Posts Tagged ‘butch dalisay’

pop goes the world: choosing the light

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 28 April 2011, Thursday

Choosing the Light

My first “Pop Goes the World” column came out April 29 last year, and was about David Byrne’s “Here Lies Love” rock opera on the life of Imelda Marcos.

Has it been a year already? Time speeds by at maximum velocity when you’re enjoying yourself, and writing these pieces do count as fun.

I initially envisioned this column as touching upon matters related to cultural studies, and over the past year I’ve opined on a wide range of topics – the serious, such as the BP oil spill and the trifecta disasters in Japan, and the personal, on the multiculturalism of my sister and children and on relationships.

Do they all have to do with culture, though? Yes, because culture is the context in which human activity is embedded. You can’t throw a stick without hitting something to do with culture, which in its broadest sense has been defined as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group,” or, as I’ve read  elsewhere, “the way we do things around here.”

As a social constructionist, it’s interesting to see how different people create their societies based on mutual agreement, notwithstanding the opposition of any vociferous minority that may exist, since the majority prevails – unless we’re talking dictators (a minority of one), and that’s a whole ‘nother thing entirely.

“Far Side” cartoon by Gary Larson here.

We can see the construction of culture within our society happening before our very eyes. An example? Jan-jan’s “macho dancing” on Willie Revillame’s “Willing Willie”. I wrote in a previous column about how I deemed it obscene for a six-year-old to be made to gyrate in that suggestive manner on national television.

After it was published, I got several comments saying, in effect, who was I to judge what was lascivious or not for a young boy to do and where to do it, and that different people have different tastes and just to let each other be. “Live and let live,” they said.

In my not-so-long-ago youth, such a dance would never have made it on TV. Such a dance would never have been taught to young children. Such a dance showing the sexualization of minors would not have been tolerated in the wider society.

Now, however, it is disconcerting to read how a great many people see nothing wrong with Jan-jan’s teary performance, with his parents even suing the sundry people who have taken up the cudgels for their son and others who might be exposed in a similar manner in the future.

Our culture is changing before our very eyes, even as you read these words. For better or for worse?

The good thing is that in this society, we still have a choice. We can choose not to allow our own children to be sexualized prematurely by not teaching them suggestive dances and by not exposing them to such activities. We can choose not to watch “Willing Willie” nor any other show Revillame may be on. We can choose to create a better life for ourselves and our loved ones.

The sad part is that when our culture changes around us, there is no way we or our children won’t be affected somehow, eventually.

But we can try, and rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

Since this is still a free country (more or less, the last time I looked), I will, within my jurisdiction as a parent, pro-actively shield my children as much as I can from what I personally consider negative influences. That means a block on Internet porn sites and no shows featuring Willie Revillame.

I will encourage my children to read more. We started way back when they were toddlers, when I read Dr Seuss aloud to them, which resulted in both my girls being able to master diphthongs in 24 hours. This was followed with childrens’ classics such as “Alice in Wonderland”, and we memorized the hilarious poem “Jabberwocky” as an added bonus. Right now they are into Eoin Colfer and other young adult books – no “Twilight” in our house, thankfully.

The John Tenniel illustration of the Jabberwock.

I will take them to more art exhibits and book launches and other similar events. Last February we saw the paintings and multi-media art of Bea Lapa, Chris Dumlao, and  Rebie Ramoso. We also nearly got Neil Gaiman’s autograph the last time he was here but were turned off by the long lines, something we regretted after.

I will take them regularly to Baguio, where creative self-expression is a part of many residents’ lives. I was up there the week before Holy Week for the 50th UP National Writers Workshop (as a Fellow for English) and was blown away by how vibrant and sincere the art scene there is.

As colorful Tibetan prayer flags flutter above them, 50th UP National Writers Workshop panelists and UP professors Dr Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Dr Gemino Abad, and Dr Jose Dalisay (back to camera) sit awhile at the BenCab museum cafe.

Anthropologist Dr. Padmapani Perez’s Mountain Cloud bookshop at Casa Vallejo, Upper Session Road, is the place “where your soles touch the ground, rumbling in your tummy, dancing where your heart pulses and your breath moves, filling the space between your ears,” as their slogan goes. It’s right beside Hill Station café, and you can move back and forth between the two, settling in the bookshelf-cum-chairs of Mt. Cloud with a coffee or beer from the café.

