Sunday, January 31, 2010

Loaded to the Gunwales

In 1970 Patrick O’Brian began writing what was to become a long, extended series of twenty-one historical novels set during the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century, but more particularly set on a dozen or more sailing ships of the British Royal Navy. These books are the roman-fleuve tales of Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend and ship’s surgeon, Stephen Maturin. Most readers generally refer to the whole collection as the Aubrey-Maturin series, but many are now familiar with the title, Master and Commander as a result of the 2003 film starring Russell Crowe as Captain Aubrey. That movie was based on the first book in the series, Master and Commander, as well as characters and events in three subsequent books in the series.

I will happily admit to being one of Mr O’Brian’s more fervent fans, and have long enjoyed his writing in a long list of novels and stories apart from the better known Aubrey-Maturin series. This past Friday I began my third reading of the twenty-one book series. But what would possess a reader to repeatedly undertake such a long and drawn out plan of rereading? While I can’t speak for others, the answer in my case needs a mere two words: the language. Apart from everything else that makes these books outstanding, the experience of reading them is akin to the slow enjoyment of crème brulee and a very fine wine. I often find myself rereading aloud sentences and paragraphs only because the first time was insufficient to absorb the richness of O’Brian’s writing.

The language of O’Brian while fitting the description of modern, is still filled with difficult terms and phrases related to ships and sailing, while speech is true to the era with all its slang, and idioms. It definitely can be a challenge to the reader, but oddly enough has an addictive quality in which you come to almost yearn for even more talk of catharpings, shove-groat and slubberdegullions. I have been told by more than one person that the abundance of unknown nautical terms finally wore them down and caused them to leave the first book unfinished. Let me use the words of Stephen Maturin to help explain how skillfully O’Brian has taken the problem to hand. Early in the first book, Maturin says, “No man could easily surpass me in ignorance of naval terms.” This ignorance of his provides a good bit of humor throughout, but it also subtly aligns the character with the reader, who usually shares the same ignorance. Maturin’s ignorance reassures the reader, and bear in mind that this ignorance has been given to one you would surely call the smartest character in the series.

The fact is, the Aubrey-Maturin books make you want to know more about all sorts of things, including sailing ships, history and geography, as well as Maturin’s birds and beasts. I suspect there are many who would say that reading these books has turned out to be something of an education. Well, it’s all so much for this old grizzled head I have to reread them every three or four years.

I found it an interesting tidbit of information that Patrick O’Brian spurned typewriters and word processors, preferring to write every word of his huge lifelong oeuvre by hand. I wonder what his preferred fountain pen might have been? The final and unfinished book (21) in the series includes in the five volume reissue put out by W. W. Norton and Company in 2004, a facsimile of O’Brian’s original manuscript, with all the editing and rewrites.

Have I interested anyone in making a go at reading 6,980 closely printed pages?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Inky Misfortune

It’s thankfully a rare occurrence in my experience, but I am definitely not immune to ink clogs in my fountain pens. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred I am very careful about what ink is in what pen, and monitoring that pen to be sure the ink doesn’t get screwy or constipate the ink feed, or ink reservoir. Careful or not, bad things can happen and leave you with a tough mess to put right. I was telling myself just the other day how lucky I’d been with my pens, despite the occasional use of ‘dangerous’ inks.

What does ‘dangerous’ ink mean exactly? It means those inks which have undissolved pigment that went into the making of the ink along with the dyes, chemicals, surfactants and antibacterial additions. Viscosity can be a fine balance. I mentioned in a blog post a couple of weeks back that the wine inks especially contain solid particles that have the potential of clogging your pen. On buying ink I have been warned several times about the De Atramentis series of wine inks, and their potential for clogging a pen. Another risky ink—and the villain of my story—is Sailor’s Kiwaguro Carbon ink. (kiwaguro can be translated as ‘extremely black’) I have used this particular ink for a long time and never had a problem until this week.

The problem? The Kiwaguro ink contains carbon nanoparticles as well as surfactants. The nanoparticles can be a problem in themselves, but the surfactants suspend the particles in the ink and can affect a fountain pen’s ink feed, producing clogging. No question it’s a strong and beautiful black, but one that should be used with care.

