Purple shadows and blue champagne
With the echoes that still remain
I keep a blue rendezvous.”
~ The Manhattan Transfer, Blue Champagne
journey and journal
Gratitude increases with accumulated mileage, as my travels are accompanied by writing. Images and words gladly correspond with places visited. And I try to include sites that inspire the exploration of ideas, paralleling the places visited. The written continuum of journals provides a paper playing-field for the recording of locations, events, and gleaned words, drawn together from immediate environments. Like photo motifs and camera, wise words received require ready writing materials for their recording. Viewing errand as adventure provides an antidote to sameness. “Every day is a mini-project,” my father likes to say. Years ago, an elderly co-worker at a night-shift job I had used to tell me to vary my routes to and from work- to keep it interesting. My grandmother advised that I eat a variety of foods, “otherwise your intestines will get bored.” Such snapshots are enshrined in writing, woven through journeys of streets, workplaces, mountains, waterways, shops, and kitchens alike. Documentation becomes the abiding record of the journey.
discovery and treasure
Discoveries and treasures are authenticated by words and images. They are joined to our living histories. Collected gems remind us of where we’ve sojourned. And the returning individual is always- even subtly- changed by the travel, however humble it may have been. Ah, but to embark upon a journey of taking pictures and taking notes, some preparation is needed. Depending upon the extent and mode of transit, basics include notebook, pencil, pen, and camera. Then there are peripheral reinforcements such as extra ink, a sharpener, a tripod, a spare ribbon- when a typewriter is along for the ride. A few books, too: with every retreat, I bring The Cloud of Unknowing. When writing ideas are jumbled, that means it’s time to read. If I’ve just begun a new journal, I bring along the previously-filled volume. Our own words can also be worthy companions. A portable book or two and a pocketable Bible go with every adventure- even an average workday. This is simply to be prepared; provisions must not anchor. After all, some room must be left available for found treasure.
commerce and collegiality
joon of new york
Although I brought sufficient sustenance for the journey, an enjoyable side of traveling is the ability to try new wares. New York has some great sources for the adventurous writer. In this era of anonymity, with the banality of big-box, it is refreshing and heartening to listen to experts in their retail fields knowledgeably discuss their wares.
My friend James works with the great folks at Joon of New York. Recently, James and I have been animatedly chatting about... ink. Yes, ink. But James’ descriptions of inks resemble those of a wine connoisseur. Our common ground is in the use of the tools- and our love of the written word. After regaling James about blue inks I’ve found through my travels, he offered some suggestions of his own. Blue shows especially well against warm-toned paper (just as sepia does with cooler and whiter tints). The boldest blue inks tend to be too thick for fountain pen use, and thus I’ve found two favorites for dip-pen writing: Daler-Rowney indigo- which I bought in Canada, and Winsor & Newton royal blue- from Bob Slate’s in Cambridge. Both are perfectly opaque, but their content would destroy the conduits of pens with plumbing. Fountain pen blue inks look weak and watery, compared to the pigmented calligraphy inks, and the best compromise I’d found was Aurora’s blue- bought in Maine. James patiently and jovially brought out a variety of blue inks, referring to saturation and boldness.
Sampling the Mont Blanc royal blue, which has the solidity of Aurora- though nicely on the violet side, I settled on this as the found treasure for the road. The moment James brought out the Mont Blanc bottle, I immediately thought of the Rocher Percé, which is in the peninsula region in Canada called La Gaspésie.
Below: the massive Percé rock in Canada. To get a sense of how enormous the rock formation is, have a look at the photo I took below my long shot immediately below. I took the bottom photo during low tide; notice how tiny the people look!
Later in the week, I stopped in at Arthur Brown- another favorite purveyor that has kept me armed for the battle for a long time. Art Brown has a dizzying variety of journals- along with writing and drawing materials. No less than three of their brilliant salesmen brought out looseleaf books of ink sample swatches, and we pleasantly talked shop as though we were in a hardware store in New England. One of the gentlemen talked about the coverage of types of inks. “You can’t really compare pigmented calligraphy ink to fountain pen ink,” he observed. “Imagine pouring toothpaste out of a drinking glass, or dispensing water from a toothpaste tube.” He gave me some great pointers, but they will wait until I’ve emptied my new supply of Mont Blanc. Indeed, as the abundant opportunity presented itself, I purchased a few journals, adding to my found treasure for the road.
libraries and museums
Below: Tiffany ink-wells (and yes, that's a gold pen) at the "Met."
Beyond sources for artisans’ materials, large cities offer immortal works of art to reward the souls that seek them out. For the purpose of this writing topic, it will have to suffice to mention that sharing the Metropolitan Museum with ancient manuscripts and artifacts are enormous chambers filled with classical paintings, sculptures, and numerous extended structures to house the best-of-the-best of fine art. I call the Met “the Louvre of the western hemisphere,” and treat it as such: visits are targeted to specific sections, thus avoiding sensory-overload. Amazement remains inevitable, particularly among the Rembrandts, El Grecos, and Holbeins.
pierpont morgan library
Downtown, and a few blocks east of the New York Public Library, is the stately Pierpont Morgan Library. The Morgan has always been my favorite New York museum, with memorable shows such as Beatrix Potter’s original illustrations, Degas’ and Ingres’ sketches, music manuscripts of the great composers (including the original handwritten Messiah of George Frederick Handel), and their unforgettable exhibit of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s manuscript- with the watercolor illustrations- of Le Petit Prince. My introduction to the Morgan was through their William Henry Fox-Talbot show; with wide-eyes, I marveled at the glass-topped table displays of the first-ever photo negatives with their companion paper contact prints. Their collections, largely focused on paper-based works pre-1800, include medieval illuminated books and- not one, but three Gutenberg Bibles (1455).
Below: Since photography is not permitted inside the Morgan, I sketched Charles Dickens' travelling ink well. The ink well is included in one of their current exhibitions called "Dickens at 200," which is filled with manuscripts. The ink well has a glass chamber with a silver lid, and it pivots into a wood frame.
new york public library
Reminding us that we are always upon our way, whether close to home or far afield, waystations are integral to the voyage. The French word relais explains this well, referring to a temporary place of rest. “Une étape entre deux points,” is a stage (as in a milestone, or a landmark, or a stopping-place) between any two points. If conversations, exhibits, and long walks represent reading, the waystations represent writing the connections between jots. We determine our relais, and- I hope- when they are favorable or necessary. These are the counter-forms among our typographic symbols. When the occasion arises that an étape can be along 5th Avenue, I can gladly recall such places when my midweek coffee breaks take place on the Portland waterfront. This surely works vice-versa, as my senses longed for Maine while I peered out for water views between the office buildings in Manhattan. With treasures to write with and upon, there is a winter for me to eagerly embark upon- and more anticipated travels.
(a little further reading, "blue ink and blueberries.")