew of pink roses signifies sweetness, admiration and joy.
Letter writing has been with us for a very long time. Its first technological refinement in the mid-19th century was the telegraph that nonetheless still relied on paper and ink and someone to deliver its missive.
Above: “The Telegram” by French painter Roger Joseph Jourdain (1845-1918). The exact date of this painting is unknown; however, its time frame might easily have been that of the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71) or even the First World War (1914-18). A young and obviously well-to-do young lady has received crushing news, perhaps alluding to the death of a loved one. Father, brother, husband, fiancé? We’ll never know. What we do know is that whatever is written in that paper has compelled the recipient to crumple it in her fist while her attention drifts far, far away.
Here’s another telegram that our Mom received as WWII edged toward its sanguineous conclusion.
The Adjutant General obviously felt that the Postal Service was too slow to communicate his condolences, so he contracted out this important task to the private sector. Even in 1945, there was a perception of snail mail versus more efficient means such as telegraph and courier. In 19th and early 20th century Britain, the Royal Mail picked up and delivered from/to homes twice daily, prompting a brisk traffic in brightly coloured postcards that have since become collectors' items. One could invite her sister to afternoon tea the same day and the recipient would confirm by post within hours. Perhaps the US Postal Service should tear a page from the past. More and better service, anyone? Or the wrecking ball? Which will it be?
The U.S. Postal Service may no longer be commercially viable but it’s still an arm of government. The huge mistake that Americans made was to let a failed businessman, professed racist and sexual predator convince them that government should be run like any other business, even into bankruptcy, and that public property refers to goods that are available for him to steal.
As long as there’s any mail delivery at all, please write to your Representative and Senator. Protest the dismantling of the Postal Service. Demand accountability in government.
And most importantly, vote Biden-Harris on November 3. You may not love this dynamic duo, but they are America’s only chance to save itself.
The Covid-19 epidemic is still raging out of control. Please put that mask on your face! Better yet, stay home and READ, READ, READ. For free reading materials, go to my web site at www.francescorizzuto.com. We're all in this together!