Spring Cleaning

I went through my stationery hoard for some spring cleaning today, and decided to break out this cheerful Caran d’Ache rainbow pencil. Thank you M. La Plume!

I also decided to ink one of the pens I’d been saving for later. 

The Lamy Safari is a hugely popular pen, but I never had any plans to hunt down any since I discovered long ago that the triangular grip doesn’t suit me very well. But then I came across this discontinued version last year at a Montreal tobacconist’s. I find these cigar shops fascinating, because many of them also make a point of catering to the broader gentlemanly interests, such as Zippo lighters, shaving kits, chess boards, Swiss knives, and if you’re in luck, writing instruments too. Vasco’s selection of fountain pens was quite broad if idiosyncratic (Delta, Visconti, Ferrari, and Dupont, in addition to the more regular brands), and they had interesting old stock too. (I lucked into some past Caran d’Ache “Crayons de la Maison” editions there.) 

This yellow Safari was calling to me from the rotating stand next to the cashier, and as soon as I recovered from the initial shock, I decided to get it as my one and only symbolic Safari. This canary-yellow version with the black clip happens to have been the one often spotted in the hands of Korean celebrities way back when, and no doubt did its bit for the analogue boom.

I opted for the proprietary cartridge this time, but that only served to remind me why I hate using cartridges. The ink takes forever to reach the nib! I had to dip the nib in a little Staedtler blue to coax it out.

Somehow it feels a bit nostalgic, using this pen…

Stationery Shopping in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires, city of 3 million people, the Paris of South America. We visited the city for three days last week. I don’t know if BA had its own Baron Haussmann at one point, but the wide, wide boulevards, stately mansions, and leafy parks did indeed remind one of the French capital. It was fun being in a big city again!

There were even pencils in front of the Casa Rosada (the pink-toned Presidential Palace).

This time I had the opportunity to visit some bookstores, stationers and pen shops. Bookshops in BA are alive and well, and both the big, established chains (El Ateneo, Cúspide) and the smaller independent stores seem to be thriving, at least compared to those in other countries. It was great to see the “neighborhood bookstore” still alive.

For my pen searches, I relied on this list I dug up online before the trip (¡Gracias!). The first one on the list, Casa Pintos, seems to have closed (there was a new building at that address on Avenida de Mayo), but I hit the jackpot at Librería Catalinas. It was a delightful store chock-full of deluxe art supplies (Caran d’Ache sets!) and both current and vintage pens. They carried Parker (including a shelfful of vintage 51’s), Pelikan, Faber-Castell, Lamy, Cross, Sheaffer, Caran d’Ache, some Visconti, and I forget what else. Granted, the stock isn’t huge compared to a pen shop in Europe or Asia, but I tend to have a high opinion of stationers who carry Pilot Parallel pens. If we were to live in BA for any length of time I would undoubtedly be making regular pilgrimages to this shop.

Judging from the display, it looked like Catalinas had been in business for a long time. The most intriguing item in this store was a box of vintage Staedtler jumbo pencils – the owner’s personal collection, and not for sale. They allowed me to take a picture though :)

I also spotted some vintage pencils in a couple of stalls at the awesome San Telmo antiques market. Several Johann Fabers and some Argentinian Van Dykes, mostly colored. I would have picked some up but due to a miscalculation we had no cash on us and couldn’t buy anything. If I ever get another chance to come here I will work through this neighborhood again – porteños don’t seem to throw anything away, and the most amazing stuff comes out of those stately old homes!

My stationery souvenirs from BA are mainly notebooks. Speaking of notebooks, there is one mystery about this city I cannot figure out – there are no Moleskines or Paperblanks or any other internationally known paper brand to be found anywhere. I’m not saying that Moleskine is so great that every nation on earth should import it, but rather that this brand and several others like it have so taken over the world that it is nearly impossible to escape it – and I wonder why this country in particular should be out of the loop. Every time I saw a Moleskine-like rotating display in a bookshop I made a beeline for it, but it always turned out to be a lookalike called BRÜGGE. (I think the line is manufactured in China, but I’m not 100% certain.) The notebooks I did get are both made in Argentina.

