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Wednesday 30 June 2021

The Saga of the Monpti Portable Typewriter

And so, as of yesterday, it has returned home to me, and it won't be boomeranging anywhere from here!

I hasten to add that no animals were harmed in the making of this saga, nor was any injury suffered by anyone's pride or purse - everyone involved remains on the very best of terms. For full details about the Monpti, see my blog post from May 31, 2013, here.

Monday 28 June 2021

Quick, Take the Ribbon Spool Cover Off, I've Got a News Story to Type

I had to laugh when I saw this 1989 photo of the newsroom of the Otago Daily Times newspaper in Dunedin, New Zealand. It appeared in an ODT  tribute for a retiring journalist. There are at least three or four Olivettis without their ribbon spool covers - I'm assuming the Imperial on the right is one exception, since the spool cover lifts up on it, but not off. I never worked in this newsroom, but I did in the one below, The Irish Press in Dublin, and you can see at least one Olympia without its spool cover. What gives? Well, to be honest I can't rightly recall, but I suspect it was to save time if a ribbon change was required, or perhaps if typebars got jammed. It'd have something to do with haste, that's for sure. The real question is: Where were all the spool covers kept?

Saturday 26 June 2021

The Last Words Hemingway Ever Wrote

Hemingway typing on an Underwood Noiseless portable in Idaho on October 7, 1939.
He never liked the photo. "I don't work like this," he said.

Fritz Savier's grave, circled, seen here behind Hemingway's.

It will be 60 years next Friday since Ernest Hemingway blew his brains out with a Boss shotgun in Ketchum, Idaho. Less than five years later, on March 11, 1967, Wood River High School freshman and champion schoolboy skier Frederic Gordon “Fritz” Saviers, the son of Hemingway’s doctor George Bate Saviers, died from a long-term congenital heart condition, aged just 15. Fritz, born the week before Christmas 1951, had been diagnosed with the incurable ailment at the Colorado General Hospital in his birthplace, Denver, on June 15, 1961, the day Hemingway wrote a charming letter to him. At the foot of Hemingway’s grave in Ketchum, and facing it, is the last resting place of young Fritz. The two were close during Hemingway’s final months. The last words Hemingway ever wrote were in his letter to Fritz, sent from the Mayo Clinic Hospital on the Saint Mary’s Campus in Rochester, Minnesota, where Dr Saviers had flown Hemingway in a Piper for electroshock treatment in April 1961 [Hemingway was checked in under the name George Saviers]. Dr Saviers let Hemingway know that his son Fritz was in the Denver hospital with his heart problem. Hemingway’s letter read:

“Dear Fritz

I was terribly sorry to hear this morning in a note from your father that you were laid up in Denver for a few days more and speed off this note to tell you how much I hope you’ll be feeling better.

It has been very hot and muggy here in Rochester but the last two days it has turned cool and lovely, with the nights wonderful for sleeping. The country is beautiful around here and I’ve had a chance to see some wonderful country along the Mississippi where they used to drive the logs in the old lumbering days and the trails where the pioneers came north and saw some good bass jump in the river. I never knew anything about the upper Mississippi before and it is really a very beautiful country and there are plenty of pheasants and ducks in the fall. But not as many as in Idaho and I hope we’ll both be back there shortly and can joke about our hospital experiences together.

Best always to you, old timer

from your good friend who misses you very much

Mister) Papa

Best to all the family. Am feeling fine and very cheerful about things in general and hope to see you all soon.


magazine published the letter in its August 25, 1961, edition, saying, “To the tragedy of Ernest Hemingway’s death there is now added a tender, peculiarly fitting postscript – a letter to a little boy forced to put aside for good the rugged outdoors world they both so loved. The letter’s words were the last that Hemingway ever wrote. The boy is Fritz Saviers, 9, of Ketchum, Idaho, whose father was Hemingway’s doctor and his hunting and fishing friend. Fritz delighted in going on their trips, and Hemingway was charmed by the boy’s Hemingwayesque pleasure in what his athletic young body could do. ‘There’s a boy,’ the author would say. Around Ketchum where the children called Hemingway ‘Mr Papa’, Fritz was allowed plain ‘Papa’.