It’s a small place with a big heart – Mountain Cloud Bookshop in Baguio City. Books are not wrapped in plastic, inviting browsing. The bookshelf/chairs are cozy.

A view of the Mt. Cloud bookshop counter from the loft above.

I participated in a Poetry Slam event there and loved how welcoming and warm the audience and other contestants were. They will be having the third edition of that event in June – do go, and witness something special!

A quiet corner at Hill Station.

VOCAS on Session Road is where you will find food and drink with art and interesting interiors, and where a drumming session might begin – or not. There is no pressure to do, everything simply flows, and one goes with it, flowing in and out as moved by intuition and desire.

Inside VOCAS (Victor Oteyza Community Art Space).

It’s a good way to live, peaceful and meaningful, and I look forward to applying in Manila the lessons learned in Baguio. I choose to fill my life with art and books and love, because I have the right to live my life the way I want to, as long as I do not break the law.

I will create my personal culture while remaining a part of mainstream culture, an individual yet still Filipino to the core.

And as I celebrate my first year on MST’s op-ed page, I invite you to continue along with me on this journey together, as we explore more of Filipino and world culture and society.   ***

taste more:

the caswell has a phd in dance

This is officially the flexiest pen I have.

A Caswell black hard rubber with eyedropper fill, it comes from Prof. Butch Dalisay’s collection of vintage American pens.

Made in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, circa 1910-1915, this would have been new and modern around the Art Nouveau period, one of my favorite movements in art. Though the pen itself is simply adorned with geometric feathering all along the cap and barrel, its flexible Sanford nib, in a practiced hand, can recreate all the whiplash curves, ornate flourishes, and  stylized lettering of that era.

Ink: Private Reserve Burgundy Mist + Diamine Cerise; Journal: teNeues.

A heart-shaped breather hole  decorates the nib; it’s a common design element in older pens that helps date them. As an eyedropper fill – the hollow barrel itself contains the ink – it holds an inordinate amount of writing potion, perhaps the best fill system to accomodate its lavish gushing.

The nib bends and sways at the lightest touch, delivering lines that vary from eyelash-thin to broad Pentel-wide with just the right combination of ease and pressure.

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It’s amazing that this pen has survived for nearly a century. Simple in design and construction, yet well-made enough to withstand the rigors of use by many hands, the Caswell proves the functionality and practicality of many vintage pens.

taste more:

basic fountain pens 2: storage

Once you start sliding down the “slippery slope” (as University of the Philippines professor Dr. Butch Dalisay calls it) of fountain pen collecting, you will need accessories. You don’t just collect the pens. Or the ink. Or the fountain-pen friendly journals and pads. You also need the proper storage paraphernalia to keep your collection in.

Once you have a certain number of pens, you will find that you will tend to prefer some of them for regular use. The rest of your pens need to be stored properly to preserve their condition. Be sure to keep your pens away from sunlight, humidity, extreme temperatures (the freezer is not an option) and pests (mice, inquisitive family members). Some storage suggestions:

1. Pen boxes – These may be of wood, fabric-covered cardboard, or other materials, and look like treasure chests. Some have grooves inside to accommodate the pens, others elastic bands to keep them in place. Boxes are perhaps the safest kinds of storage.

2. Pen cases – these are available in leather, faux leather, vinyl, nylon, and fabric, and zip up all around. They have the advantage of being portable in case you want to bring your collection to penmeets. Some models have elastic bands only; others have both bands and tube pockets that go halfway up the pen.

A leather Conway Stewart 40-pen case.

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A velvet flap (left) keeps the pens separated from each other. Elastic bands hold the pens in place. The case is lined with velvet to protect the pens.

It is also important to find a good place in your home to keep your collection pen cases or boxes:

1. Shelf – pen cases and boxes must be placed out of reach of curious people who might play with your “pretty bolpens” when you’re not around.

2. Closet, drawers, etc. – a good option, as long as they are not too humid.

3. Home safe – perhaps the best place, especially if your collection runs to limited edition diamond-encrusted Mont Blancs, but the inconvenience in accessing your collection may prevent you from fully enjoying your pens.

In general, collectors are also users. Users may carry one or more of the following types of pens:

1. Road warriors – sturdy and reliable pens with firm nibs for general purpose use: note-taking,  sketching/drawing of diagrams and flow charts, and drafting of presidential candidacy speeches and pre-nuptial agreements.