This is a notebook in my favorite format: spiral-bound, square grid, lots of pages. The paper feels above average, but I won’t be too disappointed if it bleeds or feathers. One advantage of being a pencil user is that you become much more tolerant of various kinds of paper.

The pencils are both unfamiliar variants of familiar brands. I actually got the Brazilian-made Eco in place of a one-peso change at a bookstore; Argentinians hate small change and will go to some lengths to avoid dealing in coins.

The second is a regular lined and banded notebook, but with cute illustrations inside, from a brand called Monoblock. I don’t know if I’ll actually be using this notebook for anything; this is just a souvenir to remember the city’s great cafés and pastries by :)

The last item of note is marketed as an iPad case, but I have something different in mind. The factors that make Argentina one of the best places in the world to have a steak in also enable it to produce a lot of leather, and BA is known for its multitude of leather-goods shops selling jackets, shoes, bags, wallets, etc. Now, I’ve always wanted a leather desk pad that cushions sheets of paper against a fountain pen nib, ever since I saw one back in Seoul (the brand was Italian). BA shops carry that too – aptly named carpetas para escritorio – but they were too large, and often too complicated (with lids, sleeves, gilt-edged corners etc.). I wanted a smaller pad that was more portable, like a leather clipboard without the clip. And this is just the right size, and at around US$43, quite a bargain I think. (I might still work myself up towards a proper carpeta in the future.) 

And, with all that leather in search of a purpose, I certainly hope the artisans across the river will be interested enough to make other stationery-related articles in the future – notebook covers, pencil sleeves, pencases, and heck, why not sharpener cases? :)

Hobonichi 2017

We came back from a trip to Buenos Aires last night to the sight of our doorman waving the lemon-yellow Hobonichi envelope at us. What a delight! Thank you sooooo much for shipping worldwide, Hobo :)

This was going to be a very short post, just to show you next year’s Weeks in linen isn’t half bad (thankfully not as bland as I thought – there’s a bit more texture to it), but I notice several changes in the Planner [spoiler alert]:

1. There’s a new 2-page spread at the front, just before the January pages start. And the planner has lost the last two weeks of December leading up to the new year, as well as the first week of January 2018; it starts right on January 1st and ends on December 31st. No half pages.

2. The monthly intro pages are ruled more loosely this time (the one on the left is for 2017).

3. And I see that they’ve done away with the national holiday markings in red. Good riddance – I appreciate the additional space.

I look forward to seeing everybody else’s! :)

To All the Notebooks I’ve Loved Before

The more I think about stationery, the more I feel that this is all about love. Irrational, hard-to-explain devotion, even when you know all the faults of your particular object of affection. I’ve held on to a few extras of my favorite notebooks over the years, which reside in my backup box, wrapped in plastic.

These notebooks are from Illums, a Scandinavian-themed interior-and-lifestyle brand in Japan. They are not stationers by any means; their shops feature furniture, kitchen and dinnerware items from brands like iittala, Bodum and Marimekko. They just happened to have a trolleyful of notebooks at one point, and I scooped up some and then went back for more. I was a Hi-Tec-C user at that point in my life, and the smooth white lined paper suited me perfectly (although I now feel, many years down the road, that the paper was just average). 

Looking at it now, I think what I liked best about the notebook was its thick cover. You could knock on it like a door. The average spiral-bound school notebook tends to feel somehow disposable, but this particular feature bestowed a sense of permanence on this A5-sized notebook, like you wouldn’t feel comfortable throwing this kind of thing away. I used several as travel journals, one for transcribing literary quotes, and the rest for studying Hebrew.

This was the apex of my “neat” period. It all went downhill from here… and I can no longer read my own notes. Still, the memories of my youthful effort live on ;)

My second “special” notebook was from Semikolon with very similar features – A5, spiral-bound, with sturdy covers in pleasing solid colors. The paper was wonderful, a smooth but not overly coated cream-colored paper ruled in nut brown. The laid pattern was visible when you held the paper up to the light, but did not interfere with fountain pen nibs. I used these notebooks to record my son’s babyhood. 

