The Art of Letter Writing

Photo: Letter from Federico García Lorca to his friend Melchor, about his “poetic mission”

Good movies inspire the kind of conversation which make afternoon walks seem airy and timeless. Especially through the charming neighborhood of Chamberí, past its old-fashioned bars and its streets full of madrileños going about their Sunday routines. We had just seen Woody Allen´s latest film “Midnight in Paris” with José and Juani, a Spanish couple in their 40´s who have never missed a single good movie.

Speaking of being transported to the past, the nostalgia of previous epoques, a city whose heart in its younger times sparked a special and intimate fondness that is sometimes difficult to revive… Jose talked about a Madrid that was his, some twenty-odd years ago, when he first moved here in his youth. He also talked about the desire to write, which in his younger days was something so essential and yet whose flame is unsustainable these days in his life as a family man. Put out by a lack of inspiration, by the greater necessities of adulthood. The balance that living life with another person can give you, so that the alone-ness, the melancholy doesn’t urge itself anymore onto paper.

How did you two meet?  I find that that is always an interesting question.

One day 26 years ago, Juani randomly caught a train to Aranjuez with some friends, where José was living at the time, a grungy teenager with long hair and a rebellious soul, like all teenagers. He was lounging around the streets with his friends that Saturday afternoon. Juani and her friends asked his group of friends for sight-seeing suggestions around the city. They walked around together, had a coffee, and became immediate friends. Before Juani departed on her train to Madrid, they exchanged mailing addresses.

I always find it difficult to imagine these past encounters; the images are always lit with a movie director’s videocamera, the hairstyles and clothes and actions are all props created for the spectator, who never will have seen this moment. Their friendship continued with letter writing, long letters with multiple pages, back and forth between Madrid and Aranjuez. José was a writer and idealist. He believed in this singular necessity.

Lord how times have changed…even in my days as a kid I still received handwritten letters and postcards in the mail, I sent cards and parodies of newsletters to my best friends, I kept everything safe in my small world of shoeboxes and drawers. Now we hardly have time to respond to emails, and the pressure of speed defeats the purpose of snail mail.

José talked about lacking a driving force which compels him to write these days. I said writing isn’t only about creativity and moodswings, it’s also time and work. Not the sludgery of a job in writing but the consistency that’s always needed to progress in anything. I believe in Muñoz Molina’s blank page of the notebook which is always kept close at hand, and which is like “the negative of the printed page:” that one writes because the necessary tools are within reach, because “the white pages inspire the desire to write, to anotate, to discover.”

I’m on a mission to keep handwritten pages alive, and traveling.

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