Imagine me at the Platzl Hotel in Munich this past Sunday. I had just wrapped up the European swing of the Peace, Love & Postcards World Tour and I thought I’d cool my heels in Bavaria. Plus, it was a special day.
I checked with the front desk to see if I had any messages from OG. The receptionists were dressed in dirndls and they politely stifled a laugh at my German accent. Nein, Mein Herr. Sie haben keine Nachrichten, they told me. Vergelt’s Gott, I said as a word of thanks I learned in Bavaria. Again, that twinkle in their eyes.
No messages in hand, I went to the Kafffeehaus outside the hotel. It was a beautiful spring day. Plus, I loved wearing lederhosen and sipping coffee and a tiny glass of water (just one, because not unlike in Vienna, the waiters in Munich will bring you a single drink, then ignore you for the rest of the day).
I had just gotten my cup of coffee and starting reading the Süddeutsche Zeitung, when I heard the clopping of horse’s hooves and the jingling of bells. OG was shouting to me from the carriage. Time for a birthday adventure, I heard OG yell as the horses pulled up right in front of my table. Jeztz gehts los — let’s go — she said. She didn’t leave a message at the front desk. She was the message.
Now, imagine for a second what all the people at the hotel were thinking. It was the quiet of a Sunday morning. Then OG pulls up in a horse-drawn wagon and says we’re going on an adventure. That was a lot of excitement for the center of Munich on April 24.
It got better.
You see, April 24 was OG’s birthday. And she was carrying an armload of birthday flowers her friends had given her during her all-night birthday party. And she wasn’t ready to stop right then. I asked for two coffees to go, pulled my keys out of my pocket, and OG hopped down from the carriage.
Let’s take the Bulli, she said.
Since the Peace, Love & Postcards World Tour was just wrapping up its European swing in Munich, what better way to have an adventure than to take that old Bulli van out for a spin on the Autobahn? But OG had other ideas in mind.
She directed me to a throwback petrol station on the outskirts of Munich, and told me to park the Bulli. Then she gestured to the classic Mercedes sitting there. If we’re going to go for a fast ride, we’re going to go fast. Really fast.
OG climbed behind the wheel of the big car and turned the radio up to full volume. You Can’t Always Get What You Want by the Rolling Stones blared from the open windows as OG told me where we were going. I could barely hear her, but what I understood was that we were headed to the Zugspitze, the tallest mountain in the Bavarian Alps. Normally, that drive takes 90 minutes. OG drove us there in half that time.
My heart thumped when OG skidded into a parking spot at the base of the mountain. You see I’m super afraid of heights. OG isn’t afraid of anything. OG said we were gonna scramble to the top of the mountain. She wanted to be at the top of the world on her birthday. I nervously agreed.
It was quite a trek. And OG wanted to go fast. Adventures with OG are like this. She was gonna enjoy every one of the 24 hours of her birthday on the 24th. And she did.
Here’s the birthday girl swirling some rope while she stood on the edge of the peak. I took this photo while I had one arm and both my legs wrapped around a railing on the hiking trail.
You can’t always get what you want. But on Adventures with OG, you get what you need.
Did you ever see the Monty Python skit called Naughty Bits? That show used to make me laugh. The essence of the skit was there were things they couldn’t say or show on television in the 1970s, so every time the troupe wanted to do a blue joke they’d say, now for more naughty bits. It was a recurring theme that made it funnier each time they’d say it. (I just looked up the world’s funniest jokes. A few of these really made me lose it. The Epi-Pen joke is my favorite.)
Well, one of the reasons I continue to ween myself away from Instagram is that I can post more naughty bits. I mean, that isn’t the sole reason, but at least when I own my content people can choose to look or not look. Plus, I don’t have the pressure of worrying the thought police are just around the next corner, ready to hand out shadow bans or limit my distribution.
So….this is your warning. More Naughty Bits are ahead.