I filled my Pilot Custom 823 with Sailor Kiwaguro ink about two weeks ago, used the pen throughout the next day, and then returned it to my pen rack that night. Normally I remember, but this time I didn’t and so left the pen untouched until two nights ago. When I picked up the pen to use, I could see that there was plenty of ink still in the reservoir, but I wasn’t getting a smooth or wet flow of ink common to the Pilot 823. When I put the pen under a bright light I could see what looked like black gunk adhering to the mouth of the ink feed. I could also see the same gunk stuck to the inside of the barrel.

Using tepid water I flushed the remaining ink out, repeating the action several times to dissolve the solid buildup. I filled the pen with tepid water one more time, then stood it up in a small half-filled glass of water, which I then put into my ultrasonic cleaner. I ran it through about five three minutes cycles, then flushed the water out of the pen once again. There was still a small amount of the gunk visible in the reservoir and near the ink feed, so I again filled the pen with tepid water and left it to stand overnight. That did the trick. When I returned the next day, the pen looked as clean as a whistle.

I refilled the Pilot with Pelikan black ink and now it’s writing like a dream.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Watery Hell

The swarming dock was a busy waterfront scene, stock footage from an old MGM movie, the harbor filled with inter-island ferries along with a mass of other shipping; cranes groaning under heavy loads of cargo being lowered onto decks crawling with shouting sailors, while off to the right cars and trucks disgorged from the belly of an enormous ferry leaned on horns and revved engines. People weighted with suitcases, shopping bags and birdcages dodged and scrambled through holes in the traffic to reach the harbor entrance. My ferry was anchored on the far side of the harbor.

By the time I got there it was 9:00 p.m., still daylight, and an hour before sailing. Crowds of people were already onboard, many of them settled in, but the ship so crowded, so crawling with people, I couldn’t find a place to sit. Not an unclaimed seat anywhere on my very big ride to Crete. I wandered the decks for twenty minutes carrying my bags, weaving in and out of other meandering travelers in the same chair-less muddle. All out of options I dropped the bags against a wall and flopped exhausted onto the floor, muttering about my poor choice of buying the cheapest ticket.

Some few minutes passed, my eyes unglazed and focused on a woman just in front of me, lounging all alone on a plump sofa, her bag placed across that portion she wasn’t sitting on. An hour later, the ship underway, the woman’s bag still rested on the seat, while I stared at it from the floor. In the gentlest voice I could muster, I asked the woman if she spoke English. In answer she mumbled something that could have been Lithuanian for all I could tell. A crew member happened along and I asked if he spoke English, would he mind inquiring about the ‘empty’ seat? After an short exchange between the woman and the crewman, I got the translation (of an obvious fabrication) that her daughter would be returning soon from the snack bar. With perfect politeness the man suggested that I might just sit in the daughter’s place until she returned.

The crewman moved on, I began to rise from the floor and the woman, completely unrelenting, made not a move to shift the bag, but continued to ignore me. A moment passed and then I stood, gently lifted her bag off the seat and placed it on the floor near her feet. I sat down in the bag’s place and as I settled into the cushions, the woman, as though I’d sat in her lap rolled her eyes and groaned.

The blatant selfishness shocked me. Wandering numbers of people all about the ship with no place to sit for the next eight hours and here this woman wanted to roost with her suitcase propped up on the cushions beside her. Now I was comfortably propped up on cushions, ignoring the adjacent moans.

2:30 a.m. somewhere in the Aegean. I sat in idle torment, breathing blue air and comparing the ferry and an earlier long-haul bus. I figured the bus ran a close second, that the boat was worse. A nearby concession had been selling cigarettes hand over fist from the moment we weighed anchor and I guessed all of those cigarettes were being smoked in my immediate vicinity. Two chain smoking women behind me chattered like magpies on amphetamine, while all around people tried in vain to sleep. Ten meters down the hall the game arcade was doing turn-away business, belching out the electronic crash and zoom of car races, the roar of soccer matches and the clatter of bowlers throwing 300 point games. A stuck record of unending and repetitive crashes bouncing off the ship’s steel hull. It was like a party gone wrong on the Love Boat, and I was the reluctant guest.