“Then, together, the man who was a living legend and his small friend turned a sad corner. Hemingway, himself in the Mayo Clinic for hypertension, learned that Fritz was hospitalised with heart disease. Ernest Hemingway immediately wrote the note at right, characteristically spare yet full of the physical zest that is his trademark, full of the things dear to this 9-year-old. And as usual with Hemingway, it was what he did not say that carried the measure of his sadness. Two weeks later, back in Ketchum, when Fritz had to return to the hospital for diagnostic tests, he came to say goodbye to ‘Papa’. As always the two had a solemn conversation – the Yankee’s pennant chances, a 14-inch trout Fritz had caught. As they parted, Hemingway put his arm around the little boy, and said, ‘Be a good scout.’

“The next day Fritz was told that his famous friend was dead. As in The Old Man and the Sea, when the young boy sees the defeat of the heroic old fisherman he loves, Fritz wept. But as his eyes filled with tears, he fled the room, unwilling that anyone see his sobbing.”

Fritz Saviers with a .22 rifle which had belonged to Hemingway and was given to Fritz by Hemingway’s widow Mary.
From the Valley Morning Star, March 3, 1958.

Only three weeks before his own death, Fritz Saviers won the Expert B boys division of the Intermountain junior slalom championships at the Thayne Canyon outside Park City, Utah. Fritz’s father George died, aged 78, on June 23, 1994. He was the son of a pioneer Twin Falls newspaperman, George Delno Saviers, and the husband of a champion skier, Patricia Gordon Pierce, the daughter of a superior court judge who he married in 1947. They were divorced in 1968. George Saviers had travelled to Spain to be with Hemingway for the author’s 60th birthday on July 21, 1959, during the “Dangerous Summer”. Antonio Ordóñez dedicated his second bull to Saviers at a corrida in Valencia on July 25. Saviers acted as one of Hemingway’s pallbearers.

Hemingway with George Saviers in Spain in July 1959.
Fritz's mother and sister.

Friday 25 June 2021

What Has Paul Theroux's Mojo Got To Do With Typewriters?

Paul Theroux and I have sat in the same spot, beside Paul Gauguin’s grave at the Calvary Cemetery above Atuona on Hiva Oa island in the Marquesas, but 19 years apart (he in 1991, me in 1972). It will probably be the closest I’ll ever get to a world-famous travel writer and novelist with a penchant for being photographed shirtless (as had Gauguin trouserless). I do consider myself a long-time good friend of Brian Stoddard, brilliant creator of Inspector Le Fanu, but Brian and his intrepid Madras policeman prefer to keep all their clothes on.

Theroux, who turned 80 in April (“The biggest cloud on my horizon,” he called the event), contributed the Diary column to that month’s edition of Literary Review. His latest novel, Under the Wave at Waimea, was about to appear. Set in Hawaii, it’s about an older surfer feeling his age and wondering if he still has his mojo. Judging by the tone of the column, it’s Theroux himself who’s reaching for the magical charm bag. Is he tiring of his eternal search for the most idyllic place in the Pacific?

Lake Kaniere, which, until her dying days, Agatha Christie considered the most beautiful place she had ever seen. And she'd seen plenty on God's green earth.

I’ve long since found my pick, a fact that was powerfully reinforced by a visit to my homeland of New Zealand earlier this month. Indeed, it’s not far from Waimea, although the waves of Waimea referenced in the title of Theroux’s new novel are a long way from the Waimea I know. As Theroux alludes in Literary Review, there are many words and place names which are common, or very similar, throughout Polynesian culture, and of course through the Māori these extend to New Zealand. An example Theroux uses is kapu in Hawaii, from which ‘taboo’ derives. In Māori it’s even closer: tapu.