I had such good memories of using this notebook that I was overjoyed to find this brand in Montreal. However, it had undergone a complete change of character! Granted, I didn’t know this brand that well (I bought these notebooks in a store in Yokohama, where they were displayed on their own, and didn’t get to have a look at the full range of products Semikolon offered at that time), but it seemed as if they had adopted a dusty-pastel color scheme centered on storage systems while I wasn’t looking. I bought a couple of the current offerings for old times’ sake – a Creativo to use as a planner, and another hardcover notebook for my son – but fell out of love quickly. The paper wasn’t the wonderful one that I knew, and all their notebooks, even bound ones, featured perforated pages, which baffled me. I mean, who wants to tear the pages off a bound notebook in hardcover? Isn’t permanence the main point for these kind of notebooks? I do hope that the notebook I loved lives on in some form and that I will be reunited with it someday.

And now a couple of current favorites: the L!FE Schöpfer notebook, and the Maruman Mnemosyne, both in square rulings. (One more favorite is the Nanami Seven Seas Writer notebook, which I’ve written about in a separate post.) The Schöpfer notebook features velvety-smooth paper with an understated grid pattern; I love writing with fine Japanese nibs in them. These are usually employed as vocabulary notebooks. The quality of the paper in the Noble Note on the right is supposedly superior, but I can never break out the Noble! It’s too intimidating! Must have a go someday. The Maruman Mnemosyne’s rulings are a bit unconventional (the back of the page is blank), and the perforations mean that I tend to tear a lot of pages out, so it mainly serves as a sort of deluxe doodle pad. 

P. S. I’m writing this long post in part to distract myself from the storm raging outside. The weather is usually balmy and very nice around here, but when the wind starts up, it gusts at alarming speeds (>100km/h). It gets on your nerves… Some pencil therapy is in order :)

Whitelines A4 Notebook

Quite recently I decided to migrate my household accounting to a physical notebook. I’d always used Excel sheets to make the adding up easier, but as I came to rely more and more on a tablet, I found myself booting up the laptop less and less and my recordkeeping getting laxer by the day. The final straw was when our dog gnawed through the cord of the AC adapter. I figured that reverting to a more analogue method of accounting might be both less tempting to canine appetites and easier to keep up, so I started rummaging through my treasure chest for a notebook. (I am now at that stage where my backup box is better stocked than the average stationer. I don’t need to go shopping for notebooks anymore. I dig and I find. Maybe I should do a post on my notebook hoard next?)

I was gifted the large Whitelines notebook a number of years ago (thank you, reader X!), but frankly, at that time, I didn’t quite know what to do with it. I had moved on more or less completely to smaller formats (<A5), and this particular notebook was large (A4). The paper seemed good but not in any way special, and the main feature, that of the light grey background with white squared lines, seemed funky but somehow not essential. I didn’t want to break out a good notebook just to test ink on a few pages, so I put it away for the future. And I’m glad I did that, because now I find the larger format perfect for bookkeeping, and the background singularly suited for pencil markings.

I happen to be partial to grid-lined paper. I like it for the freedom that it grants me from the tyranny and boredom of regular lines, all the while gently nudging my letters in line. But since I started using pencils as well as pens, I’ve been frustrated by the interference and noise that most grid patterns create around the delicate graphite. My favorite products from Rhodia and L!FE all tend to have pretty strong grids, and I realize that if you’re not going to use plain unruled paper (which I can’t), your best bet as a pencil user is to opt for light, understated grids. Happily, Whitelines has turned out to be the perfect whispery grid that doesn’t get in the way of pencil strokes, and the background color somehow even succeeds in drawing the eye to the graphite markings.

I think this grey background, while commonsensical in theory, can be tricky to get just right in practice. Leuchtturm seems to make these kind of white-on-grey notebooks too, in partnership with Whitelines Link (that scans digitally), but some Amazon reviews note that the grey can seem “gloomy”, and that the white markings can be hard to see. I wonder if the shade in the Leuchtturm or the more recently made Whitelines notebooks is darker than what I have; if so I would indeed find it a bit gloomy. Right now the shade is perfect.

