mad in pursuit journal

DISPATCHED FROM THE CROSSROADS, AT THE intersection OF adventure and ennui

Viola's Excellent Adventure

Nothing like a grand distraction from the projects I've promised myself to do. On Sunday I got an e-mail from a PhD student at Columbia. He found an entry I wrote in 2005 about a group of postcards we had from a woman named Viola, who made a grand tour of Asia in 1935.

He wrote:

Do you still have these postcards?... The reason I am interested in these postcards is because they were written by Viola Wertheim Bernard, who was traveling at the time with her husband, Theos Bernard, who is the subject of my dissertation here at Columbia University.

After another exchange, where it looked as if his Viola and my Viola had taken the same route through, I decided to dig in.

I sold 3 postcards (before I realized we had a "Viola" collection), but we still have 12. I found the scans of the ones I sold, then scanned the rest and revised my page real pretty. Some of the postcards are great, like this real-photo, hand-colored postcard from Darjeeling in the Himalayas.

darjeeling photo 1935

My Columbia University correspondent was concerned that I had misread the dates somehow, since his Viola made her journey in 1936. But no, 1935 was correct.

Then I got the bright idea to go to and make that expensive subscription do some work for me. Viola always wrote to the Schaefers on Linwood Avenue in Buffalo, so I figured they must be family. When I looked up Viola Schaefer I found them all. Viola was an unmarried high school teacher who made her journey when she was about 45 years old.

It would have been interesting if Viola had been married to a renowned Tibetan scholar — although I see that Viola Bernard divorced her husband at the end of his India/Tibet adventure.

But I think I like Viola Schaefer better — her own woman, her own adventure.