Even though we participate in the slow communication genre, there are new ways to learn about postcards and postcard history in new media. I’ve curated a few videos for you to watch that give a look at postcard history. (Plus a couple fun ones to add a little spice to our lives.)
The Newberry Library has the Curt Teich collection of postcards and ephemera, which is a collection of more than 2 million pieces. You can search the entire digital collection here. Here’s another video I watched a few months ago about that collection.
Here’s a really terrific video about Raphael Tuck postcards done by the very talented artist at Cream of Cards TV.
There are lots of songs about postcards. Here’s James Blunt singing his song Postcards.
I collect Matthew Kirscht postcards. Here’s an animation he made from some of his Halloween illustrations.
And here’s Ringo singing Postcards from Paradise. I really like all the Beatles song references he does in this song.
Here’s the poet Sarah Kay presenting her poem Postcards at the Bowery Postcard Club. This one is powerful.
This is one of my favorite songs — and the fact it’s called Postcards from Paraguay is just a bonus. Here’s Mark Knofler playing it live.
I just watched the The Andy Warhol Diaries documentary on Netflix. It was terrific. And, of course, a big segment was on Jean-Michel Basquiat. Here’s a Pawn Stars show where a guy walks in wanting to sell Basquiat postcards. Dang!
Finally, if you’d like to see videos I’m making about postcards, here’s a link. I’m planning more video content to complement The Postcardist Podcast.
When a set of postcards started arriving at my house over the course of a week from Atelier Jean d’Eaux, I knew I was in for a mystery. The artist gained notice initially for sending sets of cards cut from record albums to chefs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That set off a series of articles by a food writer in Milwaukee to suss out why the cards were sent. Now I have a set. And I set out to discern what they mean.
I’m joined in this episode by journalist and novelist, Ana Clara Padovani, who helps me unravel some of the clues that came with the set of six postcards from Atelier Jean d’Eaux. We play amateur sleuths and professional journalists. Do we answer all the questions? You can read this article, listen to a podcast, and watch a video to find out. Let’s go. Let’s play detective.
This is beyond exciting. And mystifying.
I got six Atelier Jean d’Eaux postcards. The last one arrived two days ago. Now it’s time to unwind the mystery. And it’s a big mystery that’s been going on for a year. Who is Jean d’Eaux? I want to know.
If you’ve followed the Atelier Jean d’Eaux story in postcard circles, you know getting these postcards imbued with a little edginess and a lot of intrigue. Early recipients of Atelier Jean d’Eaux cards didn’t know what to make of them. And whether they should be delighted or defensive. Lori Fredrich, Senior Writer for On Milwaukee.com, does terrific work explaining reactions to Jean d’Eaux postcards received by Milwaukee-based chefs last year. In Cool or Creepy? Mysterious Postcards Delivered to Local Restaurants, she writes:
The postcards, most of which were mailed out over the past couple of months, had a great deal in common. Each set of six postcards was cut from an album cover (or the backside of an album). All were hand-written…. Most were addressed to the chef at the restaurant….
… All feature the German word “verschmelzung” which means “amalgamation” or “fuse together,” a likely reference to the nature of the postcards which, when put together in the proper order, form the image of the album cover. I’m inclined to believe that this means that both the messages and album are somehow connected.
I’m no chef, but I got mystery postcards, too. All the cards had the title Verschmelzung no. 4 (basically, series number 4) and then what appears a sequence indicator: 43-48/60. The postcards were postmarked in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, starting with the first one on March 8 to and going to March 15. Each of the cards contains the origin phrase, Atelier Jean d’Eaux (phonetically: John Doe).
The Verschmelzung — fusion — makes sense when the six pieces are assembled. As you can see in the photo below, the six pieces are cut from an album called The New Sound of Folk-Dixie. Is there anything to be said of the songs? Maybe La Cucaracha, the Mexican folk song? And is that a reference to Kafka’s The Metamorphosis?