2. Special purpose pens – pens with stub or italic nibs for addressing invitations and greeting cards in calligraphy; refillable highlighters or italic pens filled with highlighter ink.

3. “Play pens” – pens for doodling with during long boring meetings that require only half a brain for participation. These include pens with fancy nibs like music nibs for executing extravagant flourishes; “wet” writers with wide nibs that gush ink like geysers and allow you to appreciate the color gradations and texture of the ink; and flexible pens for practicing calligraphy and seeing how wide you can get the tines to spread before they deform.

These “daily pens” may be carried in your bag in smaller pen cases, of which there are many on the market:

1. “School” cases – these range from the plastic, cartoon character-adorned pencil cases of our childhood to modern nylon zip cases, all available at office and school supply stores.

2. “Corporate” pen cases – Fino Leatherware (Manila) makes beautiful leather pen cases, perfect for one or two pens. These are found in leather goods sections.

3. Fabric pen wraps – these have  tube pockets and ribbon ties to secure the scrolled wrap.

4. Specialty pen cases – these are designed with the collector and serious user in mind, and are available online or in pen shops abroad. One option that is sturdy and tends to reduce the rubbing of pens against each other is a smaller version of the large leather pen case.

It is important to remember when choosing a daily pen case to get one where there are loops or bands or other means to keep the pens separate from each other.

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A typical 12-pen leather case, closed.

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A leather flap on the right side keeps pens separate.

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There are two elastic bands per pen.

Whichever storage and carrying method you use, choose the one that feels right for you and works with the way you do and arrange things.

taste more:

basic fountain pens 1: beginner’s guide

Wella - a friend from college who turned 27 some weeks ago (*wink*) - asked me to write an introduction to fountain pens as she is thinking of getting into them as well. While I don’t feel qualified to write a definitive and comprehensive beginner’s guide about this interesting and complex topic, I can at least share my personal experiences.

To begin with, as a writer and aesthete of sorts, I’ve always been fascinated by things that make marks on paper - all sorts of writing instruments, typewriters, brushes, seals and rubber stamps – and the things that make the marks – ink, paint, seal paste, and so on.

Over the years, I became more interested in vintage and antique things over modern things because of the historical  and aesthetic aspects. I find a fountain pen with its gleaming, pointed nib more visually appealing than a ballpoint pen, and found my interest concentrating on FPs.

Fountain Pens in the Philippines

However, in the Philippines, where I live, there isn’t much of a fountain pen culture. According to older folks who are now in their mid-50′s and older, usage of FPs was prevalent in schools until they were in high school, when ballpoints became cheaper and more readily available.

A 62-year old friend of mine told me of he and his elementary schoolmates stabbing the nibs of their Parkers and Sheaffers into their desks when they were bored. They eagerly embraced BP use later on as FPs, he said, “leaked, and my mom would get mad when I’d come home with ink stains all over my uniform.” (Apparently he never figured out that if he didn’t have the habit of stabbing his pen nibs into desks, perhaps his pens wouldn’t leak.)

FPs were also de riguer in some Philippine law schools and in some accountancy programs until perhaps fifteen years ago, though there are still a few law schools today, like Far Eastern University, that recommend FPs to their students.

Still, in the mainstream, few Filipinos have even heard of FPs, much less used them. I first learned of FPs as a child through reading and movies; I don’t recall actually seeing an FP being used by anyone in my family.

In college, I finally got myself an inexpensive Parker Jotter from National Bookstore. All I did was go to the pen section, browse, and get something I could afford.

But it wasn’t until a couple of years back that my interest really grew, when the choices of affordable FP brands available in readily accessible malls and chain bookstore expanded. Fully Booked began carrying Inoxcrom pens; they were made of plastic with steel nibs, and had colorful and attractive graphics.

The pink pens are Inoxcrom from the Jordi Labanda line; the red FP is a Pilot 78G and one of the best starter pens ever, available online for about $12. All three have steel nibs.

Enter the power of the Internet. After blogging about the demise of one of my early Inoxcrom Jordi Labandas, I received an email from University of the Philippines professor Dr. Butch Dalisay inviting me to a gathering of FP collectors at his home, the first such meeting ever.

Upon meeting other collectors, I was exposed to more brands, kinds of nibs, modern and vintage pens, and a wide assortment of ink. The more I learned about FPs, the more I wanted to collect, and because of my newfound knowledge, I was able to discover what I really wanted, which are vintage pens, mainly 1930s Sheaffers and Parkers; pens with flexible nibs, whether vintage or modern; and Japanese pens.

