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Paige Bowers
Paige Bowers
7 min read
Ye olde time-y bookbinders hard at work making my favorite thing. Photo:

As I've mentioned before, I've been learning bookbinding with some virtual classes and by tinkering around with a bunch of paper on my own. Why? I've always been a notebook geek, and when my kid started making do-it-yourself sketchbooks a year or so ago, it sparked a little something in me. I go through notebooks like it's not even funny. So why not make my own, with stuff I like that suits my scribbles and brainstorms?

Then I decided this felt like a frivolous idea. So I set it aside...until I started visiting art colleges with my kid. Seeing the print shop at SCAD and the book art created by MCAD students fanned that internal flickering to the point where it eventually became impossible to ignore. Yes, I have been in the process of looking for my next written book project. But the nerd in me decided to explore what it was like to create a beautiful book by hand as sort of an invitation to put an equally beautiful story there, or some notes for a story, or what-have-you.

I signed up for a class.

Part of learning involves making mistakes, and creating misshapen, wobbly things that are poorly measured and maybe even a little crooked or ill-conceived. Ask me how I know. But then you make something decent and you are emboldened to order some of the fancy marbled and printed papers that Hollander's sells, and you play around with fancy stitching and colored threads and so forth. Now you're cooking. You start offering to make people notebooks, the way you offered to make people scarves when you first learned how to knit. You can't help yourself. You are sick.

I have an affliction.

So I signed up for another class, this one about making travel journals. This one appealed to me, a. because I have a trip coming up next month, and b. because the lessons involved creating books of different sizes, with pockets and doo-dads (not a technical bookmaking term) that allow you to keep ticket stubs, menus, photos and the like. You can make the covers clean and simple and embellish them later. Or, you can dig into your brand new paper stash from Hollander's and make a cute cover with vintage hot air balloons.

See? I'm really not lying about this being an affliction.

Once you have these things laying around, the question is: now what? The instructor showed us examples of creators who used their journals to explore a specific story or topic on their trip (i.e. famed painters of the French Riviera, or environmental threats to the Amazon River ecosystem), or you can be more fluid and random about it, or you can put the journal together after the fact...more like a scrapbook. It's up to you.

Travel journals are an ancient form that dates back to a time when explorers like Marco Polo documented their journeys into unknown realms. Over time, these accounts became more philosophical, like Petrarch's story of climbing Mount Ventoux in 1336. For Petrarch, his ascent was not just about seeing things from a different perspective, but about his own progress in life. Travel diaries became a way for readers to experience new countries and cultures (though the portraits of locals were not always flattering), learn about the past, and gain new perspectives. For me, these little books will be a place for me to keep my odds and ends, as I scribble down fleeting thoughts, impressions and moments of inspiration.

Writing prompt: What's the most life-changing trip you've taken? Where did you go and what happened that made you see yourself in a new way, or the world around you differently? What lessons have you taken from that trip into your day to day life?

A snippet from Walt Whitman's Song of the Open Road

Photo: Unsplash

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading me wherever I choose,

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,

Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,

Strong and content I travel the open road.

Along the open road to an all-you-can eat buffet...

Photo: New Yorker

I have had some back and forth today with my friend Alison, who has become as France-obsessed as I am. Before she left Paris a month or so ago, I inundated her with this crazy list of things I thought she should do or eat. I did this, even though I know very well that when you get there, you just tend to wander and see what speaks to you and then those things become your place for baguettes, or chocolat chaud, or vin rouge. Or whatever.

According to The New Yorker, the hottest restaurant in France is not multi-starred eatery in Paris or Menton with impeccably plated meals. Rather, it is an all you can eat buffet called Les Grand Buffets in the town of Narbonne, which is about seventy miles from the Spanish border.

Lauren Collins writes:

"Like all buffets, Les Grands Buffets is a volume business. About eighty-five per cent of the restaurant’s patrons are French; others come in large numbers from Belgium and Spain, notwithstanding a decision by Les Grands Buffets to prohibit tour buses. Hardly a year passes without Privat dreaming up a new enticement or entertainment. “We add things all the time, but we hardly ever take things away,” he said. (A fancy version of mashed potatoes, he admitted, had not been a success.) Irène Derose, a retired bank employee who lives in a village in the Hérault, has been to Les Grands Buffets eighteen times, most recently for her birthday, which she celebrated by eating both lunch and dinner at the restaurant. “And I still haven’t tasted everything,” she told me."

This feels so Las Vegas to me. And yet, while I've vowed never to return to Sin City, there is this little weird part of me who could totally see myself taking a five-hour train ride from Paris just to see what this is all about.

Here's the whole story. Kind of makes me want to put in for a reservation, and then develop my plan of attack...

No, I'm not going to shut up about Cowboy Carter

Photo: Blair Caldwell

I started listening to Beyonce's new album "Cowboy Carter" last week as I was putting the finishing touches on this newsletter. I am among the throngs obsessed with it, in part because yes, it's a little bit country, but it's mostly a whole lot of Beyonce, and that's a good thing. It's a good thing that she tipped her ten-gallon hat to Black country artists, sharing her platform with them to highlight Black influences in country music, all the while putting her own twist on the genre. I love that it's a history lesson, and a commentary on modern life,, do I love the "Jolene" and "Blackbird" covers, and the killer duet with Miley Cyrus. I did not know how badly the world needed that duet to happen. And now we have it, and "Cowboy Carter" and we are so lucky.

For a little more on the history of Black country music, here's a great piece from Teen Vogue.

Also, be sure to read this piece by Tressie McMillan Cottom, about just what Queen Bey is trying to accomplish with her newest releases.

What I'm happy about: I'm no longer having nightmares about Iowa's Caitlin Clark putting up 41 points against LSU Monday night. It's the little things...

What I'm reading: Goodbye Russia by Fiona Maddocks. It's about the composer Rachmaninov's time in exile, and the composition of his last great work, "Symphonic Dances."

Flex of the week: LSU's Angel Reese for declaring for the WNBA draft with a Vogue article and photoshoot.

What I'm looking forward to next week: The post-Spring Break return of doggie daycare. Boots is a sweet boy, but he has a TON of energy, and if he isn't walked 607,048 times a day, or taken to the dog park for hours on end, he looks for trouble...which makes it hard to get stuff done.

Where I hope you'll donate this week (if you can): Sure, I feel like I've been hit by a freight train just trying to keep up with Boots this week. But as high octane as he is, he has brought us a lot of joy and laughs, especially after the loss of our dear Murray the Good Boy. So, if you're able, please donate to the Atlanta Humane Society, or a pet rescue near you. These rescues help connect sweet hellions like Boots with families like ours, who could probably stand to get our steps and steps and steps (and STEPS) in with him.

Thank you for allowing me to visit your inbox each Friday with these tidbits. If you know someone who might enjoy this newsletter, please share it with them and encourage them to subscribe for free. Each week(ish), I'll be sharing an eclectic range of stories and so forth. Sometimes I'll throw in a little bit of writing advice, and answer whatever questions you may have. It's a work in progress, rooted in my passion for writing about history, people from all walks of life, and the various things that interest me. Having said that, please don't hesitate to reach out with any feedback or suggestions for other things you'd like to see here. I want this to be a little weekly treat full of things you might find interesting, entertaining, inspiring and maybe even helpful, too!

Paige Bowers

Paige Bowers is a journalist and the author of two biographies about bold, barrier-breaking women in history.