The image side of the assembled cards
So, it’s time to extend our research. As you can hear in the show, Ana and I first examined the cards as a set. Here’s a composite of the message side of the cards.
The message side of the six cards from Atelier Jean d’Eaux
Card 1: Space
Card 1/6 came with a yellow USPS sticker on it that I’m afraid to peel off. It appears this card was forwarded. I don’t know if the ZIP code wasn’t right, but it looks like USPS had to have a person determine where this card should go. (Thank you, diligent postal worker!) The card has a Star Wars Droid Series stamp that’s rotated 90º to the right, so the stamp is horizontal. There’s also a 1962 Czechoslovakian stamp called Man Conquering Space clear taped to the card in the middle-left position. The stamp was cancelled, but I can’t discern where or when. Ana points out the space theme here. Is that the link?
Card 2: 1973 and Badminton
Card 2/6 has a small label with the year 1973. Or is is a year? Is it just a number? The postage stamp is of a badminton shuttlecock from the USPS Backyard Games series. In the podcast, you can hear Ana talk about her research that led to a song from called The Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion, 1973. There’s the link. And here’s a sampling a lyrics from that song:
The artist used a ball-point pen to write these cards. I also examined these cards under UV and black light to see if there were any hidden messages. There weren’t I also did a rubbing of a couple cards using thin paper and a light pencil to see if there were any impressions written into the material. There weren’t.
Card 3: Pink Rose
Card 3/6 features a single pink hybrid tea rose in a tight bud. And I thought about what Gertrude Stein said: Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose. In effect, so did the artist from Atelier Jean d’Eaux. (We don’t know the artist’s gender, do we?) Stein’s phrase means oftentimes things are as they seem. I want to analyze this one more. But should I go with Occam’s Razor and say rose is a rose is a rose is a rose?
I’m laughing at myself as I look at Card 4/6. I misread the cutout letters, and even went so far as to look up “Harve Street.” Um, it says HARVEST, as in Harvest Moon by Neil Young. Or tomato harvest. Or harvest celebration, as Ana points out. The postage stamp is called Let’s Celebrate; it was released on February, 14, 2020. Valentine’s Day.
The artist uses three typefaces on the word HARVEST. The red capital H in Times New Roman. The reversed ARVE in Helvetica. And the St in a variation on the German typeface Fraktur. Unlike any of the other cards in the set, this card has a piece of clear tape along the lower edge in the front. In the image below you can see the bit of tape near my ZIP code. Also, you’ll hear us talk about wondering if there’s anything under the rose. I haven’t yet used an X-ACTO knife to slit along one edge and peer inside. But I think I’m gonna. I’ll let you know.
Card 5: Volkswagen
Onto Card 5/6. This one has the word Volkswagen along with four black bars. Also, the artist drew two parallel lines in Quadrant II, which seems to frame the word and…tire tread? This card has a Happy Birthday stamp. Linn’s Stamp News writer Michael Baadke describes the stamp this way:
The letters represent a red and green pinata (H), an orange and yellow striped birthday hat (A), a red piece of frosted cake (P), a green birthday candle (P) and an orange balloon sculpture (Y). “BIRTHDAY” is printed in smaller simple letters below.
Linn Stamp News, U.S. Happy Birthday stamp will be the first at new rate
I will say, this postcard has me the most perplexed. My first car was a Volkswagen Beetle. I have a dream about driving a VW Microbus all over the world on the Peace, Love & Postcards Tour. But what else am I missing?
You’ll hear in the podcast and see on the video that Ana had more in-depth analysis on this one. She points out the word Happy pairs well with the 1990 Volkswagen ad called Fahrvergnügen. That German word, loosely translated, means “the happiness of driving.” And Ana asks if the four parallel lines, that I initially thought were tire tracks, might be a deconstructed VW. Hmmmmm.