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Vintage Sheaffer Balances. All are from the 1930s except the red Tuckaway in the center. I love ’30s pens for their Art Deco design, flexible and responsive nibs, and lovely celluloid barrels.

Fountain Pen Facts

You need to know that:

1. FPs differ from BPs in that they have nibs. The nibs come in a wide variety of types. Referring to the width of the line they lay down, there are the extra-fine (EF or XF), fine (F), medium (M), and broad (B) nibs. Some brands such as Pelikan carry double-broad and triple-broad nibs. The nibs of Japanese brands such as Pilot, Sailor, and Platinum tend to be ”one size smaller” – their M is a Western F, their XF a Western XXF, and so on.

Nibs come in gold, steel, and other metal alloys and are generally pointed in shape and have a ball of iridium on the tip for strength. But there are other shapes. Stubs are nibs with the iridium gone because the shape of the tip is flat across. Italics are pretty much the same but with sharper edges; they are used mainly for calligraphy. Obliques are cut at an angle.

Nibs may also differ as to whether they are flexible, semi-flexible, or firm. Modern nibs are usually very firm – “nails”, in collector parlance – since users most likely will have grown up as members of the BP generation. Some modern nibs are flexible – pens from Nakaya and Danitrio, and Pilot’s Falcon nib come to mind.

Semi-flex nibs give a bit of line variation – examples are the Pelikan M1000 and the Sailor Professional Gear -  but the best results in that regard may be had from true flex nibs. Many vintage pens, especially those from the ’40s and earlier, have flexible nibs because they were often made of 14K gold, and gold nibs tend to be more flexible than steel. In addition, antique pens were designed to flex to accommodate use of the Spencerian and Copperplate styles of handwriting.

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Two of my favorite flexy pens – a Moore vest pen, and a Sheaffer black hard rubber ringtop, meant to be worn by ladies around their neck on a chain. Notice the line variation with the Sheaffer.

2. FPs, unlike BPs, are refillable with ink from a bottle. For green advocates, they are a better choice as they are not disposable. Modern fill systems use a cartridge - a plastic tube pre-filled with ink is snapped inside the pen – or converter - also a plastic tube but with a twister-thingy that allows you to draw ink up through the nib. A converter is better since it is re-used over and over, but a cartridge can also be refilled using a syringe. Vintage pens have a variety of filling systems ranging from lever-fill, button-fill, etc. Stick to c/c (cartridge-converter) pens at the start for less mess.

Collecting Fountain Pens

If you would like to start a collection of fountain pens, you might want to:

1. Ask friends or family for their old fountain pens. Chances are there are pens gathering dust in some drawer or box somewhere, and your relatives and friends will only be too glad to pass them on to you.

2. Check out the fountain pens for sale at office supply stores. In the Philippines, try:

a) National Bookstore for the Parker Jotter, Vector, and other models that might catch your fancy. They also carry Aurora, Waterman, Inoxcrom, Cross, and Rotring. Inoxcrom make the most affordable kinds – plastic cartridge-fill pens suitable for children, or for anyone looking for a sturdy daily road warrior.

b) Luis Pen Store is the only fountain pen store in the country. Established in the late 1940s, it’s still near its original location on Escolta Avenue, Manila, near Sta. Cruz Church. There you’ll find NOS Parkers, Sheaffers, and Pilots from the ’70s, as well as newer models of those brands and Cross and Mont Blanc. They also do FP repair, do engraving, and sell Parker Quink ink.

c) Office Warehouse has cheap and fun Schneiders – the Zippi and other models.

d) Fully Booked carries Inoxcrom.

e) Office supplies stores in Recto, near the university belt, carry NOS (new old stock) Pilot Japanese pens from the ’70s – terrific buys for their reliability and beauty, and the antique factor as well. You might also find Lamy pens.

Try checking fountain pen sellers online for modern pens, and eBay for vintage pens.

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Three 1940s Parker Vacumatics with their pretty striped celluloid barrels; a Parker 51, iconic for its hooded nib; a Parker 45; a (restored) Parker 75 Milleraies, the pen that started my collection; a Parkette; a red Esterbrook; and a gold Wahl set of refillable pencil and fountain pen.