Another important aspect that I’ve woken up to as a pencil user is that pencil markings are less tolerant of see-throughs (this is why I often hesitate to use pencils on Tomoe River paper). The Whitelines is safe in that aspect as well, as the paper is just thick enough to prevent it.

Two of the pencils I like using with the Whitelines notebook – they are both HBs on the dark and soft side. Based on the few lines I wrote with pen and ink, the paper seems to be fairly fountain-pen-friendly as well.

(TWSBI RB580 + Sailor Apricot ink)

As I encounter more and more notebooks on my stationery journey, I realize that unusual notebooks can be a hard sell, as quirky features such as this can either win you over completely or leave you cold. There’s no middle ground. But I’m glad this particular notebook works for me – finally! Who knew grey could be such a graphite-friendly color?

Hobonichi Season

Has everyone decided on what to get from the Hobonichi Store? I am not planning to get any covers or accessories this year, only the planner (in English) and the Weeks (I know, I wanted to try something different but I haven’t managed to find an alternative). I only have to decide whether I want the Weeks in rustic linen or in the French baguette pattern ☺

That said, I thought I would show some highlights from the past two years of Hobonichi journalling. As you may already know, I am not in the least artistic, and the biggest challenge for me is inserting visually interesting “rest stops” in between pages and pages of text without embarrassing myself. I’ve tried taping, drawing, calligraphy, etc., but my most successful attempts so far involve drawing maps. This has a number of points in its favor: you get to use all your tools, pencil, pen and colored pencil; you actually learn something during the process; and it stays relevant and informative even years afterwards.

This was my first attempt at map-drawing; it was just too small and I had to draw additional area enlargements. By the way has anyone read Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux or Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller? The former comes recommended by Haruki Murakami (he’s friends with Theroux), and the latter is just as good.

And then we moved to South America. In order to sort out the muddled heap of countries in my head, I again resorted to maps. Brazil is reeeally big; I couldn’t get it to fit on the page 😑.  One disadvantage of the onionskin Tomoe River paper is that you have to be very careful with erasing, and even then you get small tears from time to time (witness the grey masking tape over the Amazon).

This map of Uruguay is the only time I used tracing paper, because a map of just the right size happened to be printed on the back flap of a school notebook. Departmental boundaries were done by visual approximation, as with all the other maps, and thus are inexact.

You don’t always have to draw countries; if you’re in love with your neighborhood you can map out its streets too, especially if you know you’re going to leave someday and will miss it, like I do. Also there’s nothing like map-drawing to put your factual knowledge to the test: I found out that I had the order of some shops wrong when I checked some days later.

And cartoons go very well of course with the overall Hobo vibe. I only regret that I had to convert all my subscriptions to digital editions and therefore have almost no material to snip out stuff from now.

I also found a way to use up the box of Midori roll stickers I was hoarding. I use it like a ticket stub for any Netflix movie I watched.

And if there are still any blank pages left over even after all that, you can always engage a guest artist!

A Handsome Black Pencil (2)

Luxury probably means different things for different people. For me, it would be things like having a couple hundred new, hardcover books lined up to read.  Or being assured of a limitless supply of the world’s best teas. Or going on a polar journey on an icebreaker. Owning a proper dozen of vintage Eberhard Faber Round Gilts would belong right up there with other extravagant wishes… though for me it isn’t strictly necessary, as a single one already sparks enough joy to last a stationery lifetime. 

This striking round pencil doesn’t carry its own name (it does in different versions, for instance on the catalog page you can see @Contrapuntalism), and the black-and-gilt color scheme suggests that it was marketed to the managerial class. When I first broke it out I had the surreal impression that it had inherited half of the genetic material for the EF Blackwing, the other half having gone to the Commerce. I was feverish, I think. Later on, as the novelty wore off, I got used to the silky, almost oily smoothness, but the mystery and the romance endure. A suave, handsome pencil that keeps its secrets.