Moleskine: A Love Affair?

Moleskine Large SketchbookIt seems that every sweeping epic seems to have at its core an equally grandiose love affair. Perhaps it's the two lovers who embrace in the failing flames of a sunset, maybe it's the hero who --for a greater good-- watches his heroine walk away, or (dwarfing even the legends of Tristan and Iseult) it could be the undying affection of one whose heart breaks at the mere hint of being forced to live --nay, merely subsist-- one day without a Moleskine notebook.

Forgive me, Father. I have a confession to share, and I'm rather ashamed to admit it. It's this: after all the talk of the wonders of Moleskines on this and many other paper-loving productivity blogs, I --so far-- have been Moleskine-less. I'd read about the cherished notebooks, the solid feel of the bindings, the somehow erotic joys of spreading ink upon high-quality stock, and I'd feel ... lesser. The love affair of those enthusiastic people with their little journals had thus far eluded me, and I wondered if my heart would ever truly be whole. (I can say this without fear of reprisal from my wife, knowing that she, as an artist, coveted one as much as I.) Hemingway, Matisse, Chatwin, Van Gogh -- how could I ever measure up to these giants without one of these precious objects to assist me?

And then, a few days ago, a package arrived in the post from my good friend and former colleague Carolyn Campbell (a comrade-in-arms during a disasterous dot-com incident from whence nobody emerged a victor). The size, the shape, the weight... could it be? My fingers tingled and my heart palpitated as I unwrapped it and saw my first-ever glimpse of the infamous black oilcloth cover, bound by elastic strap and brightly-coloured band. It was not only my first Moleskine, but it was the first one I've ever seen in real life (I did mention I live in the middle of nowhere, right?): a large (5" x 8.25") sketchbook with a hundred thick high-quality pages perfect for artwork. This little shrink-wrapped package was one of the first presents I've had that actually halted my breath and sent my hands into clumsy little spasms of delight as I carefully peeled off the wrapper.

Medieval European tales of chivalry lectured us that the truest love was unbidden, unconsumated, and intensified by distance or unattainability. Once the forbidden fruit was tasted, its favour was quickly lost, and the tree that produced it would began to wilt. We're all familiar with this: how many times have we seen a beautiful object in a shop, or caught the aroma of an unknown dish, or met an attractive person, and --upon "obtaining" it or her or him-- quickly found the expectations unrealised, the intrigue dispelled? The object vanishes into a box in the attic, the dish is overlooked on a menu, and the person educes but an awkward hello or a vague smile and nod of the head in a crowded mall.

So I now have the Moleskine on the desk before me as I consider this. I feel the texture of the pages, snap the elastic around the book, run my fingers over the cover and wonder if it's real oilcloth. I examine the little ribbon bookmark, read the "in case of loss" inscription inside the front, and open up the little accordian folder in the back. It's a quality product, no doubt, an item beautiful in its quality yet practical in its usage.

Then I read the the included pamphlet "The history of a legendary notebook," which sports six languages, hinting at the notebook's international appeal. I read it in French, for some reason... I'm guessing it's because I hear the calling of a higher culture. The four paragraphs evoke the romanticism of the product, tell of the closing of the last manufacturer of the journals ("Le vrai Moleskine n'est plus" -- the true Moleskine is no more), relate its seemingly miraculous rebirth via the hands of a Milanese publisher, and close with a trumpet-calling to chase the wonders of the world: The adventure of Moleskine continues, and its still-blank pages will tell the rest. Giving more weight to its romantic heritage, it mentions past users of the product, including Van Gogh, Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and Bruce Chatwin.

Now, like a wary lover finding lipstick or cologne where it shouldn't be, I pause and wonder. In this case, it's because of Hemingway. It seems that the company's basis for claiming Papa in their marketing literature is his essay about writing in a café in Place Saint-Michel, which appears in his post-humous collection The Moveable Feast. However (and my copy is hidden in a box somewhere, so I can't verify this), I seem to remember that the mention was made only of a generic notebook. Van Gogh did use something that looked like a Moleskine, but there's no mention of name --or even country-- that I've been able to find. (Journals with straps to keep them closed weren't exactly exclusive to the Moleskine name or brand.) The travel writer Bruce Chatwin definitely mentions Moleskines, but unlike the other writers and artists, I had barely heard his name until the Moleskine marketers began to associate it with their product -- yes, let my ignorance of travel writers be known. (A little digging at the Beeb's h2g2 will tell you a little more about these and other claims.)

