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There is something mysterious, almost romantic, about the term “Poste Restante”. Think of Jane Eyre, alone in the world, calling at Lowton Post Office for the letter that would summon her to Thornfield Hall and Mr Rochester. Think of Jane Fairfax in Emma, picking up secret love letters from the Post Office at Highbury. Think of those lonely travellers calling for those letters that can only make them more homesick. Poste Restante – letters left on the shelf when deliveries have been made to those with homes to go to and a place in the world.
So much does the term smack of classic novels that I was recently surprised to discover that this service is alive and well and living in Islington. From Wikipedia:
Mail is addressed to POSTE RESTANTE (or TO BE CALLED FOR), which is written after the full name of the recipient (as appears on the identification to be presented ie. the passport, if abroad), then the name and full address of the destination post office, thus:
Mr. John Smith
Islington Post Office
116 Upper Street
London N1 1AE
If only addressed to a town name, for example POSTE RESTANTE, LONDON (there are currently 115 crown offices in LONDON) mail will go to the closest main post office branch.
Fancy that. Perhaps I was reading too much into a rather banal feature of Post Office life. But nothing like as much as Derek White:
Poste Restante is a collection of text and image fragments (postcards, if you will, sent from the subconscious) by Derek White. From the forward:
Whenever I dream about "home," it's never where I am residing at the time. For that matter, whenever I dream of a place, say, Maldives or the Plaza de Toros in Seville, it's never the place but an idealized concept of one, perhaps amalgamated with other places, including absurd ones I have never been to or that might not even exist. Yet. The same is true of people. Say, Madonna or Captain Beefheart. Or even elementary particles such as quarks or gauge bosons. Or the relationships in between.
The nocturnal histories contained here were transcribed in the dark, in the wake of sleep when I couldn't always see what, in fact, I was writing. These are merely the residuals, in translated words and images, that clung to my feet as I woke up and walked across the floorboards of where I was living at the time. This is all I can say with any degree of certainty without sacrificing knowledge of place for where I was going with it.
When a letter or parcel is addressed and postmarked, you are assured that it pas through human hands and physical devices to reach its intended destination. It is a validation. A proof of concept. A collapse of its wave function. Poste Restante (literally, 'post remaining' or 'residual mail') is an ad hoc destination for mail sent to recipients who are just passing through a place they do not permanently reside. It's what you say when you don't have a place you call "home."
When it comes to waxing lyrical about Poste Restante, Derek White can’t hold a candle to Hélène Cixous, “insightful and unbridled” admirer of that French man of letters, Jacques Derrida:
What holds my attention is the taste of death in poste restante. What holds me in poste restante is the taste of death, the dream taste of death.
- In post resisting. In post-resistance.
In the USA, Poste Restante is called General Delivery, a prosaic term that puts paid to Post Office posturing.