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Moleskine and Jam

A Grandmother’s Story

By ANITA RACHELLEPublished 3 years ago 5 min read
Unsplash Image - Photo by Alin Luna

Carla had scoured every stationary shop in Biars-sur-Cère for the simple yet durable pocket notebook she had come to rely upon in her almost decade of literary prowess: a 9x14 cm. dotted hard cover easily stowable at a moment’s notice into her grandfather’s dilapidated Italian leather messenger bag she refused to replace despite years of judgmental eyes.

With the exception of the bag and specificity of the notebook, she was unattached to things and people, mostly due to the requirements of her profession which, along with constant travel, encouraged deep dives into specific topics, sometimes days for a short assignment, other times months if she was lucky enough to have the time, freedom, and support for more creative work. Regardless of the length each piece took, she consistently found herself diving head-first into research, which often borderlined into obsession, in order to crank out decent words to flow into sentences, which all hopefully held some kind of semblance of a story.

These periods of intense focus were always followed by a mental and emotional detachment of all she had zeroed in on and spilled out onto the pages. Partly due to pure exhaustion after nights in pursuit of a clean story and deadline, another side of her chose to believe she was simply dedicated to her art which required removal from the old to make room for the next set of blank pages. Invested in her work, yet swiftly moving from one story, locale, and person to the next, any long-term commitment outside of the one she had made to the two objects she so loved, was just not possible at present, if ever. While childhood friends back home preached the value of owning a little black dress to woe suitors, she was content in her ownership of a little black notebook at all times.

Now finding herself without fresh pages to jot her discoveries, she felt powerless and frustrated at the memory of today’s shopkeepers’ repetitive “No, sorry madam, we just sold our last one yesterday. Might you be interested in the other brands and colors we carry?” Blame it on superstitious tendencies, plain stubbornness, or fear that the quality of her writing might suffer, no other notebook would do. She hoped one might emerge out of thin air overnight because tomorrow, she would travel to Italy to cover Milan’s Furniture Fair, an occurrence which made the cover of a certain New York newspaper’s Arts and Design section annually. Although she preferred a successful book deal every few years, these assignments more regularly paid the bills, and for someone who still didn’t own a single piece of non-Ikea furniture and couldn’t draw well, she reveled spending time around designers. Their ingenuity mixed with pragmatism in their craft, a technicality and precision evident in their products, was inspiring and hypnotizing. She preferred this type of creativity which was carefully harnessed and channeled with laser-tunnel vision versus thrown into the wind in the hopes of landing somewhere like a Pollock, paint thrown onto a canvas wildly with abandon. The latter often felt lazy to her; free-spirited and open but lacking in any real depth and discipline.

Prior to the milieu that awaited her in Milan, time ticked with only ten hours left of a week-long attempt to discover her French heritage. All five initially blank black notebooks, brought from the U.S., were now full of notes and attempts to find patterns between her surroundings and the few pieces of historical knowledge she had come to find out from another black notebook, handed down by her grandmother. The six notebooks spread out before her on the floor of the quaint farmhouse which had served as her daily point of departure and return as she tried to put the puzzle pieces together of a life she knew little about, whole chapters left unexplored and unsaid in the fifteen years she was able to spend with her grandma. In those years, she hadn’t asked about her previous life in France, with only one exception.

The only time she had dared to inquire was at her own seventh birthday brunch. Seated on Carla’s family porch eating toast with Bonne Maman jam on the warmest day of the year, her grandmother had rolled her sleeves up past her elbows displaying a tattoo of numbers. “Grandma, what’s that on your arm?” Her grandmother quickly rolled her sleeves down and muttered a few words in French, too quiet for Carla to hear. Even at that young age, she sensed the tattoo wasn’t a subject open for exploration. She never asked her grandmother or parents about it again, only collecting clues dropped in passing from conversations overheard throughout her childhood and via school history lessons. Now in a desperate attempt to garner any final clues before her departure from her grandmother’s hometown, she opened up the original black notebook that had at this point turned a weathered gray but whose binding still somehow retained a strong hold. Carla flipped each page, which held childhood musings and daily occurrences of a life not only pre-immigration but also pre-war, before that tattoo, when all was still intact in her grandmother’s world. No specific clues about the impending war itself or what concentration camp she was ultimately sent to, only an eerie lightheartedness. The last page, however, was different than the others. The handwriting was less legible, yet the ink seemed clearer to read, as if it had been written in recent years, not over 70 years ago. There, it contained a few quotes from what Carla presumed to be figures her grandmother looked up to. For what reason, she wasn’t sure yet.

“To lose a passport was the least of one’s worries. To lose a notebook was a catastrophe” ― Bruce Chatwin

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” ― Ernest Hemingway

“Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.” ― Vincent Van Gogh

“Everything you can imagine is real.” ― Pablo Picasso

At the bottom of the page, “The bag. Rip open the bag.”

What bag? A purse? What was in it? Who was her grandmother’s intended audience here?

Suddenly, it occurred to her. She had been so blind.

Carla ripped open the inner lining of her grandfather’s messenger bag.

Inside, a tiny piece of paper was sewn to the bag itself. She grabbed it and quickly deciphered the few words written, “Bonne Maman. Pierre. $20,000. He’ll explain. What you do, your wish. Reflect on notebook. Align life accordingly. Counting on you.”

Carla rushed out of the farmhouse and ran back to Bonne Maman for the sixth time this week, hopeful Pierre would answer the door at this late hour. Italy could wait. Her grandmother had more to tell her.


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