The 'V's' of the Alpine Fault line, looking north from the Hokitika Gorge.

As for Waimea, in Hawaii there are places, rivers and a bay on O'ahu with that name. In New Zealand, there are plains, rivers and an inlet. The Waimeas I’m familiar with are in the Tasman Bay, the northern part of what I would argue is the most scenically spectacular strip of land to be found anywhere on God’s earth. This stretches down from the Golden Bay and is enclosed within the western side of what is known as the Alpine Fault, running alongside the Southern Alps. Being earthquake country, there are many signs of the destructive force of nature, but it remains so beautiful because, in the main, it has resisted the destructive force of man.

The icy cold waters of the Hokitika River coming down the gorge from the alps.

A man from the Tasman Waimea unleashed much of the destructive force of man. He was Ernest, Lord Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics, the New Zealander who split the atom. Rutherford, born in Brightwater, attended the same school where Bill Pickering later went; Pickering was the man behind America’s first satellite. My ties with the area are that I once worked in Nelson and my paternal grandmother was born in Belgrove in the Waimea, south of Brightwater, Wakefield and Wai-Iti. I have a nephew now living in Wakefield.

One of only two typewriters I spotted in a week in New Zealand,
this one in a bookshop window.

Theroux once wrote that “anything is possible on a train”. In my case, on my last visit, it wasn’t, so I drove everywhere I went. I didn’t get to the Waimea, nor did I get to see much in the way of typewriters (New Zealand is usually a happy hunting ground for me). But I did get to experience once again the magnificent grandeur of the place I grew up in, the West Coast. From the various places I visited, the many people I met and the things I found, I was reminded of the Coast’s rich history, from before and since European settlement in the early 1860s. Europeans, mostly Irish, went there in search of gold, and stayed on, finding themselves in surrounds which provided an almost familiar home away from home.

Theroux gave up using a typewriter because, for him, “banging at a typewriter was very exhausting”. That’s never been my experience. My “biggest cloud” is not being able to type with every type of typewriter that was ever made. While I was in New Zealand, the type of typewriter I’d have once jumped at came up for auction on TradeMe, New Zealand’s more trustworthy equivalent of eBay. A friend alerted me to a Pittsburg Visible No 10, which I gather was passed in at the starting price of just under $NZ600 ($US425). The agent in New Zealand for the Pittsburg was George Manley Yerex, mentioned in my post about his son Lowell in mid-March. I tried to tempt a couple of fellow typewriter lovers to “have a go” for the one on TradeMe, but neither did.

I’m resigned to the fact a Pittsburg Visible is one typewriter I’ll never get to use. Nor will be the nice little Brother I saw in a bookshop in my hometown – the owner understandably didn’t want to part with it. She did, however, give me the Olivetti Dora brochure and the Hermes typeface guide I posted last week. Where there’s a true typewriter lover, it seems, there’s also always a touch of good-heartedness and generosity. Such a pity Paul Theroux didn’t persevere with typewriters a little longer. He might still have his mojo in full working order.

Lake Mahinapua, where I went in search of the elusive kōtuku. This was the site of a significant battle between Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Wairangi Māori.

                                          The newspaper where I started out in journalism in 1965.

A park named in honour of our sporting family, which now includes a member of the New Zealand cricket team which won the world championship in England this week. We were mostly into the rugby codes, sailing and cycling. As for me, the illo below sums up my contribution!

The reason I went to New Zealand was to visit my eldest sister Elaine, now sadly suffering from dementia.
The West Coast is known for its gold production, and I did manage to get my hands on a nugget weighing more than eight ounces and worth almost $NZ20,000, but it wasn't mine to keep! The Coast also produces much pounamu, or greenstone, a type of nephrite jade.
Driftwood on a Tasman Sea beach identifies the town I stayed in.
If you look hard, on the left you will spot the Metrosideros fulgens (scarlet rātā, rātā vine or in Māori akatawhiwhi), a forest liana or vine endemic to New Zealand. It only flowers once in four or five years. My father was colour blind and it was a great regret in his life that he was never able to see it.

