Penman No. 248: Ring in the Old

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Penman for Monday, April 24, 2017

 

 

IN A GENERATION preoccupied with newness, it’s a refreshing surprise to find young people engrossed with things far older than themselves, and that’s exactly what Beng and I stumbled upon a few Saturdays ago when we entered Warehouse Eight on Chino Roces Ave. in Makati. There was absolutely no hint of it from the outside, but going up a flight of stairs, we stepped into a large room filled to the brim with antiques—typewriters, watches, cameras, bicycles, turntables, vinyl records, books, eyeglasses, and, yes, pens!

This was the Istorya Vintage Appreciation Fair, an event organized by entrepreneur and collector Lennie Dionisio (whom I’d never met before, so had the temerity to ask “What’s your day job?”). I’d come to show some of my vintage pens, of course, but I made a beeline for a tableful of Lennie’s fabulous vintage typewriter collection—a passion she shares with another friend of mine, George Mamonluk. I proudly showed off a picture of my 1922 Corona 3 which I’d found in San Francisco and hand-carried home—if you get a high from inhaling typewriter lubricant, you’d be my kind of person. But the piece de resistance of Lennie’s spread wasn’t even a typewriter but a lovely Adana letterpress machine of the kind that I’d been dreaming of, for hand-printing pages of poetry on paper you could run your fingers over and feel every word.

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It was that kind of vanished romance that tingled in my bones as I looked over the exhibits (most items in which were for sale), elated by the discovery that they had been brought over not by doddering seniors like me but by a new crop of millennials who actually knew how to use a Rolleiflex TLR or a Sheaffer Snorkel. Quite a few even came over to the booth we operated for the Fountain Pen Network-Philippines, asking to see how flexible nibs and lever fillers worked. There’s hope for this generation yet!

For about a decade, Beng and I used to indulge our mania for the old stuff on our October sorties to New York and its fabulous flea markets and thrift shops (that’s right, I’d save up the thousands for the plane fare so we could poke around looking for $5 bargains in dusty piles of bric-a-brac). Those fun times may be over as our knees themselves turn vintage and as our budgets dry up, but with local shows like Istorya popping up, who needs Manhattan? I can’t wait to see the next edition of Istorya and to step back into the land of the lost.

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THERE’S ANOTHER way of bringing the past into the present, and that’s by remanufacturing old classics into new and modernized versions that exude vintage charm but perform with almost digital precision.

I was reminded of this last month when our friend Celia, who shared our footloose ways with her late husband Rene, introduced me to a very interesting pair of locally-made grandfather clocks. I have a small trove of vintage wristwatches, mostly from the 1950s, that I manually wind up every few months or so—and I have to admit to a clock fetish in that I’ll likely have at least two clocks in one room so I can see the time wherever I look—but I have yet to acquire my first grandfather clock.

I’ve seen quite a few of these in homes and museums abroad, and what’s fascinating about them is their imposing size and that deep, sonorous chime they produce to announce the hours.

Apparently, according to Celia, there’s a company out here somewhere that makes several models of grandfather clocks, following the tradition of furniture artisan Simplicio Adriano, a Pampanga native who started his craft in 1911. The company is called SAFM, and it’s now managed by Simplicio’s great-grandsons Alfred and Francis.

I’ve yet to visit the factory, but Celia tells me that a seven-foot model they call the RAGA 70 has a chain-driven, Westminster chime movement that strikes every quarter and every hour. The movement is made by Hermle of Germany, considered the leading clock and clock movement manufacturer in the world. The cabinet is made of Philippine hardwood and comes in mahogany, dark walnut or light walnut finishes.

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If tall clocks and loud chimes float your boat, text or call the manufacturer at 0905-2765288 or email adriano.grandfather.clocks@gmail.com.

 

A FEW years ago, I had the pleasure of giving the keynote speech at the Iligan National Writers Workshop at the MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) in Iligan City, and I’m happy to see that despite all the odds it’s had to face, the workshop is moving along just fine and will be holding its 24th session from May 29 to June 2 under the stewardship of stalwarts Christine Godinez-Ortega and Steven Patrick Fernandez. Co-sponsored by the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA), Iligan is an important hub in the national network of workshops designed to encourage new young writers in all languages and genres.

