Thursday, 28 April 2011

Stationery Store Series: Evripidis in Athens, Greece

One does not expect to come face to face with a Mont Blanc fountain pen peering proudly from within a glass display cabinet in a stationery store in Chalandri of all places. Chalandri is one of Athens’ northern suburbs. It has got some of the features of the Greek metropolis: narrow pavements, higgledy-piggledy urban planning and an overabundance of cars. But inside Evripidis stationery shop where said Mont Blanc resides there is order and peace and tranquility. 

It is only a couple of days until the Orthodox Easter, a great occasion for the native folk, and the shops are full with festive candles and chocolate eggs but there are only a few people buying – Greece is at economic dire straits and who really cares about stationery? And so the Mount Blanc will be probably gathering dust for the foreseeable future. But enter Evripidis and be tempted: Mont Blanc, Cross, Waterman, pen trays and cases and in the basement paper goods to feast the eyes on.

Evripidis stationery shop is the child of the four-storey bookstore which is situated in a small alley nearby. The bookshop was founded in the mid-1950s by Evripidis Vasilopoulos. It offers today a comprehensive collection of books and is a pleasant venue for book browsers and coffee drinkers. The stationery shop is a much smaller affair. The basement is dedicated to paper goods, notebooks and folders of various sizes, pens and some art supplies. There is Moleskine and Clairefontaine but also a Greek well-known range of notebooks and diaries called Epi Hartou ( Επι Χαρτου) and range of notebooks made by Salko, a Greek stationery company.

Purchases of the day: Two GreenLine notebooks, from Salko’s eco line; one ledger-style notebook 20x30 cm, 50 pp, by Salko; three lined Epi Hartou notebooks;; one classic Clairefontaine in pink; one blank notebook with brown pages by Stoiheio Publications (obscure); one gridded paper notepad by Ordinary Stationery (unknown). In Evripidis, The Bookstore, around the corner I found a vintage-like notebook made in the style of a Greek office receipt pad and two lined notebooks featuring covers of an old childrens’ favourite comic “Gaur Tarzan”.

Looking forward to testing my notebooks.

Left: Two lined notebooks from Salko's eco line, no. 2 and no.3; Middle: a blank notebook with brown pages by Stichio; Right: two lined notebooks by Epi Hartou.

Ledger-style notebook by Salko

Vintage-style lined notebook in the style of office notepad

Evripidis stationery shop:

Andrea Papandreou 8, 152 33 Chalandri
Books can be bought online but sadly no paper goods. Some pens though. Check out Evripidis online shop.

If you would like to have the small grey Epi Hartou notebook, please leave a comment below. A name will be chosen randomly on Tuesday, 3 May. I shall post internationally.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

First Manned Orbital Flight and Yuri Gagarin's Pencil

All sorts of things went wrong before the world's First Manned Orbital Flight performed on 12 April 1961 by Yuri Gagarin. The door of the spacecraft went wonky and had to be repaired; Gagarin's spacesuit was found to be too heavy and engineers had to strip away part of the Vostok's  internal apparatus to compensate and caused a short circuit in the process; the spacecraft blasted to 203 miles instead of 143 due to a fault in an engine. Well, it's a miracle Gagarin made it.

But Gagarin's mishaps were not over.  When he reached orbit the cosmonaut looked for his journal "to experiment with weightlessness." But darn it and confound it - the journal floated back to him without a pencil! The pencil which should have been attached to it was floating somewhere in Vostok in zero gravity and he couldn't find it. The opportunity of the humble pencil to make history was lost.

(Gagarin reached for the voice recorder but it soon run out of tape!)

A few months later Soviet cosmonaut Titov boarded Vostok II, well aware of the pencil mishap. He took the notebook labelled "Log Book of the Spaceship Vostok II" and with exaggerated care made sure that the pencil was indeed dangling from it and was securely fastened: "Yuri Gagarin did not attach his pencil firmly and lost it," he remembered.

New declassified archive documents on Gagarin's first orbital flight are published in a book in Russian on 12 April, see "How Yuri Gagarin's historic Flight was nearly grounded", The Guardian, 6 April 2011; "Vostok: Dawn of Human Spaceflight" in; "Russia: I am Eagle," TIME 18 August 1961. See Gagarin and his pen (photo signed with fountain pen ink).

Apparently it is an urban myth that the Americans spent millions building a pressurized gravity-free biro, while the clever Russians just used a pencil. Using a pencil carried the risk of the tip breaking off and getting into the cosmonaut's eyes or noses, or causing damage in electrical devices. See the forum discussion here.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Writing in Prison

They put me in isolation at first, in a three-paces-by-three-paces cell. I was lucky – once upon a time it had held 12 people. After two weeks I was transferred to the kitchen. That really saved me. Then I, and other prisoners, started writing. We wrote on soap wrappers and toilet paper, and hid the pencil lead in our kinked hair.
Jack Mapanje is a Malawian poet and academic arrested in 1987 by the government of Banda. He was released from prison in 1991 and is currently a visiting professor at York St John University.
Free at Last and they all own their lives to Amnesty, The Observer, 3 April 2011.