It's all about the written word...

Celebrating three years in publication. Thank you for visiting often!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

This has nothing to do with pens...

I was in Rhode Island last week, and a very wonderful friend of mine who is also a pilot offered to take me out for a short flight from North Central Airport in RI to Bedford, MA. We’d planned this trip in advance, and I think my palms started to sweat from the moment he invited me until we landed several weeks later. He’d set our meeting up as a flying lesson wherein I’d actually be in the pilot’s seat with him beside me. After being reassured numerous times that he could control EVERYTHING from his side of the plane and override EVERYTHING I might do wrong, I said I thought it sounded like fun.

It was a gorgeous late spring day, and we commenced all the safety checks. We peered under the body, we checked the fuel level in each wing, we examined the tires, and we even played with the pitot tubes. The only thing I really screwed up at that point was placing my head inside the propeller field (I can’t remember the technical term for this, but it reverberated as stupid-ass in my head), which is a real faux pas, even if the plane isn’t running. I think I asked too many questions, in part because I was stalling and in part because I found it fascinating…and I listened intently, since I was gonna be in the pilot’s seat. I loved takeoff. What a rush. Whether it’s in a commercial jet or our Cessna Skyhawk, there’s nothing quite like feeling the wheels lift off—that moment when your usual perspective of the world changes by the second. I also really loved all the pilot talk—a very exacting language that probably appeals to me because I am an editor or maybe because everything sounds sexier through a headset. My feet were on the pedals (so happy I could reach them) and my hands were on the yoke (some might call it a death grip) throughout the trip, though I did learn that it’s preferable to fly one-handed to keep the other free…for nail biting, I figured. What a great way to sense the very subtle art of piloting.

My friend kept assuring me that a plane, above all, wants to fly. Our job was simply to help it along. Thanks, Al, for helping it—and me—along.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sneak a Peek

Visconti and Online, both distributed by Coles of London, shared an oversized booth at the National Stationary Show in NYC in early May. And both brands are showing lots of new products for the coming season. Visconti’s centerpiece was its highly popular Homo Sapiens collection, crafted from lava rock. But I also got a sneak peek from Roberto Sacchi (pictured with David MacDougall of Coles), based in Florence, at a new fountain rollerball pen, coming soon and priced at $145. It comes with a converter as well as seven cartridges and one spare rollerball tip. When I saw it, the pen was yet to be formally named.

In my opinion, Online is a great brand. It combines German engineering (the company is based in Neumarkt) with really fun and fashionable styles. There’s lots new coming from Online in the coming months—pens and leathers—many in fashionable shades of cream and brown. Watch for the new Cruiser capless rollerball and sketch pencil. Also watch for line extensions in the Business line, the Flip, Vision, Piccolo and Crystal Inspirations. Sneak Peek: the Extend will be coming out next year, and it does just what the name implies. Photo: Online principals Thomas and Alexandra Batsch with Mark Cole of Coles of London.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010 New York City?

We Texans (whether by birth or by circumstance) sure love our barbecue. I feel like a traitor as I write this, since I grew up on the East Coast and teethed on all kinds of seafood. What, lobster—AGAIN? But, I’ve been in Houston long enough now to really salivate over a good hunk of meat cooked to perfection on a barbecue grill. It’s an art form unto itself, and it requires rubbing, basting and slow (as in hours) cooking. In fact, now that I think about it, it’s quite a complicated process. Fish doesn’t need rubbing. Anyway, I was delighted when my daughter, Emily, and I were invited by George Kartsotis—president of Retro 51 and also a Texan—to join the gang at Virgil’s in NYC last week. It’s a quintessential barbecue restaurant, and I enjoyed some of the best comfort food—ribs, beef and chicken—I’ve ever had. The talk, of course, turned to pens and the National Stationery Show (the reason we were all in NYC). Nice people. Great time. Watch for some really creative new products coming from Retro 51. It’s sure to be a blockbuster year for the Dallas-based company.

Friday, May 21, 2010

I love New York

I had fun at the recent National Stationery Show at the Javits Center in NYC. While there weren't a whole bunch of pen companies exhibiting, those that were there showed some great stuff. Trends? Affordability (which usually includes steel- rather than gold-nibbed fountain pens--not a bad thing!); see-through areas on the barrel to show ink level (I like this, since ink color then becomes part of the aesthetic of the pen); and classic colors: white, black, off-white, taupe and brown (can this be ascribed to the Hemline Theory of the economy?). Both Delta (Titanio collection) and Stipula (Model T) showed titanium nibs, which are somewhat flexible, durable and less expensive than 18-karat nibs and more exotic than steel. More details and pictures to come...