Eighteen writing fellows from all over the country have been selected for Iligan. From Luzon come: Poetry (English) Bernard Kean Mappala Capinpin; (Filipino) Joey Alcones Tabula and Vanessa Anne Joice Tanada Haro; Fiction (Filipino) Lenin Carlos Macaraig Mirasol; and Drama (English/Filipino): Fatrick Romo Tabada;

From the Visayas: Creative Non-Fiction (English) Eric Gerard de la Cruz Ruiz; Poetry (English) Andrea de Guzman Lim and Gay Josephine Valles;  (Sebuano) Hannah Marie Ramirez Aranas; and Fiction (English): Nino Augustine Masa Loyola; and

From Mindanao: Poetry (Filipino): Delfin Hingco Mundala; Loi Vincent Caparos Dériada; (Sebuano) Mildred Eran Garcia; Creative Non-fiction(English): Silvana Erika Nasser Navaja; and Drama (English/Filipino) Kwesi Ian Jay Miguel Junsan.

This year’s Boy Abunda Writing Fellow is Waray poet Reynel Mahilum Ignacio; the Ricardo Jorge S. Caluen Writing Fellow is Sebuano poet Kim Ashley B. Escalona; and the Manuel E. Buenafe Writing Fellow is Maranao poet Alican Mendez Pandapatan.

I haven’t read these young writers’ works, but the mere idea of, for example, someone continuing to write Maranao poetry in this global century is heartwarming. That probably won’t happen in Diliman, which is another good reason why a homegrown workshop in Mindanao is absolutely necessary for the enrichment and preservation of our national culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Penman No. 84: Pens & Inks

Penman for Monday, February 3, 2014

A YEAR ago, I wrote a piece for this column titled “The (ink and) paper chase,” where I talked about how obsessed some people get with finding just the right paper to write on, fussing over paper color, texture, thickness, and (important to us fountain pen users) feathering and bleed-through.

The last two factors have to do with how tightly the paper’s fibers are packed; the looser they are, the easier it is for ink to spread and scatter through the paper—not a good thing if you’re trying to write a legible letter. This is why ballpoints and cheap paper make better partners—and a good thing, too, that they do, because most people have neither the time, the inclination, nor the loose change to play around with fancy pens and papers, let alone exotic inks.

But what if you did?

In that column last year, I promised I would write a bit more about inks—the essential, indispensable companions of pens—but I never got around to doing it, at least until now.

Inks are the last thing people think about these days in connection with writing, except perhaps in respect of color, which invariably comes down to a choice among black (business formal), blue (a little more personal), and red (for marking something as “wrong!”). In my late father’s time—he worked as a clerk for a government office, so he used fountain pens regularly—you had the option of using blue-black, very likely as Parker Quink or Sheaffer Skrip, and it’s a color I came to associate with my dad, which is why I keep blue-black as a staple for one of my pens.

The fact is—before fountain pens underwent a kind of renaissance in the 1990s more as a fashion statement than as a clunky writing instrument, followed by a plethora of designer inks—there was a wealth of inks available to the discerning public. You could get them in green, purple, brown, pink, orange, and so on, in brands long vanished such as Carter’s, Sanford, and Stephens’, aside from the in-house inks of the major pen makers such as Parker, Sheaffer, Waterman, Montblanc, and Pelikan. There was also a lively competition among these makers in terms of packaging, specifically in labels and bottles (Carter made exceptionally pretty labels), and the bottles have now become highly collectible on their own, some with their vintage contents intact and still usable after 40 to 50 years.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. How did ink get its start, anyway? At the advent of writing, ink was made from soot or lamp black mixed with gum (says my trusty guide, The Fountain Pen: A Collector’s Companion by Alexander Crum Ewing); red ink was made from vermillion. In medieval times, the quill pen called for a more fluid ink, and this came from tannins culled from vegetables, converted to gallic acid, then mixed with ferrous sulfate (get that?), resulting in a blue-black iron-gall ink, which you can still procure these days. With the steel-nibbed pen (which acid corroded) came inks made with chemical dyes, which also led to an explosion of color.

“The range of ink available by the 1920s would bewilder many people today,” noted Ewing. “It is estimated that the German firm Pelikan alone produced 172 different types, colors, or bottles of ink. There were inks for writing, for drawing, for accountants (which could not be erased), for hoteliers (which could be erased) and so on.”

Which leads me to my first admonition about inks, lest I forget: never put India ink (like Higgins) into a fountain pen; it’s meant for calligraphic and technical pens, and will surely clog your fountain pen’s feed (the part of the pen beneath the nib that conveys the ink), possibly requiring repair. Use only ink clearly meant and often marked “For fountain pens.”

