Saturday 1st March. Eleven thirty on a bright, chilly morning, in one of the seedier suburbs of Paris. Peeling billboards, a graffitied bus shelter, and massive façades of dismal grey concrete. A car parked on the curb, the open trunk containing a treasure unsuspected by passersby. A parting handshake, and I walk away feeling slightly stunned. I have just made the best deal of my life.
It had all begun a few days previously, at 2:00 a.m. on a February night of wind and rain-spattered window panes. Yet again, I had been trawling the internet in search of the perfect, affordable, vintage typewriter. I had seen dozens of Olivettis (all ugly); scores of 1970s Olympias (simply unmentionable); a blue and grey Japy Script from the 1960s with a matching case lined in snazzy red artificial silk; a delightful green Erika, also from the 1960s, which I was half-tempted to buy; and countless other models in various states of disrepair. But what I really lusted after, what I had lusted after for nigh on fifteen years, were the American Streamliners of the 1930s, preferably by Remington or Smith-Corona. And of those, there were none.
That’s when I stumbled upon an ad that changed everything. All it said was “Old Typewriter for Sale” but something about the poor quality picture caught my attention. I peered at it more closely and all of a sudden, my heart gave a lurch of excitement. Could it be??? Again I squinted at it, my nose almost touching the computer screen. There was no doubt about it: I was looking at a 1940 Remington Rand Deluxe Model 5. Some chap all the way across Paris was clearing out his basement and was selling it for a song.
There followed two days of agony as I waited for an answer to the email I had sent off post haste, half-convinced that it wasn’t even worth trying, that the Remington – MY Remington! – had already been snapped up by someone else, that such wondrous strokes of luck never happened to people like me. When at last I received an answer and learnt that the typewriter was still available, I was jubilant! I counted the days till I could go and pick it up, and when, finally, it stood upon my desk in all its splendour (smelling strongly of mildew, I might add!), I couldn’t stop gloating.
I examined it anxiously for flaws but the man hadn’t lied: it was in perfect working condition. Only the key that activated the little bell, signalling the carriage had reached the end of a line, was jammed, but ten minutes of careful jiggling with a knife soon put it to rights. To my delight, though much-used and slightly torn in places, the ribbon even had enough ink still left in it to type several exploratory pages.
Only rarely does one get the opportunity to act out a long-cherished fantasy. But every time I sit down at my beautiful typewriter, a deep contentment steals over me. Suddenly, I feel a strong sense of kinship with those who came before: every letter I type, every click of the keys brings me closer to Hemingway, opening his windows to the sea breezes of Key West and mixing himself another mojito before sitting down to work again; to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, swatting at mosquitos and tap-tap-tapping away in the hot, humid atmosphere of her home in Cross Creek; or to Helene Hanff, chain-smoking at her desk in her New York brownstone apartment and regaling friends across the Atlantic with her hilarious views on books and life…
Friends, beware: I sense a veritable avalanche of (typewritten) letters coming on!
© Florence Berlioz 2014