3. Research online about fountain pens and join collectors’ forums. Wiki has this informative article on fountain pens. Check out Fountain Pen Network and join the Fountain Pen Network Philippines Yahoo! groups. For more information and pictures, visit Leigh Reyes’ blog, My Life as a Verb; Thomas Overfield’s Bleubug; and Dr. Butch Dalisay’s Pinoy Penman.

Getting Started

Getting started is easy. Just go to your favorite pen place and get the pen that you like best that you can afford.

I’d suggest you start with something inexpensive  – say, a cartridge-fill Parker Jotter or Vector with a steel nib – to get used to the nib and the way it lays ink on paper, which is different from the way you’d use a BP. FPs need very little pressure to lay a dark line (this is assuming you are using dark ink), whereas for BPs, you have to press hard to achieve  a darker line, making FPs terrific for writing for extended periods. In addition, FPs don’t score the back and succeeding pages of your notebook, unlike BPs.

You also need to find out what width of nib you prefer – F, M, or B? Get an inexpensive one of each kind, or try them out in the store first before buying. Testing an FP is done by “dipping” – dip the nib for a few seconds in ink, and doodle on paper.

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A Lady Sheaffer from the ’70s; various Pilots, including a Pilot E Script pen, a Pilot 77 from Luis Store in Escolta, a teal Pilot from Recto, and a red Pilot 78G from Shanghai; an orange Sailor Professional Gear Colors; and Japanese long-shorts from the ’70s – a Sailor, a Pilot, and a Platinum.

Don’t forget to buy bottled ink! Available in Manila are Parker Quink, Waterman, and Aurora inks (at National Bookstore). Online, look for J. Herbin, Private Reserve, Noodler’s, Diamine, Caran d’Ache, and Pilot, especially their Iroshizuku line.

And as you become more enamoured of using FPs, you’ll also need to look for “fountain-pen friendly paper”. (Fully Booked has a nice assortment of Moleskine, Paper Blanks, Grand Luxe, and Miquelrius. For local brands, Corona and Cattleya are great – smooth paper, won’t snag your nib, no ink feathering.) Happy hunting!

taste more:

an unusual sheaffer

In the beginning was the box.

And the box was good.

Lo, inside the box was yet another box.

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And within the second box reposed a thing of surpassing beauty.

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Verily, verily, I say unto thee, mine eyes have not beheld such in this lifetime, yet perhaps in the ages to come, shall another come forth to amaze and astound.

Of exceedingly rare and wondrous beauty it is, its outer skin of silver like the burnished wings of a dove, likewise patterned intricately in gilt, its point of gold.

Yea, unless mine eyes deceive me or my knowledge be false, its sharp nib is of the type named Triumph by its makers, created of the finest fourteen-karat gold, encircled by a band of azure, its section of ebony black, marked with mysterious symbols that none but the enlightened or adept may comprehend.

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And it came to pass that it was delivered into mine hands by a man enamoured of horse racing, Jowell Tan, as an heirloom of his house, to cherish and uphold as a singular specimen of its kind. Unto him I give thanks and unceasing gratitude, and so wilt my descendants unto the tenth generation.

Yet its true name is unknown. Unless one shall step forth and say “It is called thus,” or another, “Nay, this is the name and provenance of it,” I shall call it after the style proposed by mine wise and venerable teacher, the Rabbi Butch, who bestowed upon it the name ”the fishscale Sheaffer”.

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Though the mountains fall, and seas rise, and heavens crumble, my tongue shall declare to all its fairness; for it hath no blemish, from the tip of its cap to the tassie at the bottom.

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Not only shall its comeliness be praised, but its usefulness withal, for it writeth exceedingly fine, and taketh ink without leaks, and performeth as well as it looketh.

And therefore hath the Rabbi Butch proclaimed its condition “mint”.

Yea, verily it shall be my mainstay and my delight, and assist me in my tasks as a scribe. And success and impressive penmanship will follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in joy and continued employment forever.

taste more:

jose dalisay jr.: soledad’s sister

From the MacAir and bountiful imagination of novelist Jose Y. Dalisay Jr. come Soledad’s Sister, exploring the hardships that may be encountered by Filipino OCWs (overseas contract workers) and their relatives in the Philippines.