Friday, May 14, 2010

The incredible Dragon by Grayson Tighe

I’ve known Canadian pen maker Grayson Tighe for a numbers of years (though we’ve never met), and I’ve followed his career almost since its inception. What I’ve always found most impressive is his quest to challenge himself—and his fans—with new materials and art-quality designs. If you are familiar with his work, you already know that he uses such non-traditional materials as titanium, meteorite, stainless steel damascus, mokumé-gané, and coral, as well as sterling silver, 18-karat gold and precious stones. His latest one-of-a-kind creation, crafted from stainless steel, is the Dragon Desk Pen. It was a collaborative effort with artisan Jose de Braga, who is responsible for much of the detailed figural work. According to Tighe, stainless steel is difficult to work with, so difficult, he says, “I probably won’t use it again…it’s hard on the tools.” The upside of the material is that the pen, while amazingly hefty in appearance, is relatively light and meant to be written with, according to Tighe. The base is embellished with crystal, creating an elegantly cool counterpoint to the powerful figure of the dragon that spans the length of the pen. This incredible piece took over 200 hours to complete and is now in the hands of a European collector.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

For the love of pens

Some of my possessions have become touchstones that guide and sometimes even mirror me. Take pens, for example. My collection is reasonably large—mostly contemporary—and I’ve amassed it over a period of 20 years or so. I remember when and where I was when I became the owner of just about every one, and this has created a very personal and tangible timeline of sorts wherein I can chart my changing tastes, budget, interests and even my own personal growth (or lack of, in some cases). In viewing my pens this way, I can even spot some of the synchronicity in my life: a certain pen led me to a certain person (or place) who had some impact on me. I contemplated all this while at the recent Chicago Pen Show…

On Friday afternoon of the three-day show, there was a memorial service for Chicago pen collector and Renaissance man Mike Fultz. I think Mike led many of us to pens whether we even knew it or not. He was a somewhat shy and reserved Everyman, and if he could quote year, model and make of just about any pen you put before him, he made me think that perhaps I could, too. My life is better having known him, and pens are what paved the way. On Saturday, I attended a wedding—also at the pen show—officiated by Joel Hamilton. The nuptials of Lisa Hanes and Brian Anderson were held in the same room where they first met at the Westin O’Hare several years ago. It was their love of Esterbrook pens that first brought them together, and pens as a shared interest will undoubtedly play a part in their future. It was a small and heartfelt ceremony with many members of their families—as well as lots of collectors—in attendance. The cake was good, too. On Sunday, the only day the show was open to the public, I had a wonderful time re-connecting with subscribers and pen makers and being grateful for this work. And I even acquired a few more pens, their provenance now firmly locked in my psyche. The world keeps spinning, but I guess if you follow what you love, it more often than not illuminates the way.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Kindercone is for kids

Having grown up in a Greek-American household, tradition was—and still is—a big part of my life. As a child, it seemed there was a tradition for everything. I loved the one for cracking Easter eggs, where we’d run around smashing the colored orbs, one on the other, each time shouting a Greek phrase, the meaning of which I haven’t a clue. I hope it was something Easter-ish. The winner with the unadulterated egg was promised good luck for the coming year, but if your egg got cracked in all the mayhem, it was anybody’s guess what could happen. Then there was the spitting tradition, which many of you already know if you’ve ever seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Now it wasn’t a real spit, but rather just a symbolic little puff of air. We’d puff on new babies, brides, new cars—you name it. If luck was what you wanted, three rounds of symbolic spit supposedly never failed. And no one in his right mind would dare test it. There are, of course, many other traditions (see Lamb 101: A member of all five food groups), each adding its own unique shade to my life.

Northern Europe, on the other hand, is much more genteel than its gregarious neighbors to the south. It, too, has a variety of traditions, though none, to my knowledge, involves smashing or spitting or the vagaries of good luck. One such tradition about which I recently became aware is the Schultüte. In Germany and Austria, families present their child with this gift on the first day of first grade: a colorful paper cone filled with gifts, treats and school supplies. The cone is hung on the outside of the child’s bedroom door the night before school as a special surprise. Vivian Lie, who was born and raised in Munich and now lives in Chicago, has made it her mission to bring this lovely tradition to the US, thus she founded KinderCone in 2008. Each 28-inch KinderCone is handmade in Germany from recycled paper, then filled with a variety of small gifts, including a journal, plush toy, pencils and more.

I met Lie and two of her four beautiful daughters a couple of weeks ago, and she is a passionate proponent of this tradition, which, she says, makes the first day of school a very special event. In Europe, many adults still have their Schultüte, which they have saved as a treasured memento. I think KinderCone is a great endeavor, since it emphasizes the importance of school, writing and creativity. Lie and I lamented over coffee the fact that children in the US are not allowed to use fountain pens in school. In Germany, the Schultüte would most probably include a Pelikan student pen.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Fashionistas need not apply

When I posted the poll, “I use fountain pens because…,” a couple of weeks ago, I really didn’t know what to expect from the results. I figured the data I collected would be skewed any way you look at it, since it seems to me that this blog is most interesting to people who have more than a passing interest in pens and writing. But you never know. Anyway, here’s how it ended up: 82 percent said they use fountain pens because, “They write well.” This was followed by, “I’m a collector,” at 11 percent. “They look nice,” and “They’re fashion statements,” tied at 2 percent. So here’s to all you fashion illiterates out there. Score another one for quality fountain pens and the people who love them.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Meet me in Chicago

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Chicago for the pen show was dinner with Theresa Patton last Friday night. Theresa is the owner of TT Patton, a wonderful pen and stationery shop in Barrington, IL. I’m not quite sure we can call it a tradition yet, but we’ve done pretty well in getting together for the past several years while I’m in town. This year, we chose to eat at the Capital Grille, not far from the site of the pen show: the Westin O’Hare in Rosemont. Even after a long day at the shop, during which Theresa hosted a writing workshop and author Allegra Huston ("Love Child/A Memoir of Family Lost and Found”) and after my long day of travel, we still managed lots of good conversation, many laughs and an overzealous peppermill-wielding waiter. Next time you’re in Chicago, treat yourself and visit TT Patton. I recommend the lamb at the Capital Grille. Hold the pepper.