Card 6: George Washington and the Eye of Providence
And now we’re to Card 6/6. The last in the series from the mystery artist at Atelier Jean d’Eaux. It came with an American flag stamp. And then….hmmm. We have a George Washington one-cent stamp. Which leads to the pyramid and Eye of Providence that’s from the back of the U.S. one-dollar bill. And that leads to George Washington’s face from the front of the U.S. one-dollar bill. (The pyramid and Geo. Washington’s eye seem to be cut from an actual dollar bill.) Wiki describes more about the phrasing around the seal:
At the top of the seal stands a Latin phrase, ANNUIT COEPTIS, meaning “He favors our undertaking.” At the bottom of the seal is a semicircular banner proclaiming NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM meaning “New Order of the Ages” that is a reference to the new American era.
This one seems all about America. Or, is it more? This is where crowd-sourcing comes in. Leave a comment if you have more thoughts about this one — or any of the cards.
What do you think it all means?
So…where does this lead us? What happens when we stand back and look at the piece as a collective? We’re still looking.
Speaking of looking — if you’d like to watch what Ana and I were talking about, we recorded a video that I published on The Postcardist YouTube channel.
Hope to hear more from the artist behind Atelier Jean d’Eaux
Finally, a note to the artist at Atelier Jean d’Eaux. Thank you for this set of cards. And the intrigue. On the podcast, I ask you if we got some of this right. And what we missed. I’d love to hear from you again. But even if I don’t, I hope you’re out there and see this. And know that you added some joy and mystery to a fan of Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes and Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys and Scooby-Doo.
It’s 2003. OG and I just finished our 13-hour shift painting a giant mural of the world’s largest lobster on the side of Lobster Shack, when my flip phone rings. I look at the caller ID: European Space Agency.
“You’ve been chosen,” the caller says. “We’ve been chosen,” I yell to OG from my lounge chair at one end of the wall. “Chosen for what?” OG yells back. I shrug. Then ask a few more questions. Very few. The caller isn’t in the mood for chatting.
“We’ll send a car. Be ready in an hour,” the caller says sternly. I look at OG. “We got it. The painting job. In Paris. Only thing is we have to go right now.”
OG and I had applied for a painting job for the European Space Agency (ESA). We thought it would be fun to get a new experience for our fledgling painting company. Even if it meant painting office walls. After all, ESA’s headquarters are in the City of Lights. And we could advertise that we were painters in Paris.
I know, I bet you’re thinking it’s a bit strange that the European Space Agency would send a car for us, just two unknown mural painters who were hired to paint office walls. We thought it was strange, too. But we weren’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Our other option was that OG would have to pedal our only bicycle with me sitting on the back rim holding our bags. And that’s a long bike ride from Ogunquit, Maine to an international airport.
The car they sent was a VW Microbus. “A Bulli!” OG said as a big smile appeared on her face. She yanked open the driver’s door and gestured for The Chauffeur to move over. “I’ll drive.”
OG didn’t exactly drive to the airport. The steering wheel was just for show, and the guidance system in the Microbus took us to a trailer park.
“What is this?” I asked from the back seat. I was cranking the camper top up and down and not paying attention to where we were going. “You’ll see,” said The Chauffeur. Then she told OG, “Stop here.”
OG switched off the engine, and we just sat there for a minute. Wondered what in the heck was going on. An hour ago we were painting a lobster on the side of a building, and the next hour we’re sitting in a Bulli in Alquitran Vista Trailer Park.
The Chauffeur moved her eyes to one side, and with a tilt of her head indicated we should get out of the VW. “You both go in the Yellow Trailer. I’ll bring your bags in a minute,” she said. OG and I looked side-eyed at each other. We were getting a little suspicious. What was going on here? We thought we were going to Paris. Did we get hired to paint the inside of a trailer in rural New Hampshire? That wasn’t gonna do much for our advertising or our reputation.
When we went inside the Yellow Trailer there was nothing but barrels upon barrels that were labeled BLACK PAINT, a few large paintbrushes, some bins labeled SPACE FOOD, and two tilted chairs with lots of seat belts.