Eventually I figured out why the woman next to me wanted the extra seat—she had hoped to stretch out and sleep on the sofa, getting a bed for the price of a chair. I noticed that a man across the way had managed to hoard a complete sofa for himself and slept there stretched out. My initial thoughts about this night crossing of the Aegean to the island of Crete had been full of romantic notions, and I had arranged to take a ‘deck-seat,’ the cheapest ticket offered. Each upgrade doubled the ticket price, but more than that, I thought it would be memorable to sprawl in a deckchair throughout a night crossing of the ‘wine dark sea’ under the light of the stars. I thought of it as payback for six and a half hours on a rural bus the previous week.

Little did I know. The long hours slowly but mercifully unwound and near sunrise we arrived in Chania, a charming town on the northwest coast of Crete.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Turning Point

Once again I find myself late out of the starting blocks and all gaga about something that happened two years ago. Not that I’m closed off and isolated from what’s going on in the world around me, but more like a case of tunnel vision with

a particular product I like, and consequently paying too little attention to what’s new. I use a pencil (a mechanical pencil) throughout much of each and every day, yet for the past three or four years have given almost no thought to ‘mechanical pencils.’ Mine is one of those that works well enough to be always in the background and not very needful of special attention; pick it up, write with it and put it down again. It never fails, and it never ever makes me yearn for a different, or ‘new’ pencil.

It took me awhile to finally acquire that mechanical pencil, and I paid dearly for it, but have never for a moment regretted the money spent. It writes exactly as I want it to, and it simply does not cause problems. In a word, it is 100% dependable, which is exactly what one should expect in a Montblanc Platinum 167 mechanical pencil.

But there is one thing it doesn’t do. It does not automatically rotate the lead. It took Mitsubishi Pencil Co. Ltd. to come up with that.

Scrabbling around on my desk, I found an unfamiliar mechanical pencil and figured someone must have left it on my desk. In the middle of making some notes about something, without thinking I began scribbling on the paper in front of me. In only a couple of lines I had the feeling something about the pencil in my hand was very good. The grip and weight were comfortable, and the lines were spilling out very clearly. Stopping to look, I saw that the pencil was a Uni Kuru Toga 0.5.

Kuru Toga means something like ‘turning point’ in Japanese. The innovation with this mechanical pencil is the internal gear mechanism that automatically counteracts the natural blunting of the lead, by rotating the lead 9° with each contact the pencil makes with the paper. The lead makes a full rotation within forty contacts. This action assures that a clean, cone-shaped tip is maintained, which means a cleaner line. You can actually see the small gear move if you watch through the clear plastic grip.

I could grapple with trying to explain in more detail how this pencil does what it does so well, but a picture is worth a thousand words, right? Take a moment to watch the video below. Pretty much says it all.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Home in the Heart

Some years ago the Maruoka-cho Cultural Foundation in Fukui, Japan sponsored a contest called, “A Brief Letter From the Heart,” asking ordinary people of all ages, from all over Japan, to write a short letter of five or six lines expressing their feelings on several subjects. They chose the fifty-one best letters in each group and published them in a series of short books. One of those collections of outstanding letters was called, Japan’s Best “Short Letters to My Hometown.” I found some of those letters especially moving, or notable in the sense of being dead-on target in a few words. Most are an affirmation that even non-writers can express their feelings in a graceful and candid way. I want to share a few of those letters here.

I found the honey-colored shell of a

cicada in the garden at home.

This is where my hometown starts.

Toshiki Ueda (M. 12)

Rated last in livability in the whole


What’s wrong with that?

When for me it’s number one.

Yosuke Wachi (M. 21)

Soil, grass, trees, sky, water, pebbles,

all soak into you, body and soul;

even with soap,

they won’t come off.

Kunie Yamamoto (F. 48)

What can I see—

the labyrinth of electric wires

in a forest of buildings.

This city is my hometown.

Got a problem with that?

Kentaro Yamanaka (M. 20)

The contest was also open to non-Japanese, and among the fifty-one letters chosen were thirteen by people living in Japan, but not Japanese. This last is one example, written in English originally.

The one place where I take the

loneliness off with my shoes,

with the realization that

this is where I was always going.

