Discovered in a thrift shop last week. It’s not exactly a slide rule, although it resembles one. It’s a metric converter, and if the USA ever joins the metric world, these will be in high demand. Get one now while they’re cheap; only 8 Euros on Ebay! This handy tool does a great job and is accurate enough for most applications, unless you are in need of scientific accuracy. To underscore the historical significance of this gadget, the Smithsonian considers it worthy of a webpage. With one moving part, it should last several lifetimes. The sliding cursor is unnecessary, so I don’t count that.
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Those who have set foot on the trail that circumnavigates Mont Blanc – the TMB – will no doubt recognize the name of the otherwise obscure village of Les Houches, France, where the vast majority of TMB hikers begin their journey. We heard it mentioned most every day when we talked to fellow TMB hikers. There is a very excellent shop there by the way, across from the Bellevue cable car station, where you would be well advised to buy some cheese, bread and a few sausages to carry in your bag. You will need them for energy, I can guarantee it!
The TMB is the most famous hike in the Alps, and thousands do the circuit yearly. It is next to impossible short of a book length post here to adequately describe the experience. I survived; but it was much tougher than I expected. Let no one kid you that trails in the Alps are just long gentle strolls along valleys and over soft rounded hills and cols. Not a chance! They are rugged, steep, slippery, narrow, muddy, rocky and full of roots, stones, water, twists, turns, high steps, no steps, scrambles and muck. But there are some very special rewards. After a few days of walking in the mountains you begin to stop thinking about anything much except the path in front of you, and the scenery all around. In my experience there is really nothing that can compare to this peacefulness. Part of it is due to the sheer effort it takes to keep going, and part to the lack of the usual stimuli or distractions. Refuges, also called gites or auberges, have internet for the most part, so one can keep in touch if necessary; but I simply used this to dispatch emails each night to update our progress and report that we were still alive. News out there is of no value whatsoever, which makes you wonder what value it has in the first place.
There are signs, maps and guidebooks that will show you the way and inform you as to how long it takes from here to there. The maps and guidebooks are useful, if you actually read them, something we should have done more often. We might not have gotten lost then. The signs are also very useful, if you add 30 minutes to every hour they purport to advise. Of course this applies to me, who merely trained one summer which was not nearly enough, but was sufficient to keep me moving at least. A year would have been much better, if I had concentrated on getting my legs ready for climbing and descending 1000 metres on steep mountains every day. Maybe 5 hours on the stairmaster with a pack would have helped, but who has time for that? Not me. So I hiked around the paltry hills in the neighbourhood, hoping to strengthen the old leg muscles enough to get by. I suppose it did, as I made it with injury, but not without suffering!
I had forgotten what it takes to climb 1000 metres straight up, a typical day; as it is well understood that humans have a great capacity to remember pleasant things and forget pain. By now I have even begun to forget how my legs and body felt as I climbed the Fenetre d’Arpete in Switzerland less than 2 weeks ago, all the while thinking that whoever made this trail was crazy to think anyone would use it, since there was a much easier alternate route. However, we were not the only ones punishing our legs that day – there were others, and many of them, all looking pretty much the same as us; exhausted, and sullen. Briefly, at the col we rested and looked back on our achievement, only to be dampened by looking down the other side at the same sort of slope that would soon dole out punishing knee strain over 1000 metres of descent, and for what? The right to say you climbed the Fenetre d’Arpete, that’s what! Also, for a nice view – enjoyed for 15 minutes. No beer up here, unlike some other notable cols along the trail.
40 years back I hiked northernmost 100 miles of the AT to Mt. Katahdin in Maine – with a 50 lb backpack and no resupply points. I would never attempt to do that one again, for good reason. One – I hate carrying 50 lbs, and two; it was dull compared to the Alps. So if you can afford it, and you fancy a long hike somewhere, try the TMB. At the end, when you are done or you are certain you will make it, buy one of those lime green t-shirts with the TMB logo. We bought ours at the last refuge, but we didn’t don them until we had completed the trek. Then we immediately put them on and went out for a nice dinner and some Brasserie Mont Blanc beer.
That could be me coming to a bridge over an idyllic mountain stream, but I just made this scene up while testing some new paints. One of those peaks could be Mont Blanc, too! In less than 2 weeks I will see for myself when I arrive in Chamonix to hike the trail known as the Tour de Mont Blanc, or TMB. Training with a pack is one thing, but trying to decide on what to bring is another. The perfect is the enemy of the good, yet I waste hours of thought and time dabbling with various paints, brushes, papers and so on, until I almost feel like forgetting about sketching altogether! However, that would be dumb, because I know that when I get there I’ll be itching to do a sketch – so around it goes. This fantasy was done on heavy watercolour paper using cheap acrylic paints that came in a set. The tubes hold 10ml each, and as soon as I squeezed some out I knew that 10ml would not be enough. For one thing the paint is too thin, and doesn’t cover anywhere nearly as well as high quality paint does. Regular size tubes hold 60ml, which is way too much, but there aren’t any good paints sold in smaller tubes. Winsor Newton makes sets of 20ml tubes however, so I may try those. No doubt it’s decent paint. On any hiking trip you one should keep the gear down to a minimum, thus my sweating over the size of the paint tubes. It seems ridiculous, but ounces add up to pounds, as they say. Two more weeks to get it all sorted…
As I have repeated here, perhaps too frequently, due to my last novel I became enamoured of the Royal 10. I did get one after some hunting, but I thought that they were hard to find – until last week. We spent a week as we often do this time of year in Washington, camping and of course scouring the many antique shops. So what did I find? Yes – many Royal 10’s!