“Um, did we just get kidnapped?” OG asked as we stood in the middle of the Yellow Trailer. After a few minutes, The Chauffeur rushed through the door. She wasn’t carrying our bags. But she was carrying spacesuits. “Put these on,” she said, as if it was every day that we used spacesuits for painting.
“Is the paint toxic?” I asked as I struggled to pull on the spacesuit pants. ‘We usually just wear painting smocks when we paint.” Actually, I usually wore lederhosen, but that was too much information.
“Hurry up,” The Chauffeur said. “We don’t have much time. You’ll get your instructions after blast off.”
“Blast off?” OG and I asked at the same time. “Blast off?”
“Put on your suits. Fast. You only have two minutes. Then sit down in those chairs. And pull the seatbelts tight.” And with that last instruction, The Chauffeur ran out of the door of the Yellow Trailer. We could hear her lock up from the outside.
OG and I liked adventures. But we thought we would be painting in Paris. Now we were strapped into easy chairs and wearing spacesuits. We were waiting for our friends to come in the door and laugh and say it was all a big prank.
TEN-NINE-EIGHT-SEVEN. A countdown was coming over a loudspeaker. “I don’t think we’re going to be painting in Paris,” OG said over her communication headphone.
SIX-FIVE FOUR-THREE-TWO. “This is gonna be a heckuva story if we live through it,” I said to OG as the Yellow Trailer began to shake violently. I wasn’t sure we’d be alive to tell the story.
We could feel the Yellow Trailer liftoff. OG and I looked out the windows. There was a black dog wagging its tail. That was our last glance at Earth and Earthlings for a long while.
When we were in flight, we got our instructions. “We’re sending you to Saturn, to paint the sky,” said Intercom Voice. “Space has suddenly turned a strange shade of green, and we need you to get up there and paint it black. Yes, I started singing the lyrics. “No time for frivolity,” said Intercom Voice. “You need to concentrate. And get to work.”
I took that picture of OG when she first started painting the night sky near Saturn. She was the best large format mural painter in the world, and now I told her she was the best in the universe. Also, I liked her focus on safety; even though we were in zero gravity, she still used scaffolding.
As you can imagine, painting space can take a long time. Space is vast. And it’s lonely out there. After who-knows-how-long, we started to get a bit nostalgic for the Lobster Shack. We would send radio transmissions to Intercom Voice from time to time, updating our painting progress. But all we ever heard back was, “Keep going. We’ll let you know when your work is complete.”
I was getting tired of this endless task. And I was getting tired of eating space food. Sure, it was fun eating Space Ice Cream for the first few months, but then I was getting too fat to fit in my spacesuit. But the alternative was bad. Have your ever tried Space Broccoli? Trust me, you don’t want to. I just ate less Space Ice Cream.
“We got a postcard!” I heard OG shout one morning as I was waking up. (It was zero gravity, so we slept anywhere we wanted in the Yellow Trailer. That morning I was sleeping on the ceiling. “It’s from Earth,” she said. “Or at least closer to Earth. It’s from the Moon.”
WISH YOU WERE HERE. That was the message. We looked for more clues. None. But we were running out of paint, and figured our job must be coming to an end.
“Who do you think it’s from?” I asked OG. “Not sure,” she said. “At least someone knows we’re here.”
Just then, we got a transmission on our video system. It was the first time it ever came on.
“You. Will. Be. Transported. To. Metropolis.,” the Copper Robot said.
“Where’s Metropolis?” I asked. “Are we done here? Did we paint enough of the sky?
“All. Will. Be. Revealed. To You. Fear. Not.”
“Well, I’m scared,” I said to OG. “I’m a little worried myself,” she said. And this is from someone who was always up for a challenge and an adventure. And never scared. “We’ll be okay,” she reassured me. I wasn’t sure.
The next minute we felt our Yellow Trailer being lifted up. And then things went blurry.