Cheshe M. Dow (F. 18)

With the exception of the last letter, all others were translated from the Japanese by Patricia J. Wetzel.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Don’t Let ‘Junior’ Fool You

Despite a fondness for Pelikan fountain pens, I was late coming to the Pelikano Junior and didn’t discover it until late last year. There’s been no shortage of reviews, and I’m not really sure how I managed to have my head in the sand so long. But in that regard, the old maxim ‘better late than never’ has proven to be true. Don’t let that ‘Junior’ in the name fool you. The Pelikano Junior is an OUTSTANDING fountain pen in a number of ways.

Pelikan had children in mind when they went to the drawing boards with this one. They threw in all the obvious design ingredients that both appeal to and apply to children and the classrooms where they do most of their writing. It’s bright and eye-catching; it’s inexpensive and it’s simple design is both rugged and utilitarian. Underneath all that, Pelikan has maintained the quality they are famous for. In short, the Pelikano Junior lays a beautiful line of ink down on paper. It looks like a toy and it writes like a well-engineered fountain pen.

This is THE ‘starter’ pen for anyone with a mind to lay aside their ballpoint and take up a fountain pen. The lack of a pocket clip might bother some, but bear in mind that the Pelikano can bounce around in a bag or backpack all day long and come away unfazed. If at first you are put off by the fat size, chances are you will discover how comfortable it is once it’s cuddled nicely in your writing hand. The design is ergonomic and made with a grip that tells you (and children) exactly where to place the fingers for both comfort and effective writing. One my favorite features is the two rounded bumps or protrusions on either side of the barrel which prevent the pen from rolling off the desk or table. (The pocket clip serves this purpose on other pens.) Another clever novelty, one perfect for students, is the space for a name sticker visible inside the barrel of the pen. With only four colors available (green, blue, yellow and red) mix-ups are likely in a classroom or among siblings and the interior name sticker solves this problem.

The pen and cap are plastic with a rubber grip and a steel nib. Length is a hair over 5 inches (13 cm) with the cap on (unposted); 6 1/8 inches (15.5 cm) posted. The nib is a standard M, and is of two types: L for left-handed writers, A for right-handed writers. If you prefer a finer line try turning the nib over or upside down. The pen uses a Pelikan 4001 ink cartridge, which can be easily changed to a converter. The 4001 is available in eight colors: blue black, brilliant black, brilliant green, brilliant red, pink, royal blue, turquoise and violet.

I am crazy about the Pelikano Junior and would rate it five stars, but don’t take my word alone. There are other reviews you might want to have a look at. Try Unposted , The Fountain Pen Network, Writer’s Bloc, and Another Word for Nerd.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Fields of Dreams

The subject today is not anything new, more like a phenomenon that has been around for fifteen years, and been in the news from time to time, but to my way of thinking is such a spectacular creation that it deserves being shared with as many people as possible—art lover or not. The people in a small northern village of Japan have created an astounding art form based upon the ancient rice culture of their village.

a Japanese warrior of the Sengoku, or Warring Period

Inakadate is a small rice-growing village in Aomori Prefecture 400 miles north of Tokyo. It has a rice farming culture that stretches into the distant past, with archeological evidence showing that people in the area were cultivating rice 2,000 years ago. This is a heritage that the modern citizens of Inakadate have not taken lightly. It isn’t hard to imagine how the people of the village first came to see works of art growing out of their fields. There is something almost riveting about an expansive field of verdant rice plants quivering in the breeze, sunlight winking in an ocean of green, wind creating cascades of light and shadow in a living dance. It’s almost art as is. In 1993 Inakadate’s village council took up the idea of creating giant works of rice plant art, using huge rice paddies as their canvas. The medium?—varieties of rice plants which grow in different colors. They chose to use four strains of rice for their color palette: Beni Miyako (red Miyako), Tsugaru Roman (fresh green), and two ancient varieties, ki ine (yellow rice) and murasaki ine (purple rice). In the first few years, the designs were plotted out by hand, followed by numbers of farmers and volunteers doing the actual planting, carefully supervised to bring a paper design to life in flourishing rice plants. The process is naturally in accordance with the seasons, and the growth of the art follows a natural growing cycle. What adds to the beauty is the fact that each September the rice is harvested and becomes what is almost sacred food on tables nationwide.

