Of Paper and Books and Ink

In an age where everything is increasingly digital, why do we love paper so?

It’s the delicate scrollwork of a printed design. The fragrance of a leather book. The way a thick sheet of paper folds under your hand, pushing back up at your fingers . . .

Florentine paper framing our room with a view.
Florentine paper framing our room with a view. Photograph and digital imaging work, Ann Fisher.

What do I bring home from Florence? Paper, gloves, and wine.

Florence is famous for two kinds of paper designs: the printed variety, inspired by traditional Renaissance patterns, and carta marmorizzala — handmade, marbled paper.

Florentine paper history: travelers first brought marbled paper, “Turkish paper” or ebru (art of the clouds) to Florence in the 16th century, and it was not long before local artisans began producing it. Florence is now one of the few places in Europe still making hand-marbled paper. Giulio Giannini e Figlio, founded in 1856 and located across from the Pitti Palace, is the oldest marbled paper maker in the city.

In Venice, I found a shop with leather books, journals, Murano glass writing pens, all hand tooled. The quality of the work, really breathtaking. I brought a small journal back for a friend, and one for myself. The books were so very beautiful, I doubt he has used his. I know I have not. It’s a thing to remember, that when a notebook is so special, one hesitates to mark in it . . . it defies rough drafts. It asks for Shakespeare. Who can live up to that?

My mother says that my family has always had the book disease. In college, I would go hungry to buy a book I wanted.

Fine paper and books bring pleasure to those who love them.

Independent booksellers are jewel-like. They offer a curated selection of books — it is as much about what is not there as it is about what is there. Which edition of a classic book did they choose? How are things displayed? What volumes are next to one another? These bookstores offer the serendipity of finding things we might never see otherwise.

Faulkner House Bookstore, New Orleans.
Catherine browsing in the Faulkner House Bookstore in New Orleans. Photograph by Ann Fisher.

The Faulkner House Bookstore is one such favorite. Shakespeare & Company in Paris. Front Street Books in Alpine, Texas.

My book disease is a problem as I downsize my life. My daughter has one more year in high school, and rather than rattle around in a large house for another year, we are moving into a condominium. I may not be retired yet, but downsizing my life so that I can travel more is an appealing idea. But going from a 3500 square foot house to a 1400 square foot condo presents challenges – downsizing many possessions, but not with choosing which furniture to take.

It’s the books.

Who comes? What goes?

Yes, I use the Kindle app on my iPad, but the books we choose to live with say something about us. And the physicality of being in the room with books is most definitely not the same as having the collection digitally. Library you say? Well, if I were better at returning things, perhaps.

Even with the downsizing move looming, my daughter Catherine and I brought home another half-dozen books from the Faulkner House Bookstore when we were in New Orleans. She picked up a lovely edition of Pride and Prejudice. You’ll see the the same Canterbury Classics design for Persuasion to the left.

Edition of Jane Austen's Persuasion with quotes on the cover,
The Canterbury Classics editions of Jane Austen’s books appealed to my daughter. Now Catherine is reading her first Austen. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

My husband Drew loved American history — particularly biographies of the presidents. When I look at his shelves of books — at Doris Kearnes Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, and Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, I can see him.

Books tell stories about various points in my life. The group of art history books and a collection of Edith Wharton remind me of my college years. Percy Shelley brings to mind the crazy, deconstructionist professor ranting in front of the class. I see the yellowing paperback of A Moveable Feast, and all of a sudden I am at Shakespeare and Company when I was seventeen. George Whitman sold me that book.

What to let go of? It’s not so easy.

Drew’s brother Eddy has worked on his own library with these criteria, choosing particularly good editions of books, gradually getting rid of poor paperback copies. I think that’s going to my strategy for culling down collection: creating an elemental collection of editions of the books I want to live with, using digital editions of books when it makes sense, and selling books back to the second-hand bookstore.

I leave for Italy in two weeks, and I will inevitably come home with more paper. I use Florentine stationery for notes at work, birthday greetings, small thank-yous, and the notepads for lists and thoughts. The sensuality of the thick, creamy paper with the delicate designs pleases me. I will go visit the man of the leather books in Venice. I promise to share . . .

Florentine paper narrow

Expedia.com

 

Outside of Shakespeare and Company, December 2012.
Outside of Shakespeare and Company, December 2012. Photograph by Drew Dennard.

Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

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Additional Information on paper:

McDonnell, Sharon. “The Magic Of Marbled Paper.” National Geographic Traveler 28.2 (2011): 29. Hospitality & Tourism Complete. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.

Lumsden, Susan. “Marbled Paper from Florence.” The New York Times 13 December 1987 

Love in the Afternoon, Revisited

This was originally posted in October 2015. As I work on downsizing to move from a large house into a condominium, the conundrum of which possessions to part with is sometimes easy, often hard. Mr. Underwood came home with me last year, and I am please to say that he has made the cut. Could you blame me for keeping him around?

Harvest Coffee Bar, Bryan, Texas
Slo Bru at the Harvest Coffee Bar in Bryan, Texas

I found myself sleepy to the point of no concentration. The words on the page kept running together, and the thought of another cup of coffee was appealing. I left the La Salle Hotel and walked down Main Street to the Harvest Coffee Bar.

The distillation contraption was intriguing, and I soon had a little cup of the cold brewed coffee and headed back towards my room. I wanted to get a another several hundred words down.

It was then that I saw him. He was standing at a shop window, then he turned and looked at me. He pulled off his sunglasses and smiled.

The soul of Mr. Underwood

I smiled in return but continued walking.

He said, “Stop and talk with me awhile. I think we may have much to say to one another.”

I pulled up short, and looked at him again. His blue eyes were were sincere and compelling.

We stood talking in the street for a long time. His name was Underwood. While his face was lined and he was evidently older than I first thought, the more we talked and the more stories he shared, I found myself completely taken with him. I took his hand and he followed me back to the La Salle.

Mr. Underwood
Mr. Underwood

We woke the next morning with the sun glowing around the edges of the blinds.

After pulling on my clothes and getting my bag together, I turned to him. “I’m really not ready to stop here . . . would you consider coming to Houston, and spending some time with me?”

His smile lines deepened, and those blue eyes gave me a wonderful look.

Lucca and the Underwood typewriter
Lucca and Mr. Underwood

Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

Thank you for visiting! 

I’m writing and traveling full-time now, and if you like my work, please subscribe to my blog via email.

 

 

 

 

 

 


I’m happy you’re here — for other articles on life and travel, browse the home page:

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