The Southern Alps stretch on as I set out to cross the Canterbury Plains and get to the Coast.
                                                     The viaduct at Otira Gorge, crossing the alps.

Wednesday 23 June 2021

More Power to Naomi's Tennis Elbow

Way back in the early 1980s, the mother of a young female West Australian tennis player rang me at The Daily News and told me to stop publishing her daughter’s earnings. “It’s nobody else’s business,” she said. I tried pointing out that the money winners’ list was not my work, but was issued from the US by the Women's Tennis Association itself, and sent out on the international wires. It was a bit like the rankings lists that are regularly referred to these days, now that the old-style pioneering pro tours, when just about everyone played in the same events, no longer exist. But back then it there was also a large slice of PR about it. “Look what sort of dough your daughter could be pocketing if she joined the professional tennis tour,” it was saying.  (The WTA was founded by Billie Jean King in 1973 with just nine players.) Not that the accumulated winnings would have been difficult for anyone to work out. As with golf, the total prizemoney on offer in each tournament was known, as was the way that prizemoney was allocated. Extras, like Extra chewing gum endorsements, didn’t come into the reckoning.

But of course the mother of the WA player on the WTA tour was having none of this. And it seemed strange to me that she might imagine her daughter, so prominent on the international sporting stage, was somehow entitled to some privacy about the amount of money she was winning. The mother’s savage outburst on the phone came back to me when Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open three weeks ago. I’m sure she’d now be siding with Osaka, but perhaps for more defensible reasons than those expressed all those years ago.

The amounts highly-paid sports professionals earn should be in the public domain. In Osaka’s case, however, the question is whether she has the right to earn much less money by refusing to attend press conferences. Surely it’s her call, and “nobody else’s business”.

I’m still not sure what position to take on the Osaka affair. At least one colleague, whose opinions I respect, went online declaring Osaka is in the wrong, that she had a responsibility to the sport which has rewarded her so handsomely. My initial reaction was to feel some sympathy for her, especially on the mental health issue. But those who heard my Zoom talk on sports writing during the Herman Price gathering late last year will know that I’m very much of the old school when it comes to journalists relying on press conferences for their stories. Without taking into consideration the real reasons Osaka took her stand, my first reaction was that Osaka was doing sports writers a favour by making them file their copy without any additional help from her.

Under the headline “More than just a game: the ageless art of the sports writer”, The Guardian’s Barney Ronay last week talked about his newspaper’s team “taking to the field once again to report on an exciting flurry of events that hopefully will serve as an agreeable distraction from the horrors of the past 18 months”. Among the events he mentioned was Wimbledon, which Osaka will also miss. Ronay said, “One thing that is startlingly unchanged through the years is the florid, waspish tone of Guardian sports writing, a style much beloved of readers who have always wanted far more than just results and action from their sports pages. An early protagonist was Neville Cardus [who] is the obvious place to start when comparing the experience of sports writing then and now.” Ronay believes Cardus invented “a way of seeing and describing sport” and that he became “sports writing’s first popular star”. On that point Ronay overlooks Pierce Egan, whose Boxiana preceded Cardus by more than a century.

All that aside, Cardus never attended a press conference. Nor did Egan. I have attended many, but never once did I go into a press conference depending on it for a story. By a sheer fluke, however, one press conference did give me a scoop. It was in Kuala Lumpur during the 1998 Commonwealth Games, and I was the only Australian journalist in attendance. I had sensed earlier in the day, being in a similar position at the finish line of the women’s road cycling race, that “something was up” in the Australian camp. None of the clearly anguished Australians would “spill the beans”, but the race winner, Canadian Lyne Bessette, opened up on how the Australian team had self-destructed through Kathy Watt deciding to ignore the race plan and go it alone. Once on to it, I managed to get a call into the Games Village and, realising I was armed with details, an Australian official confirmed all. The thing about that particular press conference was that everyone had expected the usual scripted replies – no one anticipated that Bessette, now a politician, would put her unexpected triumph down to a severe outbreak of Australian cattiness.