a view of Napoleon on horseback

The response of visitors was overwhelming from the start, and the project has grown over the years to include a wider range of designs, computer programming, a deluge of volunteers, as well as substantial growth in the town’s tourist industry. Inakadate has become quite famous, and rightly so, since their rice paddy art is indeed a remarkable achievement. This quaint village of 8,700 people hosted 200,000 art-viewing tourists in summer of 2006 alone. The leader of the project is a village official named Akio Nakayama, who says, “I feel happy to see many people come to see our rice paddies, because here in Inakadate Village, rice and people’s lives are very closely connected.”

This field shows a reproduction of Katsushika Hokusai’s well-known woodblock print, Great Wave Off Kanagawa; The Japanese characters read: ‘Inakadate - Tsugaru Roman’ indicating the name of the village and the variety of green rice used.

close-up of the rice plants used to create the artwork

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Igniting Sparks

Back in August of last year, Vanrensalier at Saint Austin’s Pub put up an interesting tongue in cheek post called, The Pen Pusher Test, in which he posed questions meant to ferret out those of us with ‘serious’ pen pushing tendencies. I got a kick out of that because I couldn’t help seeing myself in his questions, and wondering, “Am I that far gone?” The answer is probably yes.

I suppose my story today could apply to any one of several questions in Vanrensalier’s post. Nonetheless, I can’t help thinking that the outcome of my addiction in this case was definitely along positive lines. Not sure that I sent anyone running to the nearest fountain pen dealer, but perhaps I opened a window.

I have a young acquaintance here in Tokyo who is something of an artist, and who no doubt will one day after finishing high school and art college, find his way as a successful artist. A few months back he was working on an assignment at school combining drawing and/or painting with English text, something that expressed his feelings in connection with the drawing. The first time I saw a draft of his work, the text was written in pencil. I asked if he had considered doing it in ink, and if the idea appealed I’d be happy to loan him a fountain pen along with the ink of his choice.

He was reluctant at first for fear of imposing, or maybe even damaging the pen, but I waved off his concerns and handed over three pens for him to take home and play around with. A couple of days later he returned the pens, saying he would like to use the Sailor Professional Gear pen for his assignment. For the ink he chose De Atramentis Guiseppe Verdi Blue from my sample book, and I cleaned and filled the Sailor with that ink.

A few weeks later I was quite honored to receive his painting—post exhibition—as a gift. His way of saying thanks.

Did this experience light a spark of interest in fountain pens? I like to think so.

The text in the picture…

Thursday, September 10, 2009 — Morning

I rode fast on my bicycle, because I was late. I felt many different things on the way to school. First, I heard the breeze blowing and then noticed a utility pole on the road paved with concrete. Then I noticed other natural things in a routine way, and I thought, “Why have I [not] noticed the things around me lately? Why did I lose that?” I missed these things in the course of busy days. But today I re-connected with the daily important sights around me. I don’t want to lose that ever, even after I am grown. I don’t want to lose track of the small but important things around me.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Come and Get It!

Anyone spending time in Japan is guaranteed some adventures when it comes to eating. Stay here long enough and you are going to find delight, surprise, disbelief or shock at one meal or another. I would venture to say that I have pretty much run the full gamut, have eaten some of the best, some of the worst, and a lot in between. The delights have been many (tempura, watermelon popsicles), the surprises a few (grasshoppers) and shock and disbelief enough times to make me always look twice. It took me a little while to get over on one occasion swallowing a mouthful of raw horse meat in a dimly lit dining room.

But just as people do, food changes over time, and traditional recipes and ways of preparing things become altered to fit more comfortably with the changing lifestyles of the common people. The curry and rice that people eat today is perhaps a little different from that of twenty-five years ago. (Curry is now the most popular daily dish among Japanese people.) Tastes change, and with people traveling more than they did in the past, ideas about what’s good come from places outside of Japan. How else can we explain the modern craze for mayonnaise that has swept younger Japanese? Twenty years ago it was unheard of to put canned tuna and mayonnaise in rice balls; now it’s everywhere. It would probably never occur to a Japanese grandmother to stir a big glob of mayonnaise into her salad soba (buckwheat noodles), as her grandson does.

