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Looking Back

Finding a Ferrari-red Olivetti-Underwood

It is unfortunate that the joint panel on Bibliophilia did not materialize in the last Philippine Readers and Writers Festival (PRWF). To be in conversation with Butch Dalisay would have been both a pleasure and an education on books, writing and writing instruments.

My first mentor on writing instruments was the late E. Aguilar Cruz, who fancied the whole range — from the cheapest Bic ballpen to the expensive Montblanc Diplomat. I remember being bored witless during our regular visits to National Book Store (NBS), where Cruz would try out all the pens and pencils, explaining the difference in pen points and nibs, the lines these made, or the distinct scratching sound and feel of each writing instrument as it glided on paper. Cruz wrote longhand on an assortment of notebooks, while I type, because I can barely read my own rushed script off notebooks.

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Dalisay, a connoisseur of fountain pens, also happens to collect Apple. If memory serves me right, he never threw away old Mac computers and completed his collection by buying pre-loved ones from junk shops. At the PRWF, I requested him to mine, from his sources, a used manual typewriter — and this was the challenge: in cursive or script font. Two days later, I received an email from Dalisay saying the script font was quite rare and that he only had one script model in his collection of 30 typewriters, but he knew someone with a collection of over a hundred typewriters who was willing to let one go. It was a choice between an Olympia Traveller and an Olivetti-Underwood.

So I set a meeting with Dennis Pinpin, who I imagined was distantly related to the 17th-century printer considered by some “the First Filipino Printer” — or, because someone else might come out of the dustbin of history to challenge this title, “The Prince of Filipino Printing,” which begs the question: If Pinpin is the Prince, who is King?

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To cut a long column short, we met in McDonald’s, and I was first shown an apple-green Olympia that came in its sturdy travel case, which reminded me of my own in a boring off-white and gray body that I used in Madrid in the mid-1980s. My landlord complained of the noise it made during siesta. The Olivetti, on the other hand, came protected by cling wrap, and was coaxed out of a bayong. While most people today would associate the holes in a bayong with the transport of chickens or fighting cocks, the same bayong would be associated by Dr. Rico Jose, the authority on the Japanese occupation, with the head cover used by the Makapili when they picked guerillas out of a police line-up. Bayongs are versatile; that day, it transported a typewriter.

Choosing between the typewriters was easy. The Olivetti-Underwood was red as a Ferrari, winning hands down over the apple-green Olympia. Both had clear, legible type, but the Olivetti had better spacing. Just like a car with a chassis model number engraved somewhere on the engine, a typewriter has a model number on the right top of the frame, under the right end of the carriage. Googling 450069 confirmed that the Olivetti Studio 44 model was manufactured circa 1962/63. While the typewriter was clean, reconditioned, and in perfect working order, my first question was, where do I get typewriter ribbon? I closed the deal when I was told NBS still carries typewriter ribbon.

So the Ferrari-red Olivetti went home with me and replaced the printer on my work table, beside the 13-inch Space Gray MacBook Air. I fished out a clean sheet of bond paper and typed out, instead of the overused “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog,” something more relevant: “A fines de Octubre Don Santiago de los Santos conocida popularmente bajo el nombre de Capitan Tiago daba una cena…” The first line from Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” in the original Spanish.

When I was studying French, the late E. Aguilar Cruz gave me a typewriter that not only had complete diacritical marks and the “ç”; its keys were arranged differently. Instead of QWERTY, its first six letters were laid out as AZERTY, making it difficult for everyday use. I requested my sister to fish the typewriter out of her bodega to restrain me from falling headlong into yet another rabbit hole of collecting. I promised myself, however, that the only other typewriter I would aspire for is a unicorn that types in Helvetica.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Butch Dalisay, Dennis Pinpin, E. Aguilar Cruz, Looking Back, Olivetti-Underwood, writing instruments
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