Wednesday 12 March 2008

Postcard of the Day No. 13 - The Land of Oranges

These classic Curt Teich images of a Land of Plenty come from the fruit growing territories around San Bernardino in Southern California. The year is 1944 and this is one of many cards I have found that have been sent back to Britain by fellow countrymen who have found themselves across the Atlantic, far from the horrors and privations of the war in Europe. The writers of these cards make no more than a token effort to conceal their good fortune. The generous portions they have been eating are described in loving detail with scant regard for the sensibilities of those back home ekeing out their meagre rations of subsistence food. Citrus fruits were in especially short supply in wartime Britain so this card must have aroused mixed feelings on the part of the recipient.

It is hard to resist this vision of fertile abundance although the air of industrious sobriety and contentment does not entirely correspond with the narratives of Woody Guthrie when he passed through a few years earlier or Jack Kerouac when he passed through a few years later. For Guthrie this was the front line in a ferocious battle between organised labour and agribusiness. All this unhappy history is, of course, airbrushed out of these pictures – no labour camps, no pickets and no strike busters intrude on the air of purpose and prosperity.

San Bernardino has the honour of a name check in the song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” and the further distinction of the world’s very first McDonald’s restaurant which in 1944 had already been feeding the local population for 4 years. The postmark is from San Gabriel, now a small city in Los Angeles County completely surrounded by urban development.

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