Press conferences are no more or less than an easy way out for sports reporters who are incapable of constructing a news story from a mere sporting event. At a Press gathering before the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, as I asked the head of the News Corp team what Jesse Owens had done at the 1936 Berlin Games. She didn’t know. “What does it matter?” she asked. It matters. Knowledge of sports means a reporter doesn’t have to go into a press conference, desperate for a story and prepared to ask Naomi Osaka questions which bear no relation to her tennis playing, or the outcome of the match in which she had just played. Press conferences also give athletes opportunities to lie, as Ben Johnson did in Seoul in 1988 and Marion Jones did in Sydney in 2000. In the broader world, they’re a platform for politicians to spread fake news about fake news. So I’m inclined to back Osaka. More power to her tennis elbow, I say.

Friday 18 June 2021

Olivetti Dora Portable Typewriter Brochure: 'Designed to Make Typewriting Even More Universally Available'

The Olivetti Dora portable typewriter (aka Olivetti Lettera 31, Ventura, Italia ’90 and Class, Underwood 315 and 310, Mercedes and Mercedes Super T, and Montgomery Ward Escort 33) is named for the Fiume Dora Baltea, a 110-mile long river in north-western Italy which runs through Ivrea, the home town of Olivetti. It is a tributary of the Po. It originates by Mont Blanc as the confluence of the Dora di Ferret, fed by the Pré de Bar Glacier in Val Ferret, and the Dora di Veny, fed by the Miage Glacier and Brenva Glacier in Val Veny. As it crosses the Aosta Valley, the Dora Baltea flows through the city of Aosta and near all the main cities of the lower Aosta Valley: Châtillon, Saint-Vincent, Verrès and Pont-Saint-Martin. After it enters Piedmont, it passes through Ivrea and a good part of Canavese and reaches the Po at Crescentino. It is popular place for whitewater rafting and kayaking. The Dora Riparia is another tributary of the Po.

Thursday 17 June 2021

Corona Portable Typewriters of the Chinese Communist Martyr and the British-Mexican Surrealist and Feminist

Two typewriters, both Corona portables, have gone on display in museums in the past few weeks – one, a Groton-made Corona 3 folding, is in Shanghai, and the other, a West Bromwich-made plastic fantastic SCM, is in Mexico City. They belonged to two very different people, though both did much for major 20th Century movements – Communism and Feminism.

The Corona in Shanghai forms part of the centenary-marking Memorial for the Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China. It was, the organisers say, the typewriter used by Li Dazhao, or Li Ta-chao (1889-1927), to type up party documents.  Li was a Chinese intellectual who took part in the New Cultural Movement in the early years of the Republic of China, established in 1912, and co-founded the Communist Party of China with Chen Duxiu in July 1921. However, seven years ago a later model Corona portable (a four-bank) was on display at the Li Dazhao Memorial Hall in Li’s birthplace, Laoting County, Hebei Province.

A film clip of Li.
After more than 18 months of renovation and expansion, the Shanghai memorial, situated in the trendy tourist enclave of Xintiandi, reopened to the public two weeks ago. The memorial includes a 3000 square metre exhibition hall displaying 1168 historical relics, photos and diagrams that give insights into the history of the founding of the CCP. The building is the site of the First National Congress of the CCP, which Li himself was unable to attend. He has, however, been described as the CPC's “first true leader and its greatest martyr”.  