I used to say that I was a pen, not an ink person, in that for the longest time, I limited myself to four basic colors: black, blue, blue-black, and brown. I’m nowhere near becoming an ink fiend—some people collect basically just the inks and couldn’t care less about the pens—but over the past year, I’ve found my desk getting more crowded and cluttered by an invasion of ink bottles, in such sacrilegious colors as Diamine Oxblood and Rohrer & Klingner Alt-Goldgrun (more on these esoteric varieties later). In the ink department, I’m a novice compared to many of my confreres at the Fountain Pen Network-Philippines (at least one of whom, Los Baños-based Clem Dionglay, runs a globally recognized blog on inks, papers, and pens). Ask a newbie question like “What’s a nice bright blue ink?” and you’ll get a dozen responses within minutes (on fpn-p.org), answers such as “Pelikan Edelstein Topaz!” or “J. Herbin Bleu Pervenche!” or “Noodler’s Baystate Blue!”

Ah, Baystate Blue…. Many pen folk swear by it, but I’ve never used it myself, for a couple of reasons: I hate bright blue, and BSB (as it’s called, like LSD or MSG) has been notoriously known for staining if not eating into some pens, like vile acid. Some people love flirting with danger, anyway, in the quest of the perfect color.

That quest, of course, is what keeps the ink companies alive—companies that might as well be manufacturing precious wines and perfumes: Noodler’s, J. Herbin, Iroshizuku, Diamine, Private Reserve, Rohrer & Klingner, De Atramentis, and so on. These are no longer your basic Quink and Sheaffer inks that you can buy (and why not?) at National Bookstore. They’re specialty inks, selling on the average for something like P15 per milliliter, or P450 for a 30ml bottle. (To see a mindboggling assortment of these inks, check out a site like www.gouletpens.com, from where we order our supplies if we can’t get them from NBS or the pioneering Scribe Writing Essentials at Eastwood and Shangri-La malls.)

You won’t believe how exotic and even strange some of these inks are. Mahatma Gandhi would squirm if he learned that a 60ml bottle of his namesake ink—produced by Montblanc, in vivid saffron, of course—sells for $100 on eBay. There are inks with extravagant names such as Noodler’s Black Swan in Australian Roses (a lovely deep pink); Noodler’s even has an ink called Whiteness of the Whale, touted to be “invisible during the day, glows under black light.” Some inks are embedded with gold or silver flakes. De Atramentis makes inks that carry scents like apple blossom, or are actually made from wines like chianti and merlot.

And like fine wines and rare vintages, vintage and rare inks now command an audience and a premium. A few weeks ago, educated by online reading, I felt ecstatic to have located and landed two bottles of the now-rare, 1950s Sheaffer Skrip in Persian Rose on eBay for about $10; it’s a flaming pink ink, which makes it highly doubtful that I’ll ever write with it, but just ask the owner of that $300,000 bottle of Chateau Cheval Blanc 1947 when he’s going to take a sip.

Fountain pens come with all different nibs, nib qualities, and filling systems, making ink choice both a pleasure and a pain for the penman (and penwoman). Snooty collectors prefer piston fillers like most Montblancs and Pelikans, but these pistons require patient flushing to get all the old ink and its color out before switching to something new. This is why I generally prefer everyday converters, which make flushing and ink replacement a breeze. To make things even easier, I’ve matched my favorite pens with my favorite inks, going mainly by color—a black pen gets black ink—so I don’t have to guess, when I pick up a pen or two to bring along for the day, what’s in it. And just for the heck of it, I took a shot of these happy combinations, which I’m illustrating this column-piece with.

And I can’t blame you if, after reading this frothy talk about pretty pricey pigments, all you want to say is “Hand me that cheap blue Bic!” 

(The inks and pens in the topmost pic are, downwards: Pelikan Blue-Black in the Montblanc Agatha Christie; Diamine Oxblood in the Parker Vacumatic Oversize; Rohrer & Klingner Sepia in the MB Oscar Wilde; Montblanc Carlo Collodi in the Conway Stewart Marlborough; R & K Alt-Goldgrun in the Onoto Magna; Pelikan Brilliant Brown in the Faber-Castell Pernambuco; and Aurora Black in the MB 100th Anniversary.)