But does this diminish the product in any way? No, I think not. I worked with a marketing company, and I'm aware of the importance of the spin. I look beyond that, as long as the product measures up in some way.

In Carol Reed's film noir masterpiece The Third Man, half the movie is spent building up the character of Harry Lime, a dearly departed friend, lover and villain both revered and despised in post-war Venice. When he finally appears, briefly, as a fortuitous glimpse of Orson Welles illuminated in the doorway of a deserted night street, we know that this film will either rise or fall based upon how the character satisfies the build-up. Because of the quality of the script, direction and Welles' performance, the film soars.

So, does the Moleskine live up to the perceived hype, regardless of how the marketers spin its heritage? Once you have one in your hands, will you let it sit atop your desk a little while and then toss it in a drawer, or will you adore and champion it?

And with that, I'll let you draw your own conclusions. However, for my part, I shall now be found haunting places like Moleskinerie and MoleskineArt.com, and thinking up pet names for my sweetheart.

(Uhm, yes, dear... of course I meant you....)


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Hooked ...

Hee hee hee. I knew it would get you in the end, Doug ... :-)

--
Neal | http://porkpop.blogspot.com/

Lovely writing

I had to smile when I read your post (which I found via Lee Hopkins). Although I do not own a moleskin notebook, I have given several to fellow writers as gifts. I suppose I should buy myself a gift. They do feel marvelous in the hand.

Inevitable

Exceptional writing, all the elements and style in precision balance, a joy to read...thus it seems to me inevitable that the union of writer and moleskine would occur...the humble honesty of the moleskine ,balancing zen-like purity of function with the beauty of simplicity, and the artist who caresses then selects each word with the cool ardor of the painter selecting the right brush. How could it not be?
My best to you and to all who pass this way.

I like them. Too much. I'm

I like them. Too much. I'm afraid to start a new page. So it's useless to me. I went back to index cards after a week.

I know the feeling. I also

I know the feeling. I also went back to index cards for the same reason, and now I'm wondering what I'll use the precious black little book for. Whatever I come up with, it must be worthy!

hemingway

I just read A moveable feast and I think Hemingway did not use Moleskines. He mentions a "blue-backed notebook", so unless there were blue moleskines in the past he must have used something else. But I think this does not diminish the value of the moleskines in any way

This is not your Father's Moleskin, dear writer.

I was enamored of the mystique and was compelled to buy one myself after my second, or was it third, viewing of "Finding Forrester". I liked the idea of carrying the "vest pocket sized" book anywhere and everywhere to jot down juicy tidbits and contain these future pearls with the elastic strap. I had been using a cheap tiny cow-colored Mead notebook. But now, I could channel Hemingway!

For a week it was bliss. Overhear an interesting conversation? Jot it down. Hear a great name for a protagonist? In you go. Recipe for a new salsa? O.K., there's room.

Then, the pages started falling out. Then more pages fell out. I folded them up and tucked them in the handy manila pocket in the back of the book. Then the strap would no longer fit around the book because I had so many pages folded and shoved in it.

I then went online to their website only to discover that the Moleskin name had been bought by some printing company who has been producing the books in the same tradition (i.e. cheaper knock-off quality) as the Moleskins of old.

Eeet Loooks Mahvelous. But after redrafting the fallen pages into the few remaining pages left in the book, I sadly quit the book.

Keep it unopened and unused on your desk and live with the romantic notion that, if you were to use it, you to would be channeling Hemingway.

I haven't heard of many

I haven't heard of many people with this problem. Paper makers and their sources come and go, and the original moleskine may have been sturdier, but so far all my pages are intact. I adore the heavy smooth paper for sketching and painting, but haven't tried the other books in the line. I plan to keep these books for a life time.

I haven't been able to find historical reference to Van Gogh using a moleskine. (The company says there is one in a museum in Amsterdam if someone has been so lucky enough to have seen it in the flesh, and can confirm that the book shown in a photo is one and the same.)I did find mention in one of his letters about buying a sketch book made with high quality dutch paper, and wondered if that was a moleskine.

No matter, the dream is enough for me, and the love affair is alive and well.