The mail brought a post card from the splendid Portuguese pousada Do Castelo in Obidos. It was from Walter Cronkite, the man who taught me all that I know about sailing, which is certainly nothing to write home about.
Instead, he reported that he and his wife, Betsy, were on the pousada circuit and were staying at one of my favorite of those government-owned country inns, a castle with only six guest rooms.
I was amused that this wise and witty man had marked the front of the card the way I did as a kid: An "X" was inked on a turret window. "My room," he had scrawled.
Picture post cards always make me smile. I love to know where my friends are traveling, and I'm flattered that they take the time to write. If my good intentions took flight, if every card I write in my head were to be stamped and mailed, the postal service would be so rich, it wouldn't need to raise rates.
Scenes Stashed Away
Post cards make elegant souvenirs. They are lightweight, duty-free and relatively inexpensive. They ship themselves. They don't break. Foreign stamps are a bonus.
Museum gift shops offer splendid choices, with reproductions from their collections. I have bought extras of the antiquities in Cairo, the moderns in New York, the sculptures in Scandinavia.
I stash away scenics of waterfalls and full moons and midnight suns to use as birthday cards or notes of congratulations.
T-shirts are other popular bearers of truths; one message may fit almost all.
At the gift stand of the Folger Shakespeare Library east of the nation's capital in Washington, I was tempted by these silk-screened words from the Bard: "Jog On, Jog On" ("The Winter's Tale"); "The First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Lawyers" ("Henry VI," Part II), and a marathon shirt for politicians, "Faith, I Ran When I Saw Others Run" ("Henry IV," Part I).
At the Library of Congress, a block away, they sell facsimiles of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and bills of the Colonial era. Yet in honor of the world's largest library, I bought leather bookmarks as souvenirs.
The most thoughtful going-away present I've received recently came from my aunt, who is hypersensitive to noise. She is not convinced, for example, that children should be allowed in supermarkets, where, before they are seen, they are heard.
As I left for Montevideo, Uruguay, to board a ship to Antarctica, she gave me a set of foam-rubber earplugs. I found them effective in dulling the roar and drone of a jet during the long flight south, yet I could still hear music through the earphones, as well as my seatmate's conversation.
The earplugs also proved a lifesaver in the stormy Southern Ocean in those high-pitched latitudes called the Roaring 40s and Furious 50s, where strong westerly winds rip almost unhindered around the earth.
I slept better without hearing every groan of the ship and scream of the wind. It helped to drift off with Chopin in my ear, from the tape in a Walkman by my pillow.
As for gifts that you take for guides and natives who pose for your photos, there are more inventive choices than cigarettes or chewing gum, though both are received with joy.
I know a reformed smoker who carries matches instead of cigarettes. He collects matchboxes from hotels and restaurants, as well as those of artistic or historic merit, such as copies of the embossed White House matchbooks from the John F. Kennedy years, which are sold at the Kennedy Archives and Library in Massachusetts.
My latest report of sharing comes from a blue-eyed millionaire from Pasadena, a retired fellow who enjoys parties, dancing and cruise ships.
For each seagoing holiday he packs extra summer-weight evening jackets of white and pastels. Thus, on islands from Pitcairn to Samoa there are locals wearing formal jackets with crisp shorts and, sometimes, even shirts.
He is proof that you not only can take it with you, but you can also leave it behind.