From 1914-16, Li attended Waseda University in Tokyo, but was expelled for taking part in the campaign against Yuan Shikai's imperial endeavors. Li returned to China in 1916 and served as a newspaper editor in Beijing. In January 1918 he was hired by Cai Yuanpei to be the head of the library at Beijing University and became a professor of politics, history and economics there. He influenced students during the May Fourth Movement 1919, including Mao Zedong, who worked as an assistant in the library's reading room. Under the leadership of Li and Chen, the CPC developed a close relationship with the Soviet controlled Comintern. Directed by the Comintern, Li and Chen joined the Nationalist Party (Kuomintangin, or KMT) in 1922 and forged a close tie with Sun Yat-sen to form a United Front. Li was elected to the KMT's Central Executive Committee in Guangzhou in January 1924 and visited the Soviet Union late that year. In 1926 he was forced to take refuge in the Soviet Embassy in Beijing. When the United Front collapsed in 1927, Zhang Zuolin of the Fengtian clique ordered a raid on the embassy. Zhang had Li and 19 others, both Nationalists and Communists, executed by strangulation on April 28, 1927.

Leonore Carrington and Max Ernst in a photograph by Lee Miller.

The much later model Corona portable went on display at the end of last month in the former home and studio of British-born Mexican artist, surrealist painter and novelist Leonora Carrington (1917-2011). Carrington lived there for more than 60 years. It is now open to the public as a museum, to show some of her works and possessions. More than 8600 objects have been catalogued. Pablo Weisz Carrington, son of the late painter and sculptor, sold the house to the Autonomous Metropolitan University on condition it be converted into a museum. The museum in Colonia Roma has on display 45 sculptures and other works and possessions, including the typewriter, donated by Pablo.

Mary Leonora Carrington was born at Westwood House, Clayton Green, Chorley, Lancashire, England, the daughter of a wealthy textile manufacturer. Educated by governesses, tutors and nuns, she was expelled from two schools for her rebellious behaviour. Her family sent her to Florence, where she attended Mrs Penrose's Academy of Art. In 1935, she attended the Chelsea School of Art in London for one year, and with the help of her father's friend Serge Chermayeff, she was able to transfer to the Ozenfant Academy of Fine Arts established by the French modernist Amédée Ozenfant in London.

In 1936 Carrington saw the work of the German artist Max Ernst at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London and was attracted to Ernst before she even met him. They met at a party in London in 1937. The artists bonded and returned together to Paris, where Ernst promptly separated from his wife. In 1938 they left Paris and settled in Saint Martin d'Ardèche in southern France. The couple collaborated and supported each other's artistic development. Soon after the Nazis invaded France, Ernst was arrested by the Gestapo because his art was considered to be “degenerate”. He managed to escape and, leaving Carrington behind, fled to the United States with the help of arts sponsor Peggy Guggenheim. After Ernst's arrest Carrington was devastated and agreed to go to Spain with a friend, Catherine Yarrow. She stayed with family friends in Madrid until her paralyzing anxiety and delusions led to a psychotic breakdown and she was admitted to an asylum. She was given “convulsive therapy” and was treated with the drugs cardiazol and Luminal. She was released from the asylum into the care of a keeper, and was told that her parents had decided to send her to a sanatorium in South Africa. En route to South Africa, she stopped in Portugal, where she made her escape. She went to the Mexican Embassy to find Renato Leduc, a poet and Mexican Ambassador. Leduc was a friend of Pablo Picasso and agreed to a marriage of convenience with Carrington so that she would be accorded the immunity given to a diplomat's wife. Meanwhile, Ernst had married Guggenheim in New York in 1941. That marriage ended a few years later. Ernst and Carrington never resumed their relationship.

After a year in New York, Leduc and Carrington went to Mexico, which she grew to love and where she lived, on and off, for the rest of her life. She befriended painter Frida Kahlo, future Nobel laureate Octavio Paz and Hungarian photographer Kati Horna, and had a relationship with the émigré Spanish artist Remedios Varo. Carrington and Leduc divorced in 1943. Carrington later married Emerico “Chiki” Weisz, born in Hungary, a photographer and the darkroom manager for Robert Capa during the Spanish Civil War. Carrington died on May 25, 2011, aged 94, in a hospital in Mexico City as a result of complications arising from pneumonia.