Shortlisted for the 2007 Man Asian Literary Prize, the novel, Dalisay’s second after Killing Time in a Warm Place, tells of the homecoming of “Aurora V. Cabahug” from Saudi Arabia – in a casket. It is the story of Soledad, who used her sister Aurora’s name to skirt legal issues and leave the Philippines to work as domestic helper. It is the story of her sister Aurora, who tries to solve the mystery of her sister’s death, while managing to lose the corpse along the way.

Written with sincere warmth and sensitivity, it is also a story that could have been a reality for any of the millions of OCW families who have sent fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers into the Filipino exodus to slave for foreigners to be able to keep their loved ones alive.

It reflects a facet of our society, that squandered its chance to be an Asian Tiger and is now relegated to being the world’s labor pool.

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On a personal level, as the sister of an OFW in Dubai, I see this story as my worst nightmare. My sister Aileen has worked for 16 years as a secretary in a land where no plants grow except by force, where they have no soil but sand, where water is more precious than petroleum. I fear for her safety every day. I pray for her health and happiness as she lives a life far away from her family. I wish that things would get better so that she can come home, and spend her days with us.

But as long as reality is manifest and dreams remain figments of desire, Aileen will work in Dubai until she can no longer, and I, and others who read stories such as Soledad’s Sister, can only reflect on the choices people make and the outcomes that may attend these choices.

Soledad’s Sister will be formally launched on 31 July 2008, Thursday, 4pm, at the Faculty Center of the University of the Philippines-Diliman. Dr. Dalisay will deliver a short lecture, followed by book-signing.

taste more:

ink in the blood

It was the first-ever, as far as we knew, meeting of fountain pen collectors in the Philippines – at least, of this batch of friends belonging to the online communities Fountain Pen Network and PhilMUG. For years, several of them had contact only by email or on online forums discussing their particular mania. On July 5, Saturday, in a peaceful home in UP Campus, they gathered with their pens and ink to meet and share.

Fountain pens are virtually unknown now in the Philippines – ask any person below the age of twenty and you’ll get a glazed stare – but before ballpoints came into being, in the 1940s to mid-1950s, FPs ruled.

I belong to this peculiar tribe for whom the process is as important as the end result. It is easier to write with a ballpoint, but nothing compares to the feel of a pointed steel or gold fountain pen nib sliding over the paper, laying down ink almost like a brush. The words seem painted on, elevating the mundane activity of scribbling notes into an art.

Older collectors remember using FPs in their youth, mostly Parkers and Sheaffers; for them, it’s often a matter of nostalgia and reliving the past. Younger enthusiasts are drawn to vintage artifacts redolent of a history they never experienced; for them, old is new and for that reason, desirable. Using FPs in this age of gel pens sets one apart. How many people do you know still use FPs everyday?

One of them is University of the Philippines professor Jose “Butch” Y. Dalisay Jr., PhD. Host of this penmeet, he is a multi-awarded writer of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, and screenplays. He has won, at last count, 16 Palanca literary awards. Perhaps a hundred or more pens reside in his pen cases and “junk box” (a red felt-lined wooden chest).

“Welcome to the first Philippine Fountain Pen Collector’s meeting!” Seated: Beng Dalisay, Carlos Abad Santos. Standing: George, Robert, Butch Dalisay, Leigh Reyes, Eliza, Pep, Jay, Chito, Butch, and Iñigo.

Another enthusiast is Leigh Reyes, creative director of  a prominent advertising agency. Her collection is unrivaled, containing premier brands Nakaya, Oldwin, Visconti, and Omas, to mention just a few.

I had met Leigh several times before, to acquire ink and vintage pens from her stash. The last time I saw Butch was in 1985, when I was a student of his English 5 class at UP Diliman. (He was one of my three favorite professors – the others were Dr. Michael Tan, anthropologist and columnist; and the late Rene O. Villanueva, also a Palanca-award winning writer and literary icon.) I received my invitation to this gathering from Butch. It seems he had Googled “fountain pen Philippines” or something similar and was led to this blog.

It was my first time to meet the others. After the initial frost had thawed, they welcomed me with genuine warmth into their circle, pressing pens into my hand to try, passing bottles of ink for my inspection.

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Pep says something to Caloy that makes him smile: Leigh examines a pen’s nib; others “test-drive” the pens lying around.

Beng Dalisay (Butch’s wife) is not an FP collector, but remembers using them as a young student. “We used Parkers and Sheaffers,” she recalls. An accomplished artist, she prefers watercolors as her medium. Beng also restores and maintains artworks in museums and private collections. “We will soon be working on the Botong Francisco mural in Manila City Hall,” she says. A collector too – of tins and bottles – she knows the fierce and often uncontrollable craving that can overcome a  true enthusiast, and nods indulgently as we debate stiff versus flexible nibs, bulletproof against water-based inks.

