The ways in which people choose to communicate with the people they love have changed over the years. From whispered confessions of love below the balcony of one’s beloved, to current smartphone texting, the methods may be different, but the desire to communicate remains the same. For centuries, the main method was correspondence. It has been written that the telegram, although a very fast medium, could never transport the scent of a lover like a letter could. In the classic book by French Nobel prize-winning writer Albert Camus, ‘The Plague’, the reversal of this relationship between a love letter and a telegram is presented in an interesting way, as the pandemic changed the flow of daily life and passionate desire.
In the city of Oran in Algeria, a general quarantine has been enforced due to a plague outbreak. “At first, telephone calls to other towns were allowed, but this led to such crowding of the telephone booths and delays on the lines that they also were prohibited. Then, we were left with telegrams as our only solace”.
And since, in practice, the phrases one can use in a telegram are quickly
exhausted, long lives passed side by side or passionate yearnings, were hastily summarised in a periodic exchange of standardised phrases, such as: “Am well. Thinking of you always. Love”.
Correspondence was forbidden for fear of transmitting the virus. Some, however, persisted in writing letters to their loved ones, without knowing if they ever received the letter.
“Some few of us, however, persisted in writing letters and gave much time to
hatching plans for corresponding with the outside world; but always these plans came to nothing. Even if, despite all this, some of the tricks we had invented succeeded, we could not know, because we got on response. For weeks on end we were reduced to starting the same letter over and over again recopying the same news and the same appeals, and thus, soon, words, which at first had poured out of our heart alive, lost all meaning. “In the end we preferred this sterile and persistent monologue to this futile dialogue with a wall”.
There is a telegram similar to the one described by Camus in his book, written in 1927, located in the collection of telegrams of the OTE Telecommunications Museum.
1927 telegram from Athens to Kalamata.