Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Luddites Dot Com

As someone who is fairly conscientious about being regularly en blogge, as well as normally cranking out 20-25 emails a day, plus missives to assorted online groups, computer-drafted reports and epistles, etc., I have an inordinate fondness for stationery and fountain pens.

[I have also just mangled my shoulder trying to prop up my pillows. Ouch.]

Anyway, because I'm bored and because I'm (among other things) an anachronism of sorts, I just spent a delightful and instructive spell rearranging my stationery and doing a little maintenance work on the fountain pens.

The stationery thing started ages ago, when I was a callow youth. Maybe 18 or so. I spied (through the shop window) a rather comely lass working in a (duh) shop just on the shadow of the Venetian winged lion. Bristling with the bravado that only youth (when flush with a reasonable dose of wine) can possibly have, I stepped through the doorway, the better to afford this young lady an opportunity to avail herself of the manly bounty that was Young Me. It was my every intention, you see, to dazzle her in every respect, to intoxicate her with charm. I don't know exactly how much Valpolicella I had occupying space otherwise earmarked for hæmoglobin, but I was fairly confident that within 20 minutes I'd have her stridently demanding to carry my child. (In contrast, these days my wife loudly demands I carry my child.)

What I had not counted upon was that she'd bedazzle me, and 20 minutes later I had transferred enough currency to her store's coffers to provide me with a small satchel of exquisite papers, cards, envelopes, and the like. All of which she had wrapped up expertly in a semi-glossy purple-pink paper, as if this were all one great Christmas gift. When I had immaturely envisioned her taking advantage of me, this walletectomy was not exactly among the highlights of my teenaged thought process.

But I, being the resilient optimist I am, took the whole episode in stride. I sauntered (as much as someone who has blown an shockingly high percentage of his funds can saunter) to a small bar-type place and ordered a carafe of what two honeymooner-types were having. I produced a cheap pen and started to muse upon what I might write on these excellent papers. My thinking was that I ought send lovely missives from this lovely spot to young ladies back home upon whom I had, er, designs. It struck me as a capital notion, when I was interrupted by my waiter.

Y'see, in Italy, people do not eat by themselves, let alone drink by themselves. Most of my tour (if you want to glorify it with such a term) had consisted of looking up at pretty buildings, occasionally peering inside, and more frequently, stopping at these bar-type counters where locals were loitering amiably and having a tipple of some local-ish wine or another. This was sociable and therefore acceptable.

So a guy with a stack of very expensive paper having a carafe of wine one late afternoon all by his lonesome, y'know, stuck out. The waiter, what with Italians being Italians, surmised that I was writing to Someone Special Back Home and before he deigned give me my carafe -- for which I was paying a 50% premium given that I was seated at an outdoor table -- he told me I couldn't possibly jot down anything on paper such as that with a cheap-o-matic pen. He was taken aback that I was perplexed. I was partly perplexed because he spoke in rapid-fire Italian and it toom me a while to process his Italian through my lingusitic filters. At any rate, he claimed he had an uncle in the business and he took (!) me through a warren, along diminutive alleys, to a small shop which gave the impression of being The Smallest And Best Hidden Colored Pencil Museum In The World.

I was too stunned and cowed to ask what was happening to my carafe of wine. At any rate, Elio (the waiter) engaged Sandro (the colored pencil maven) in animated speech. As they discussed my predicament, Sandro nodded sagely. It was as if a general practitioner and a specialist were conferring. Looking around I saw all manner of inks, quills, pencils, etc. Sandro asked me, the way one would ask a lost and frightened toddler, what I liked. This was good because I could answer something and not feel utterly useless. I rattled off my hobbies and likes. I kept my more prurient interests to myself, although given the fact I was among Italian males they may have taken my silence to mean I had some sort of glandular deficiency.

Sandro nodded sympathetically, much like when a patient says "it hurts when I do this." Sandro looked at Elio.

Gravely -- but sweating self-assurance -- he uttered: "Omas."

I thought he had diagnosed me as heterophobic, but he produced a small box with a brushed aluminum pen, with a pleasantly discreet automotive motif. "This is the best thing for you," I understood him as saying. He then wrapped it up like a Christmas gift (along with an ink bottle, the color of which he chose and didn't bother to let me see), helped himself to my funds and bid me good evening.

Elio, looking as if he had saved me from ravenous marmots, led me back to our starting point, chattering effusively. Another, slightly older, waiter-type guy (Virgilio, I think) came up to us and handed me my stuff. My paper, my misfolded map which he had taken great care to fold properly, assorted brochures, etc. Elio then poured me a glass of wine and took his leave of me, returning to refill my glass with what must have exceeded the contents of my carafe and dropping off -- gratis! -- tiny plates of generally unrecognizable edibles.

That evening, dear reader, I started writing down for all the young ladies of my acquaintance some of the most frightful bilge imaginable. A young man on the cusp between high school and university, with his blood volume amplified by wine is capable of truly appalling stuff* in the quest to be Romeo-like.

But the pleasure of feeling ink glide smoothly from a sleek fountain pen to the surface of a creamy off-white sheet has always stayed with me.

Unlike those poor girls to whom I wrote.


*That nobody struck me repeatedly about the head and neck is a small miracle.