When we woke up, we were on a tightrope with a weightlifter dressed in a flower petal tutu.
“I hate heights,” I said out loud. “You’re fine,” said the weightlifter. “We’re in zero gravity. You can’t fall.” OG let out a little laugh.
“Did you need a painter?” OG asked the weighlifter. “Otherwise, what are we doing here?”
The weightlifter just smiled. Flashed a red paper heart at her, and said, “I’m a Magical Faerie. My task is to transport you to our leader.” And at that moment, the Magical Faerie tossed aside his barbells, fluffed his flower petal tutu, and said, “Follow me.”
OG and I walked across the tightrope, and on the far platform was a set of guys drinking coffee and eating bits of burned bread. I wanted some. Remember how I said I was sick of space food?
“Are you the leaders?” OG asked? The men just grunted, and the Magical Faerie tittered. “We are just another door you have to open on your journey to the Great Blue One,” the one in the beehive hat said. And with that, he waved us away. “Follow me,” said our Magical Faerie. “We’re getting closer.” I grabbed a bit of bread on my way out.
I have to say, when we entered the next chamber that contained this creature, I was quaking. Scared. Wondering what was gonna happen.
“Can you speak?” OG asked the vermicular creature. “Are you the Great Blue One?” A high and sharp sound emanated from the yellow part on its body. We both thought that must be its mouth.
“The Chihuly doesn’t speak,” the Magical Faerie said. “It just is.”
“Take us to your leader,” OG said. Even though I was nervous, I laughed. She said it like she was starring in a science fiction movie. I was just hoping we wouldn’t get probed by aliens.
When we entered the next room, we both knew were were with the leader. “The Great Blue One will speak,” said the Magical Faerie. And with that, he fluffed his tutu once more, and waved goodbye to us with his red paper heart. “It’s been a pleasure to be your Magical Faerie,” he said as he danced across the tightrope.
“YOU WILL PAINT A MURAL THAT DISPLAYS MY GREATNESS,” bellowed the Great Blue One. “NOW, PAINT.”
OG picked up a brush, and before I could even move, she finished the mural of The Great Blue One. She even wrote her nom de plume below it: Kayla Nicolaso.
“YOU HAVE DONE WELL, YOUNG SPACE TRAVELER,” the Great Blue One said to OG in his James Earl Jones voice. “YOU, ON THE OTHER HAND,” it said to me. He shook his giant head. Then the Great Blue One waved his massive hand and the eagle on his head brought us a Saturn V rocket in its mighty beak. (Did I mention the Great Blue One was huge? I mean like space-sized huge.)
“YOU MAY GO HOME NOW,” the Great Blue One droned. “TAKE THIS ROCKET. AND PAINT MY IMAGE ON A WALL IN AN ALLEY IN SAN FRANCISCO. AND PAINT THE SKY ON YOUR WAY HOME. NOW BE GONE WITH YOU.”
On our way home, OG and I splashed colored paints out of the rocket as we were flying over the North Pole. And even though people thought they were seeing the most spectacular Aurora Borealis ever, what they really were seeing was the handiwork of two space muralists. But we’ll never tell.
Magda sent me a gift of new sets of designs she created to add to the very impressive body of work at Travel Trinkets Canada. I’m proud to say I have all the cards Magda has created. It’s not often a person can say they have a compete set in a collection. I now have several albums filled with postcards from this talented designer (and mother to the cutest Basset puppy of all time).
I was having a Dr. Doolittle moment when I looked at this set of incoming postcards. They all feature animals — and some very good stories. Plus, now I’m singing along to a song from long ago. Isn’t it amazing we can recall lyrics we haven’t heard in years?
Look at the va-va-voom on this Fabulous Queen of the Land and Sea. This Little Mermaid has a Biggie attitude. Betsy called her Hariel; a combination of Hairy Sasquatch and Ariel. This one who’s working to strike the pose can exist as a siren who lures sailors to their watery graves, and reign as the world hide-and-seek champion.