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Leigh answers a question while Butch roots through his mahiwagang junk box.

There is a particular etiquette in this culture that we instinctively practice, or it could be a result of years of “good manners and right conduct” teaching about respect for another’s property. It is this – that pens are passed to another person almost reverently,as if they were religious objects. If the pen is heavy, like Jay’s silver and tan herringbone patterned Faber-Castell, two hands are used to present it to another. Infinite care is taken when removing the cap – it could be the kind that screws on, and fie on the one who tugs! Pens removed from a case are, after careful use, returned to their proper slot or passed back to the owner. They are not left lying around unless by the owner himself. Ink bottles, too, are painstakingly opened; ink has a tendency to pool in the cap, and no one wants to spill a difficult-to-obtain twenty-dollar bottle of French-made J. Herbin.

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Iñigo watches Leigh write in her flowing calligraphy; Caloy surveys a feast of fountain pens.

At some point during the festivities, several of us pull out our Moleskines. Caloy asks Leigh to customize his with her elegant lettering. Elai and I clamor, “Mine too!” Leigh good-naturedly picks up a fountain pen loaded with light brown ink, and writes quickly, without hesitation. Our names, embellished with swirls and flourishes, float from the italic nib and lie like butterflies on the creamy yellow paper.

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Leigh’s pens, notebook, and inks; Butch smiles as he uncovers more pens.

“Jenny.” I hear Butch’s voice and snap to attention. “Sir?” My response is reflexive; he will have my respect as my professor no matter how many years have elapsed since we were in a classroom. He hands me a pen. “For you, since you were my former student.” It is a black vintage Sheaffer Balance dating back to the 1940s, he says. I melt. My hands close around the pen and I stammer my thanks.

Butch does not realize, I think, how special the gift is, how his sudden impulse has profoundly stirred me. Not only because he is famous, and it will be a treasured souvenir from a literary lion; but because he was my teacher, the gift is significant as a reminder of a shared past and a mentoring that deeply influenced my writing.

One blue-book exercise he gave us was to describe a peso coin. “Be more specific and imaginative when you describe something! Look carefully at both sides and write down all you can discern.” His instructions forced me to use not just my eyes but also the vision of the mind to explore objects and concepts, employing uncommon words to provide the reader a fresh experience. “Resist cliches!” he said, so since then I have avoided them like the plague.

Pens_galore

Part of Leigh’s carefully-selected collection includes fountain pens by Nakaya, Sailor, Platinum, Pelikan, Oldwin, Danitrio, Stipula, Visconti, Omas, and the ubiquitous Parker and Sheaffer. She also owns ink in a vast array of colors, with brands like Caran d’Ache, J. Herbin, Private Reserve, Noodler’s, and Diamine.

George talks about his other passion – collecting and restoring vintage typewriters. I lean forward to listen; anything that makes alphabet marks on paper is interesting. George speaks: “Royal, Blickensderfer, Underwood,” and Butch nods sagely.

I look around and see that everyone has ink marks – on their hands, forehead, temples. Leigh rubs my chin. “Ink?” I ask, and she smiles. Caloy has a streak of green on the right temple; George, on the forehead. Butch’s fingers are a riot of color, as are Jay’s and Iñigo’s. We are true FP fanatics, I think, the stains worn as an emblem of pride. No one tries very hard to remove the marks.

Penfriends1

Front: Leigh, Butch, Jenny; Back: Iñigo, Jay, Eliza, George, Caloy.

One by one the penfriends depart. Chito is first to go. Butch from Baguio follows, saying, “I have a long drive. See you again soon.” “When is our next meeting?” George asks, almost plaintively. “Next month?” Butch says, “How about in six months, or when we have something new to show?”

I ride to Katipunan with Caloy. A well-traveled intellectual who is a PhD Economics candidate at UP, he offers to share shipping costs from PenGallery if I order. We have just met; but the ink in his veins calls to mine and thus we are no longer strangers.

We all look forward to the next meeting, the next sharing of custom-ground nibs and the latest colors of ink that are “not black!” as Leigh says. Anyone who is enamoured of the same is welcome to join. May the tribe increase!

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