Penman No. 28: Traveling with Pens

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Penman for Monday, January 7, 2012 

IT’S THE day before New Year, and I’m on my way to Kuala Lumpur with Beng for the last jaunt of the old year and the first of the new one. In my shirt pocket is a 1999 Parker Duofold Greenwich Centennial, a big black pen I’ve had for just a few days and which I’m putting through its paces; in my bag is a leather two-cigar case that’s transporting not Cohibas but two more Parkers—another Duofold, an orange International from around 2008, and a Vacumatic Oversize that goes all the way back to 1938.

I don’t even know why I travel with fountain pens. Lord knows how many valuable ones I’ve lost on the bus or in some stranger’s car, where it’s probably moldering under the back seat alongside an ossified wad of gum. (Probably the most valuable pen I lost, I didn’t even see. Twenty years ago, my grad-school friend Joe mailed me a pen in a box along with a book—I grabbed the book and threw away the box. “How was the pen?” asked Joe when I thanked him for the book. “What pen?” I asked. “The silver-filigree vintage Waterman that I tucked away in a corner of the box. It was meant to be a surprise,” Joe said. This was a couple of days after the box had gone to the dumpster in Milwaukee.)

It’s not like I write novels on the road, or write anything substantial, period, with my fountain pens. I have a thick pad of gorgeously creamy Clairefontaine paper at home, and all I ever write on it is “This is a Parker Duofold from 1931” or “This is a Bexley with a broad nib that I stubbed” or “This Waterman 52 flexes oh so nicely” and pages and pages of figure 8s. If I ever become truly famous, I suppose that pad of doodles and scribbles will be worth something to someone, but they’ll be disappointed if they’re expecting to find the first line of a new novel or some deep dark secret in it.

I keep that pad on my desk for whenever I get a new pen—maybe two or three times a month—for its ritual initiation: I’d write “This is a Pelikan M600 in tortoise” and see how the nib performs. I like my nibs broad, wet, and stubby, and if they aren’t any of these three (I do keep a few fines and mediums unmodified), I work on them with very fine 2500-grit sandpaper, finishing off the job with an 85-peso nail buffer from a Korean cosmetics shop (it always raises eyebrows when I walk into one of these mall shops and get three nail buffers all at once).

It takes care and patience, but there’s a lot you can do to improve the flow of ink in new pens, whose nibs will sometimes be “hard” writers requiring just a bit of tweaking to perform optimally. Beyond the flow, modifying the nibs themselves requires special knowledge and more than a dash of daring; I can stub or flatten nibs and make them write more smoothly, but it takes the skills and workbench of someone like my friend JP Reinoso to turn them into crisp cursive italics. For even more difficult jobs like straightening bent tines or adding iridium or tipping material to old nibs, we go to the best of the world’s so-called “nibmeisters”—people like John Mottishaw, Greg Minuskin, Mike Masuyama, and the now-retired Richard Binder.

But where was I? Oh, traveling with fountain pens. As I was saying, it’s something no one really needs to do these days. In fact, I also bring along a ballpoint or a rollerball pen for the inevitable task of filling out immigration and customs forms, especially those that require duplicate copies. (It was the necessity of the carbon copy, back in the ‘40s, that would eventually spell the death of the age of soft-nibbed fountain pens and the start of the world’s love affair with the ballpen or the “biro” as it was first called, after its inventor Laszlo Biro.)

A vintage fountain pen in your pocket might even spell fashion disaster inflight. Today’s air cabins are properly pressurized, and I should say that I’ve yet to have a pen burp on me airside and cause an inky bloom on my shirtfront, but there’s enough anecdotal evidence out there to suggest that not all pens or filling systems may be so well behaved. Conventional pen wisdom says that you fly with your pen either completely empty or completely filled.

Being a gambler, I travel with fully loaded pens. I might write a line or two with them on the road in my Moleskine notebook, but again it’s not the writing I carry them with me for—for that menial task, I have the trusty MacBook Air that I’m typing this piece on, in seat 7-D of our AirAsia flight. So what is it that I need to bring three pens for to an exotic destination like KL—where, ironically, I’m going to be picking up five more pens for friends from PenGallery (www.pengallery.com), one of Asia’s and the world’s best pen shops?

