Confessions of a graphomaniac.

Doctor, dear doctor, help me for I’m a graphomaniac. Yes doctor, I love paper. I adore the smell of the thing, the muffled noise of a pencil running on a smooth sheet. In a nutshell, doctor, I love writing. I feel the need, no the urge, to put my thoughts on paper. Doctor, I even have a favourite pen (Uni-ball broad black, made by Mitsubishi in Japan, and to think I was sure they only made cars). I’ve also got a favourite pencil (Staedler Norris HB2). I own two laptops, I can get OneNote on my mobile: yet, I can’t do without pen and paper. I sketch my presentations and plans on a Waitrose Essentials pad, before I commit them to the eternity of PowerPoint or MS Project. It’s bad, I know.
Actually, doctor, do me a favour. Don’t help me. I’m perfectly fine as it is, going through a pad every quarter, sharpening my pencils and losing rubber erasers at every corner. In facts, now that we’re friends, doc – mind if I call you doc? – why don’t you ditch that iPad of yours and get a notepad? Notepad and fountain pen doc, they’ll give you a certain je ne sais quoi. People love it, I’m told.
I plunged into graphomania in my early teens, thanks to two, unrelated, events that happened one summer. Must’ve been 1995, or 1996. Who knows. Enter event one: a book, which I think I pinched from my brother, about the Vietnam war, the title long forgotten. A passage mentioned how the NVA soldiers all loved writing, and carried small booklets, normally bound in red cloth, or oilskin, to which they confided dreams, stories, letters and poems. Whilst the concept of poetry was lost on me – perhaps I’m too prosaic to appreciate it – the idea of having a personal notebook was something I could relate to.
Event two happened the following year, and was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. One specific scene of that film captured my imagination, and it wasn’t Elsa’s death, or the adventurous chases in the Venetian dungeons: it was, of all things, Sean Connery’s notebook. See, Connery, who played Indy’s father, had a notebook, a black thing held close by an elastic, bulging with flying papers, covered in notes, yellowed by time, filled with exquisite drawings and containing God knows how much wisdom. Ah, to have something like that in my pocket!
Notebook, in Italian, is taccuino, to be pronounced with a hard c, as if it was a k, and I became hell-bent on possessing one. The price was about 10,000 Lira and let me tell you that, when you’re eleven, that’s some serious dough, especially if your only income is granted by squirrelling away the loose change off a 2,000 Lira ice cream cone. Still, one day, having gathered the necessary funds, I marched to the bookstore of the village where we lived at the time, appropriately named Livres et Musique. Back then there was only one choice, or so it seemed to me. It was a rather serious black taccuino, ruled or plain, its angles dull and a folding pocket for loose papers. The Moleskine.
In the intervening twenty years things changed – price, for starters, or a shift in preference for the soft-cover plain version – but the equation taccuino=Moleskine always held true, at least for me. Each and every one would have its pages numbered with a sharp pencil, like Chatwin suggested (and I don’t even like the guy). With time, though, the purpose of a taccuino evolved. What set out to be a recording of impressions and notes, to be jotted down quickly on the road, lest I forgot them, morphed in the repository of the first draft of all my blog posts. Talk about Lean processes.
Then, roughly two years ago, the idea. Why couldn’t I use a Moleskine to write down some notes on what was useful, interesting or good to eat? After all, I carried the thing in the back pocket of my trousers anyway. It followed that, in order to find all this treasure, I needed a map where, unlike what Indy said, X always marked the spot.
I’m not very good at drawing. I suppose I lack the basics, a good understanding of prospective: whatever it is, I know that whatever I’ll draw will be asymmetric, too baroque on one side and barren on the other. Caravaggio would definitely headbutt me, or worse. Still, the idea of drawing my own maps, of forging my personal guide, was too good to pass on.
Faithful to the old adage “Don’t run before you can walk”, my first attempt was comically simple. A one line, describing the coast of South-West Sri Lanka, and another to define our itinerary. Then a step too far, a map of Nuwara Eliya that I found mildly pleasing but utterly useless at navigating through the valley.
I hastily returned to the very basics, with a simple sketch of our journey through the Pamirs.
Uzbekistan was a challenge. How to depict the riot of roads, alleys and catwalks that made the centre of Samarkand, Bukhara or Tashkent? Draw a grid, I told myself.Draw a grid, use a pencil, sharpen it often and focus on what’s important. But for a few wrong turns, it worked well.
Beirut was next. Here precision was fundamental, especially in Hamra. Roads had no names, or if they had they were known with others. Nicknames, nom-de-guerreor prominent buildings. To hell with proportions, what mattered here was the number of junctions, of roads, so not to miss our hotel at night.
And so here we are today. New maps are ready for use, a lot more than ever before. Some are utilitarian, sketches with the same beauty of a skip filled with old furniture; other are more aesthetically pleasing; will their artistic flair match their usefulness, come September? I guess that only time will tell.