Convenience, quick preparation and fast clean up have become just as important for young Japanese housewives as it has for their counterparts in the West. I hesitate to say most, but a good many newly married women in today’s Japan are finding new ways to cut corners in meal preparation. Changes are also influenced by evolving tastes, and interest in ingredients not traditional. How else do you explain the young mother I read about in a Japan Times article a while back who served her toddler cooked rice topped with a generous slug of Sprite? Come and get it! Or the young office worker who eschewed the traditional tsuyu (broth) and chopped onion on his noodles for a good thick dousing with chocolate sauce?

My favorite story was of the newly married young woman, who found a good way to get around the potential garlic breath which comes from eating gyoza. These are meat or vegetable dumplings which I have heard called ‘pot stickers’ in some US restaurants. They are very delicious and enjoyed by almost everyone in Japan, but only those who like garlic, and lots of it. But back to the newlywed…She decided to overcome the garlic breath problem by slipping three Tic-Tacs inside each of the dumplings while preparing them. When her husband sat down for dinner she offered him a plate of her special gyoza without a word about the secret ingredient. The first went down rather badly, but he didn’t give up and tried a second. That one did him him and he stumbled off to the bathroom, unable to hold it down. According to the article, that was enough to send him running home to mama’s dinner table.

About the photos: Most Japanese stop at a convenience store on the way to work to buy a lunch bento, or boxed lunch. The top photo shows the choices common in most stores. The second photo is a 'cute' rabbit bento probably made for a child. The bottom photo shows a typical serving of gyoza, or pot stickers, hopefully without Tic-Tacs.

Friday, January 22, 2010

More Joyce Sutphen

One month ago I wrote here that I was excited about a new collection of poems by Joyce Sutphen scheduled for release in early January. It is a collection called First Words, and the copy I ordered arrived about ten days ago. I had a couple of other things to read first, so didn’t get around to it until two days ago. I have now read all the poems in the new book, and am not at all surprised by how much I continue to like this writer’s work. She writes of a childhood and the years of growing up in a place very different from my own experiences, her memories and poems filled with images unknown to my childhood and youth.

In an earlier post on December 21st of last year I explained that Joyce Sutphen is a poet from the state of Minnesota, that she continues to live there today. She teaches at Gustavus Adolphus College in St Peter, Minnesota, and has won several awards for her poetry, publishing four earlier collections prior to this latest one. She grew up on a small farm, and the memories of that time have inspired much of her writing.

I want to share three short poems from this latest collection. I won’t attempt to add comments, or explanations of how her poems affect me personally, but will say only that it is my hope you will feel the power of her writing and her images as much as I have.

My Dog Pal

Once, in the yellow glow of the hay barn,

my father and I met a stray, and that dog

stayed and lived with us a while.

I named him “Pal” because he was friendly

and reminded me of a storybook dog.

Even now I can see him sitting

at my feet, his head tipped slightly to one

side, his shoulders squared back against

the passing of another boring day.

Thin and houndy, he was made for wilder

things than fetching sticks and shaking hands with

six-year olds. I think he was a hobo dog,

and one day he was gone, without

a backwards glance; his house, his dish, his supper

bone—nothing there to tie him down.

In the Photo Booth

I leaned forward to put my quarters

into the slot. The directions said Hold Still.

Look Straight Ahead. Smile. (I did not.) Soon

a strip of faces fell out of the wall—

all mine, one after another, and none of them

what I wanted. That was back when my eyes

were green; that was back when my hair was still

dark. I needed one of those photos—it

didn’t matter which—for a rail pass that

would last all spring. And the rest of the strip?

I threw it away. Too bad! I could use

that face—that earnest young face—today.

The Kingdom of Summer

In my mother’s cellar there were

realms of golden apple, rooms

of purple beet, hallways of green bean

leading to windows of

strawberry and grape.

In her cellar there were

cider seas and

pumpkin shores,

mountains of tomatoes—

pickle trees

When I walked down the steps

and pulled on the light,

I saw where she kept the

Kingdom of Summer.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sailor in the Dumps

Time for me to growl a little about a troublesome fountain pen. Anyone who has read more than a couple of the posts on this blog will already know that I am a devoted fan of Sailor, avid for both their inks and their fountain pens. It has been a long time since I left the house without at least one Sailor pen in my pocket. I have six Sailor pens, and five of them are nothing short of the cat’s meow.