I suppose my pens are like the kids or pets I never had—and I know, I know, sometimes kids are better left at home, but you still want to know that they’re safe and that they’re where they’re supposed to be, and what better place can they be but right with you? I can’t possibly bring all of my dozens of pens along—I keep about nine or ten of them in the daily rotation—so I choose favorites for the week, and perhaps go for a mix of old and new, of ink colors (my staples being blue-black, which reminds me of my father’s writing, and oxblood, which lives up to its sanguinary promise), and of nib sizes (a fine or a medium for note-taking, a broad stub for signatures). A pen’s pleasures are both visual and tactile—the smooth curl of a line or a letter on the page, the feel of a precisely tuned instrument at your fingertips. Knowing that these pleasures are literally within reach, wherever I may be, gives comfort.

I like my modern Duofolds (a reprise of a classic design from the 1920s) because of their heft and balance, but I’ve taken the burgundy 1938 Vacumatic out of its 18-year storage and put it in my cup of daily writers after convincing myself that if I had a pen this precious but never used it, then I would have foregone one of life’s rarest privileges. (Yes, this is the very pen I found in Edinburgh in 1994 and which provoked the writing of the short story “Penmanship,” a desperate attempt to justify the impulse buy of the pen and to recover its cost.)

As you can see, I’m something of a Parker partisan, although I like and collect all kinds of pens, including the relatively inexpensive but ever-reliable TWSBI and Lamy. I have nothing against Montblancs—I have quite a few of them and treasure one of my 149s for its ability to write a sharp wet line even after weeks of being left unattended—but I remind my corporate and lawyer friends that there are other fine pens out there without a white star on the cap, such as Pelikans and Sheaffers, and they don’t all come with five-figure price tags. (Try Scribe Writing Essentials at Eastwood Mall and the pen counters at National Book Store for more options, or join our pen club at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/fpn-p/ for more information and great company.)

Speaking of vintage pens, I found a couple of noteworthy ones just before Christmas in an antiques shop in Quezon City. I had taken Beng out to lunch at a Japanese restaurant and right beside it was Siglo, which we hadn’t visited in ages. There under glass were two pens that had been waiting all that time for me: a 1920s Waterman safety pen inscribed “Conchita”, and a 1947 Parker 51 once owned by a “Julian T. Navarro.” Some pen collectors don’t like these personalizations, but I’ve never minded them, taking them as provenance and proof that these once were more than objects for someone’s collection.

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Like I told another collector-friend, I see myself much less as an owner than a caretaker of things that will pass on and give delight to someone else, and hopefully revive some tender memory of me. I have no way of knowing who “Conchita” was, but thanks to the wonders of Google, I was able to locate the obituary of Julian T. Navarro, who was born in the Philippines in 1907 and who died in California in 2003. He had been a war veteran, and then a contractor, and would have been 40 when he got the Parker in 1947—a man just approaching his peak at the end of a devastating war. I can just imagine him writing with that Parker, its now heavily tarnished gold cap gleaming in his hand. What hope and optimism would have flowed out of that pen.

I suppose that’s why I bring these babies home, and carry them around with me wherever I go.

KRIP YUSON already wrote the literary tributes I would’ve offered for the late Emy Arcellana and Jerry Araos, so let me just add my fervent sympathies to the families of these dear departed friends. Their lives enriched and brightened ours, and they will be much missed. Beng had visited Jerry just a week or two before the end, and he had told her, “I want to go home.” And so he did.

Flotsam & Jetsam No. 11: Pen & Inkwell

ALMOST AS soon as we landed in New York, Beng and I ran off to one of our old haunts, the Sunday flea market on the Upper West Side. These were my two neat finds: a Waterman 412 1/2 PSF fountain pen in silver filigree from 1915 (still a bargain at $150), and a brass inkwell, in dire need of restoration but a pretty piece (at a pretty price–$10!).

Flashback No. 1: Another Pen Story

Since I’ve opened this new blog with very little in it yet, I thought I might as well fill the wait between my weekly Star columns with selected reposts (or, in some cases, just posts, since they’d never been posted before) from columns past—from Penman, which began in the Star in 2000; Barfly, which ran in Today from 1994 to 1999; Man Overboard, from Men’s Zone in the early 2000s; T3; and Manileño from Filipinas magazine from 2003 to 2010. So here goes.)

Penman for August 21, 2000

FOR PHILIPPINE Star readers who may not know me from my earlier incarnations (no offense meant to the Gautama; the only thing Buddha-like about this Butch is his midsection) and who may be wondering about the column title, “Penman” refers both to a story I wrote a few years ago, “Penmanship,” and to my long and abiding fascination with old fountain pens, about a hundred of which I’ve collected over the past 15 years.

