Thursday, 16 May 2019

Postcard from the past: the hopital Saint-Jospeh

The best vintage postcards tell two stories. No, the best vintage postcards offer enigmatic extracts from two stories. Like an intriguing book cover and a well presented back page blurb, they spur you to pick up the object and read on. With a book, your desire to know the full story can be satiated, but a postcard will always keep its mystery. 

This rather sparse postcard of the Saint-Joseph hospital in Paris was sent on Friday October 21, 1966, the day of the terrible Aberfan disaster in Wales I later discover. Less than a month later, my mother would be in a hospital too, giving birth to her first child, my sister. It is not so long ago, but it also seems to be another age.

The visual is of a covered walkway in the hospital garden, the scene painted in the text is of a young (?) man ill in his hospital bed. The text is as banal as the image, and yet there are countless undercurrents in both. Who are all the people mentioned? What became of them? Is this walkway still there? Researching the address the postcard was sent to is also a blind alley - the number in the street no longer exists!

Bien chère mémée
J'ai bien reçu la lettre de Jeannette avec quelques jours de retard et suis à l’hôpital depuis le jeudi 15. Ma santé laisse tellement à désirer que je suis alité avec 0,925 urée sanguine; l'on me fait toujours des examens mais je pense qu'ils seront terminés à la fin de la semaine prochaine, néanmoins pour le moment j'ai chaque jour droit à la piqûre, comprimés et 300 gouttes. N'ayant pas répondu à Jeannette, et pour cause majeure, elle peut téléphoner à Josiane vers l'heure du repas à JASMIN 21.80  
Mes amicaux souvenirs à la charmante Huguette et à son si sympathique mari Ray.  
Chère mémée je vous embrasse bien cordialement et affectuesement.

Dearest gran,
I did receive Jeannette's later a few days late and am at the hospital since Thursday 15. My health leaves so much to be desired that I am in bed with 0,925 blood urea; they are still examining me, but I think they will be finished at the end of next week, meanwhile, for the moment each day I get my injection, tablets and 300 drops. Not having replied to Jeannette, and for a genuine reason, she can call Josiane at meal time on JASMIN 21.80
My warm memories to the charming Huguette and to her extremely nice husband Ray.
Dear Gran, I embrace you cordially and affectionately.
PtyPol (Little Paul)

I walked into the Saint-Joseph hospital, postcard in hand, and tried to find the exact spot. I didn't succeed, but some of the same atmosphere still seems to be there. There is a small shop at the entrance to the hospital. A little over 50 years ago, a young man may have shuffled down here and picked out an image reflecting his humour. The shop doesn't stock postcards anymore - does any hospital? Today a quick SMS would convey the same message, but what will be left of that in 50 years time?


bwf said...

Interesting and haunting - good to hear from you again Adam!

C-Marie said...

Thank you for this post. I have just discovered your site and I love it already!! Thank you so much! I am teaching myself the french language and am busy learning french history and more. God bless, C-Marie

Anonymous said...

Long time no see. Glad you are back. Excellent story, I particularly like "50 years later" angle. Aleks, Toronto

Hels said...

If people couldn't afford cameras or weren't skilled in photography, shop-bought photos and postcards must have been an excellent way to remember a scene. The quality of some of those old postcard images was brilliant.

Annabella Bray said...

I have a collection of old postcards that I have found on my travels of places I have been to myself. They give me another perspective on the place, something of its history and how its changed as well as a poignant link to the unknown sender of the original.

Anonymous said...

Is our generation the last to appreciate the small memories which tell a larger story?

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Cergie said...

Si c'est de l'Institut St Joseph dans le 14ème dont il est question c'est un endroit que je connais bien et notamment les galeries qui sont magnifiques. Ce niveau là qui est un étage au dessus de l'accueil est d'ailleurs appelé "niveau G"
J'y étais vendredi dernier et j'ai poussé la porte de la chapelle mais ne suis pas entrée plus loin, elle m'a semblé sentir le renfermé, la maladie, la tristesse.

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