I have always loved paper, and most things made of paper. I love all weights and textures of the wood-pulp wonder. I love different configurations of rules, margins, grids and holes. I love binders and boxes and envelopes. I love paperclips and staples and grommets. Needless to say, then, I also love the Italian cartoleria, or stationer’s shop, where all these things are available, still today, in the ever more paperless 21st Century.
When paper is gone, totally gone, this beautiful mail slot will be but a vestigial reminder, a decorative opening for peeking into. But nothing will be inserted into it, or stuffed through, left to fall satisfactorily—thud—on the other side in a random heap to be sorted by the building’s custodian.
When paper is gone, my books will be lonely. My handwriting will deteriorate completely, as it’s been doing for sometime now already. (Those typing fingers don’t form beautiful cursive letters anymore. They are messy and impatient.) When paper is gone, what will happen to pen and ink? To color? It’s much too dreadful a thought. Perhaps it will never happen.
Despite the way of the world, soulful cartolerie continue to dot the Milanese landscape, some catering to children’s school needs, others to offices. Some blur the lines between paper products and toys, others between stationery goods and art supplies.
As Joe Queenan laments in his newly published title, One for the Books, when bookstores are gone—and here, he might just as easily have said “Stationer’s Shops”—there will be no accidental bumping into things you didn’t know existed and didn’t realize you needed.
You walk into one of these stores thinking you need a pen, and leave realizing you also had to have something else—something simple and useful that felt right in your hand. Something with pockets. Something with a lock. Something with die-cuts. Something which was on the top shelf and had to be reached by ladder.
Specialty “designer” paper stores might survive in NYC, Kate’s Paperie being the one that springs to mind. (WAIT: I’ve just googled Kate’s only to discover that several Kate’s Paperies have closed in Manhattan, alas!) But the beauty of these stores is that they are not special. They are everywhere and they are the epitome of the “everyday.” They are still needed. They woo with the texture and functionality of products that belong to a continuous past that runs right into the present. Giving comfort. Ground. Familiarity. And something beautiful to write on.
So, I suppose the mail slot will remain in use a little bit longer, as well. Email is great, but there’s nothing like getting a real postcard to have and hold and hide in the pages of a book.