Most of these beauties from the 1920s up to the 1940s came from antique fairs and garage sales in the American Midwest, where I lived for a few years, and from more exotic nooks and crannies such as a backstreet pen shop in Edinburgh and a sidewalk vendor in Saigon. Some I’ve received as generous gifts from friends (a clutch of Parkers and Sheaffers from Franz Arcellana—pens he actually wrote his stories with—and a breathtaking Japanese maki-e lacquered pen from poet Jimmy Abad).

Now and then—say, after a few months without adding a new-old pen to the trove—I satisfy my urges by getting one on the Internet or, less often, by taking a deep breath and paying full price at the local mall (although I once found a very nice pair of new Parker Duofolds selling at practically half-price in a department store in Cebu). Still even more rarely, I’ve come across some astounding bargains in my own backyard—an antique stall in Ermita (a Montblanc 146 and a much-sought-after 1959 Sheaffer PFM V for P650 each), and a stationery shop in Binondo (a rather uncommon Parker VP for P350).

Never mind what these names mean, if you know or care nothing about pens: just think of them as exquisitely lovely, useful, and—to some people who collect them for more than aesthetic reasons—quite valuable objects, some which have sold at auction for over $10,000 (no, that’s not your grandfather’s Wearever or Esterbrook, for which you’d be lucky to get enough for a movie and a hotdog sandwich). I have an awful suspicion that most of the good pens we must have once had in this country—any colony with a highly-literate bureaucracy should have been swimming in a sea of blue-black ink—would have long had their gold nibs pulled and melted down in the smithies of Meycauayan to make someone a pretty trinket or a gleaming incisor.

Imagine my surprise when, last weekend—on one of those trips to the mall where the sleepy-eyed husband gets deputized by the wife in resolute quest of a wedding present—I strayed into a tiangge stall selling the usual santos and hardwood benches and spotted, in a corner of a glass case, the unmistakable flat-top cap and gold pocket clip of a 1920s pen. I asked to see it, and my hands shook as I confirmed that I was holding a near-perfect example of a Swan Eternal No. 48, a huge fountain pen as fat as a cigar (it’s a boy thing, this pen envy) in a gold-trimmed rosewood finish and the biggest nib you ever saw, a No. 8 (most fountain pens, by comparison, sport nothing bigger than a No. 2). The patent date on the clip said “Jan. 19, 1915” although the pen itself was made, according to my trusty references, between 1924 and 1929. Hallelujah! But first I had to ask, in a dry croak, “How much?”

The man behind the counter consulted a woman who was doing the books. “Five hundred,” she said casually. I felt faint: P500 for a fancy Bic may be outrageous to you, but if they had ten of these and I had P5,000 on me I would have bought them up and retired on the profits. The pricing also told me that the sellers had probably found the pen among other effects in a large estate (you had to be very rich to own an accessory like this in the late ’20s) and had, themselves, paid very little if anything for it; many old pens come as bonuses to buyers of many-drawered antique cabinets, or even of cigar boxes, where they tended to be kept and forgotten.

I forked the money over. The man hesitated and my heart skipped a beat. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but we don’t have a small box to put it in.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” I managed to say, taking full and final possession of the Swan and sticking it into my pocket, where I was certain that God Almighty had always intended it to belong. Surely, there was more than a touch of justice here. How many times, during my months in England, had I revisited and salivated over the fabulous pens on Portobello Road, going home to Norwich with little more than a jar of bagoong and a packet of Chippy from the Filipino food store at Earls Court? Just how many of the half-dozen Pinoys who can tell a Swan Eternal from a Rubber Ducky stumble into one, in a mall buzzing with Nokia ringtones, and get to bring it home for the price of a phone card?

I treated Beng out to a lunch of noodles and siopao and proudly showed her my prize find. She herself prefers to pick up old blue and ruby-red bottles, but has developed a grudging respect for and even some expertise in my objects of choice—once spotting, at a cowshed fair in Ohio, a circa-1930 lapis-blue Parker Duofold Junior which I bought for $5 and later traded for my first Montblanc. “It’s gorgeous,” she agreed, “but you should have asked for a discount.” Spoken, I suppose, like a true shopper.

But this wasn’t shopping, Beng. This was serendipity, for which I can only thank my lucky stars and, yes, you, for dragging me out of my Sunday-morning stupor to find kitchenware for newlyweds.