Oh, but that pesky Sailor 1911 Mid-Size can be a devil. It’s one I bought online three years ago at Classic Fountain Pens, Inc., located in Los Angeles. I had earlier purchased another 1911 from them, that one in the large size, and I was so pleased with the crafting of the nib, I immediately wanted another in a different color and size. In my experience with Classic’s nibster, John Mottishaw, he has always given me exactly what I asked for in a nib. In fact, I wouldn’t dream of putting any blame on John for the irritating nib on my 1911 Mid-Size.

Downstrokes are the problem, and as many as ten times on one page, the pen will skip. I’m not sure if you can see them clearly, but in the photo of the poem, I have indicated with a red dot places on the page where the pen skipped and I had to go back and re-write those letters. Well, seven times in the space of seventeen lines is too much for me. Considering my five other Sailor pens, even one time is too many. It happens only with the 1911 Mid-Size. I have taken the pen to a clinic where Nobuyoshi Nagahara took a look at it, made a few adjustments, and suggested that the 14k nib might be one reason for the problem. I didn't really understand that because I have steel nibbed pens that don’t skip, as well as a Sailor Professional Gear with a 14k nib that never skips. I have cleaned the nib as well as can be done safely, I have tried a dozen or more different inks, I have altered my grip and still the pen skips on the occasional downstroke.

Despite it all, I do like the Sailor 1911 Mid-Size, but the 14k M nib is giving me a headache. If anyone has any ideas or suggestions, I would welcome them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Feeling sort of chatty lately about my little Japanese home ground of Kugayama. There are probably all sorts of conveniences and comforts lacking in the daily life of this wee town, but there are as well more than enough special qualities and advantages that we enjoy. I have mentioned in earlier blog posts that the area has many trees and abundant greenery. It’s also an express stop on the Inokashira train line, which means the center of Tokyo is no more than twelve minutes away. Overall, it is a desirable residential area for many people. But for a long time I have felt the one thing missing is a choice of good restaurants.

Tokyo in recent years has become a city where food or cuisine of all kinds can be found without much difficulty. Whatever your craving, be it Greek, Mexican, North African or American, you will find it somewhere in this great city. Unfortunately, none of those restaurants have made their way to Kugayama.

Not exactly a listing in the Michelin Guide, but Kugayama does have a splendid yakitori shop. For those unfamiliar with this traditional Japanese dish, yakitori is basically grilled chicken, but prepared and cooked in a variety of ways. Imagine slivers of chicken on wooden sticks or skewers cooking on an open grill—that’s what yakitori is.

Yakitori Ishii is situated near the train tracks on a busy street in Kugayama. It has no more than four employees, who work in the tiny shop Tuesday through Sunday. Eight years ago the small building housing the restaurant was a near-abandoned property before a local woman decided to renovate the building and open a yakitori shop. From the start it was a popular spot, and the owner never had to struggle to attract customers. With its tiny size, Yakitori Ishii is not a place where you can sit down for dinner; everything is made right in front of you, but for take-out only. But that has in no way stopped customers from lining up for the different types of yakitori on the menu. The end of the year is the busiest time because many people like to serve yakitori at parties.

I myself like this traditional Japanese dish and go to Yakitori Ishii fairly often, but I have to admit that my taste for it is somewhat picky. For me, the liver and chicken skin are not too appealing. Below is a list of the basic items on their menu.

tsukune — seasoned balls of chicken grilled on a skewer

negima — chunks of lean chicken and leek on a skewer

chicken livers — skewered and grilled

tebasaki — grilled chicken wings

roasted chicken thighs

deep fried chicken nuggets

kawa — roasted chicken skin

roasted sweet potato

Usually we can find several kinds of Japanese pickles on the menu, some of which are in the bottom photo.

As I said earlier, Kugayama is short of good restaurants, but we at least have Yakitori Ishii. Should you find yourself in the neighborhood one of these days, don’t pass it by.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America