There is something very intimate in the spring aura of the Tuscan houses as they burgeon at the heart of the hill-perched villages. They seem to be constantly smiling, stretching out an invisible hand in a broad, welcoming gesture that invites the passerby to a secret passage, a private theatrical performance, or the scene of a tale. Their magic might be merited to the long vertical windows which, with their open shutters, allure sunshine and life alike. Or, to the merry flower creations that sprout out of fatigued boots, worn pasta drainers, ceramic jugs built into the walls, and olive oil pots. Despite their sturdy medieval looks and arches, these adobes look fragile and graceful – an assemblage of ornaments along the curvy patterns of the old, cobbled alleys.
But it was the letterboxes next to each front door – individual little beings with a personality of their own – that ultimately stole my heart. I felt there was a very personal and humane echo in their charming variations: a sense of respect towards the anticipation for every awaited letter; a reminiscence of paper’s earthy aroma mixed with the faint trace of hands; a contemplation on a communication mode that still reverberates a warmer sentiment, more private and enduring. Goethe said: “Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind.” I realized I do not have any real letters myself. I only have exchanges of emails and short messages over messengers: love-lives and friendships bestowed somewhere on a virtual cloud. Despite the convenience, it does not feel the same. Or, perhaps I am just an old-fashioned romantic without any handwritten letters in my legacy chest.
During my latest road trip through the Tuscan hills and valleys, I identified several categories of mailboxes, all with distinct lineaments that help them not only to stand out but, most interestingly, convey different messages altogether.
Some of them are simple slots; they resemble those narrow apertures we put our hand into and make a wish, entrusting the universe with our dreams. There lies mystery in their concealed interiors, something potentially extraordinary veiled behind these minimalistic looks.
Others demonstrate a coat of arms, with flags waving on both sides in what appears to be a pompous demonstration of historical importance.
Other times, the beauty lies in the color variations or the pairing of the boxes into cordial ensembles.
There are those that look like rustic entrance doors to gardens, offering a friendlier ambiance, plain and simple, without any indecipherable enigmas.
Finally – and these are my favorite ones – there are those miniature houses with their tilted roofs, their Lilliputian windows, and cute little doors: sacred guardian talismans bequeathed from generation to generation, destined to cast a protective spell over homes and people.
In an era when electronic communication is dominant, and even bills or advertising brochures land more and more frequently in our inbox instead of our doorsteps, the purpose of letterboxes becomes increasingly ornamental rather than practical. Still, we remain inexplicably attached to their presence, maybe because now, more than ever, they represent a connecting link of every home with the world: a constant invitation for communication, an open call for meaningful conversations, and a reminder that physical interaction will always outweigh any virtual substitute.