Sadly I couldn’t own them all; the one I have is perfect for me, but if I didn’t already own one… well that might be different. One in particular was in beautiful condition, and it was the least costly. Go figure. It was a rebuild, too, as noted on one shift key – by Regal, on Varick Street, NYC.
All were post 1923 with single glass sides, some with the gauge on the right side, which I don’t know the purpose of. I’m sure someone reading this will educate us on that! It was ironic that so many typewriters in the wild have little signs forbidding typing – I’d like to see signs that say “type away”. Do these sellers think that a Royal 10 that has lasted for 80 years can be broken? How absurd!
There were other interesting oldies too:
The Corona folder was exciting to see, but it was not in working order and well over $100! Had it been working… maybe. One other new to me phenomenon in these old junk stores is the proliferation of the Erie iron pans, Griswold being the next big thing. Some shops had huge collections of these, priced into the hundreds! Imagine paying $100 for a frying pan when you could buy a Royal 10 for less. More absurdity!
We got as far as Portland and just happened to park one block from Powell’s Books, the largest bookstore I’ve ever been in – it’s like a department store – think a Walmart dedicated solely to books. One thing struck us; the foul language we heard coming from the mouths of people just talking on the street. I suppose all the books with swear words are simply indicative of the general debasement of language skills these days. But what’s with all the f*cking asterisks? Just spell it if you plan to use it. Only one author among many seemed to feel thus, which is commendable, although not admirable.
Portland reminded me of Seattle, except it’s flat. Aside from the cool bookstore I can’t say it was impressive. Lots of canyon streets that feel oppressively dark, and of course the usual sad cases of homelessness. No one pays attention any more. Not that this is uncommon here either, just that it emphasizes how our society in general has failed so many people.
The thing is, when it comes to all the pseudo-wisdom spouted in the endless river of self-help books, there is no solution to the real problems. It’s all focused on the self. The age of ME. F*ck off, self help authors!
Instaxography (copyright) is my latest hobby of the week, for this week, until the film pack is gone that is. I picked this baby up at a thrift shop complete with the batteries, several shots left on the pack, and a new pack of 10 pictures, for cheap – about what the film pack costs. I knew I had to have it after I took a test picture of the clerk in the store who showed it to me. They keep these under glass, like gold jewelry, and you must request a showing. They don’t wear white gloves however, which spoils the entire effect. However, it brings me back to the days of Polaroidography (copyright that too) and my old SX70. I thought the film was expensive 35 years ago! Holy crap! Today…. don’t ask! But Fuji is cheaper, and just about as bad as Polaroid was, so why not?
While out for a bike ride we stopped beneath the bridge and I also did a watercolour sketch.
Looking the other way we have a lovely barge and a lot of water and sky, but Instaxography gives it a very artistic feel, don’t you think? Ugly can be beautiful.
Anyhow, I’m not finished this experiment yet, and I have to say it is still a sort of thrill to watch and wait for the image to appear as if by magic. My Dad had a Polaroid, I had a Polaroid, and recently I sent my son in Germany – a Polaroid! I hope the film is cheaper there. If not he can get himself a Instax, or just forget the whole thing. But one day, I know his genes will express themselves and he will take up instant photography, if only now and then. It’s in our blood! Also, I took Polaroids of the babies… you gotta love that.
About 15 years ago I spotted a little typewriter on the shelf in the Sally Ann for five bucks. Prices were reasonable then, in the good old days of thrift shopping. Thrift shops were filled with cheap used goods, and the pricers didn’t check what something was listed for on Ebay before putting it out on a shelf. I brought home the little typewriter and used it a bit, but I got a pain in my neck so eventually I donated it back. It wasn’t until I got the collecting bug that I wondered what sort of typewriter it was. All I had as a record was a Polaroid of me with it, on which I had noted that I was “pretending to be a writer”. The idea of a “writer” seemed the most appropriate label for a person with a typewriter and a glass of beer.
I puzzled for years trying to determine what that little typewriter was, but I never knew until yesterday. That was when I found a Royal Signet, made in Holland. As soon as I got a good look at it I knew it was the very same model as the one once had, so of course I had to buy it. I had the perfect excuse!
Now I can say positively that I am a writer, and no longer pretending. This Signet is a great little machine, and is mechanically the same as the Royalite, but with a body style related to the Royal Futura and similar to the Olympia SF of the 1970’s era. These are remarkably quiet, perhaps the quietest typewriters I have used. With a cast aluminum casing, and two tone colour scheme I think it’s a real looker. In the interim Polaroid has gone and I sold my SX-70. Now the film is back, but I have no camera. However, I just found a cheap used Fuji Instax 100 that came with a new pack of film. I am now a Fuji instant film convert!