This post is dedicated to Magdi. After all, it was your idea. 
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26 Responses to Confessions of a graphomaniac.

  1. Anna says:

    Love it! I love paper too! Still carry a daily diary, still can’t bear to buy a kindle, still bring a travel journal on every trip. I’ve just bought my daughter her first travel journal for our upcoming trip. Nothing beats paper!

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Well done! I, too, don’t quite see the point of a Kindle. You read one book at the time, so why having 100? Where are you off to, if I may ask?

      Like

      • Anna says:

        We are off to Nice/Monaco to visit hubby’s brother who is studying at the oceanographic institute in Monaco, then over to Madrid to visit some Peruvian friends who now live there. Miss 6 is super excited to meet her cousins for the first time!

        Liked by 1 person

      • awtytravels says:

        Sounds like fun! Enjoy, and if you can have a look at Marseille, please do, the Mucem (Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée) is brilliant, as well as is the city. Personally I think it stands head and shoulders above Monaco or Nice.

        Like

  2. Dave Ply says:

    You may claim to not be good at drawing, but compared to me you are a Caravaggio. My drawing approximates what you’d see from a 6-year-old on his Mother’s refrigerator.

    I do, at least, have a small notepad I use to record impressions of each day while on longer trips. That’ll be feeding a new set of blog posts in a few weeks…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yay, hand-drawn maps, these are awesome! Thanks to our previous discussions on the matter, I now can’t bring myself to publish a post if it doesn’t have a map on it.

    I too am thorn between the Moleskine and OneNote, and between the pen and the stylus.

    – Verne

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Thanks Verne! I have to say, yours are beautiful in a way that mine can never be!

      Like

      • You’re too kind! What I often find challenging on hand-drawing maps is getting to a scale and shape that are even vaguely accurate.

        I remember once seeing a street artist drawing a perfectly proportionate basketball player by starting by the tip of the foot and working his way up. That guy would draw some killer maps 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • awtytravels says:

        Whoa! That guy seriously has some skills. I’m also in awe of those cartographers of times gone by. Think, for instance, at those who mapped the coast of Australia, or Brazil… There they were, bobbing along on a ship that was little more than a glorified washtub, tooth loosened by scurvy, and yet they did some marvels.

        Like

  4. lexklein says:

    I’ve always liked Verne’s maps and yours are really good, too! I’m very much a map person and a pencil, notebook, get-it-down-on-paper person, so I have a little collection of these things also. I’ve always thought about incorporating them into my writing but never got beyond the fleeting notion! I’ll just enjoy yours.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, this is what I’d call neat. I’m tempted to show my notebook-diary-planner-quotation gatherer that I used to love keeping. I might take some photos of it but then you will all know what a mess my brain is. Whereas yours, as we can plainly see, is tidy. Alas, I’ve only got my blog now.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. J.D. Riso says:

    I’d call these treasure maps. The treasure is in wandering the lines you scrawled from your imagination, who cares if they match reality. I hope you keep these forever as mementos.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Absolutely love your maps! I always keep a travel journal, but are rather envious of those who can add sketches to theirs. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. James says:

    I think you’re being modest, Fabrizio – even your earliest maps betray an artistic flair. There is something wonderful about the simplicity of the Sri Lankan coastline as you’ve drawn it. And it looks completely proportional to me. Have you heard of the website “They Draw and Travel”? It has a fabulous collection of illustrated maps that might inspire you to take them to the next level. Of course, only if you want to start drawing buildings and scenery and possibly even food as well. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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