Monday, September 19, 2011

Entry 173 9.20.11

Entry 173, September 20th, 2011, 12:39am (GMT +2)

I was rereading Bruce Chatwin's “The Songlines” today (because that's what you do when you work on a ship – you read every book you own, you read them again, and then you read them a third time) and came across a bit he wrote about moleskin notebooks.

In France, these notebooks are known as carnets moleskines: 'moleskine,' in this case, being its black oilcloth binding. Each time I went to Paris, I would buy a fresh supply from a papeterie in the Rue de l'Ancienne Comedie . . . Some months before I left for Australia, the owner of the papeterie said that the vrai moleskine was getting harder and harder to get . . . The manufacturer had died. His heirs had sold the business. She removed her spectacles and, almost with an air of mourning, said, 'Le vrai moleskine n'est plus.'”

I glanced across my lap to the cabin desk where my own moleskin sat, a little black book bound with an elastic band and filled with travel notes taken in preparation for my little European junket. I had found it in a Barcelona bookshop that wound back from the street like a catacomb; room after low vaulted room filled with books organized in haphazard fashion. I'd found this book stowed in an old roll-top desk with countless brothers and sisters.

Something tickled my brain. I picked up the book and started leafing through it. A little pamphlet fell out, entitled “The History of the Moleskin” in about twenty different languages. Lo and behold, it began with a quote: Bruce Chatwin's discussion of the moleskin from “The Songlines,” repeated word for word there on the paper.

What are the odds?

Bruce Chatwin, by the way, was a professional traveler and gifted writer, possessed of a narrative voice that cuts like a crystal blade through one story to the next. This particular book, “The Songlines,” is a hilarious and heartbreaking account of his journey to understand the system of songlines that bind together Aboriginal culture in Australia. It's a search for a culture that has been almost totally destroyed . . . but more on this tomorrow. I hear that he died in Nice, France, and since we're in Cannes tomorrow maybe there's something to see . . .

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