Pencil of the Week

photo: restaurant parigi, rue gaite

The beginning and end of this week's 'Italian' feature - except for Marie de Médicis.

Côtes for Breakfast?

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 3. March 2003:- Up until tonight's TV-weather news, the forecast for the coming week was uniformly somber. But something must have happened because the prediction now calls for the skies to lighten up a bit as the week goes on.

So instead of gloom, gloom, gloom, we can now expect gloom, partly sunny and mostly sunny - with high temperatures expected to be 14, 15, and 13 for Thursday.

It certainly matches the revolutionary name given to this period of the year, even if the weather hasn't been quite so extreme - lots of rain! - for several years. In short, it is not particularly cold, but it is wetter than usual.

Café Life

When Better Pencils are Built

I haven't been keeping any eye on my pencils lately. If I need to use one, I know I have a couple of nearly new green model '9000' Faber-Castells, to replace the stub of one I was using.

Then last week I mentioned Terrie Blazek's Christmas gifts, which included a whole handy carry-sack full of the super-new 'Grip 2001' Faber-Castell pencils, which have won five design awards since being introduced in 2000.

In Saturday's International Herald Tribune, the front page was graced with a story headlined 'World's favoritephoto: marie de medicis fountain, luxembourg writing tool refuses to be erased.' Writer John Schmid started off, "The world's oldest word-processing and graphics system has no memory and no spell checker. It needs constant maintenance and cannot be upgraded." The pencil has been around for 400 years.

Marie's fountain.

Pencils do need maintenance, but Faber-Castell is constantly upgrading them. I haven't used my new 'Grip 2001' pencils enough to know if they are an improvement over the older '9000' model.

When Count von Faber-Castell took over the 242 year-old family company 20 years ago, he ignored advisors who said that digital pencils would bankrupt the company. Today the company makes 1.8 billion pencils out of a world production of about ten billion per year.

Faber-Castell has its own 10,000 hectare pine tree plantation in Brazil, and grows more trees than needed for its own production. The plantation is home to 137 types of birds and 37 other animal types. More interesting from a user's viewpoint, the pencil maker has developed its own water-based paint which is harmless to pencil chewers.

But the main point about this company's pencils is that they have 'clean' lead. After arriving in Paris and after the box of 20 pencils I had brought were used up, I was surprised to find that not all pencils are equal. 'Unclean' lead does not make immaculate lines.

In the early 1800s it was less Napoléon's shut-out of imports than the exhaustion of Britain's quality graphite that led to serious problems for continental pencil makers. But the Kingdom of Bavaria was founded in 1806 and this allowed more freedom of trade, which was boosted by the first rail line, from Nürnberg to Fürth.

At 22 in 1839, Lothar von Faber took over the family pencil enterprise. He had some business training, plus three years of experience in Paris. Borrowing improvements made by Conté in France, he introduced better quality lead, with different grades of hardness. He turned the pencil into a brand-name, 'A. W. Faber-Stifte.'

Then he took to the road, in Germany, then all around Europe. It wasn't easy because British pencils had the best reputation. Lothar von Faber kept his prices high and dealers wondered if maybe his lead wasn't silver, but he returned to Stein near Nürnberg with full order books.

In 1849 Lothar von Faber opened a bureau in New York, matched with agents in London, Paris and Saint-Petersburg. At home the company opened a kindergarten, built a school and a church for its employees. Bavaria's King Maximilian II gave him the title of Count in 1862 and he joined the royal council.

In 1847 high quality graphite was found in Siberia and by 1856 it was exclusively flowing to Stein in Bavaria, which gave 'A. W. Faber-Stifte' a significant quality andphoto: boat, luxembourg competitive advantage. Cedar wouldn't grow properly in Bavaria, so imports, mostly from California, continued.

The pencils were praised and used by Vincent Van Gogh, Max Liebermann, Wilhelm Busch, Gustav Doré, Horace Vernet, Wilhelm von Kaulbach and Peter von Cornelius.

Marie's sailboat pond.

Lothar von Faber died in 1896 with many honors but without leaving a son and the firm passed to his widow, then to his granddaughter, who married Count Alexander zu Castell-Rüdenhausen in 1898. Thus did the family, and company name change to 'A. W. Faber-Castell.'

Under the new family head the pencil 'Castell 9000' was introduced in 1905. It was a success that continues to this day. In the 1970s the product line included 5000 articles, but some of these - like slide-rules which were a major product - were to be dropped, leaving 1600 today.

The company sticks to what it does best. Since the '90s it has been adding-value and creating prestige lines and premium brands - with 'designer' products - but basically, 'A. W. Faber-Castell' is still a little pencil company in Stein near Nürnberg in Bavaria.

And, since my difficulties in the '70s to find them in Paris, the pencils are widely available here now - not more than five minutes' walk from where I live in Montparnasse.

Dimitri's Breakfast

We have spring fever here. People are either snuffling with colds - the lucky ones! - or ill with the grippe, or just plain kind of sleepy. I ran into Dimitri on Saturday somewhat after noon.

He was hanging on to the bar of the Bouquet, watching a half-full glass of côtes become empty. He told me about how boring Nice is after three days without saying anythingphoto: palais luxembourg about its Carnival or its casino. He absentmindedly ordered another glass.

We agreed that we should move to the south of France - somewhere a long way from Nice. He said he could fix chimneys and stairways. His glass became half-empty again.

The house that Marie had built.

We talked about the climate down there, which is mostly 'like California,' he said, but there have been a series of wet weather warnings lately. Dimitri thought the place he is thinking of is high enough not to get floods.

Just about as he was about to order another glass, he stopped himself, saying "I should have breakfast." I thought so too, but I'd already had mine. I was nearly ready for another one. But the Bouquet doesn't do breakfasts, not even in the morning. Down south doesn't either.

'About' Café Metropoleô Blanc de Blanc

Allan just phoned me from 'The Shed,' which is what the Moonlight winery is called even though it is a substantial new building.

He told me that 'Café Metropole Blanc de Blanc' together with 'Seattle Caviar' is going to be on show in Seattle at the 'Taste Washington' exhibition, on Sunday, 6. April.

There will be 140 wineries paired with 85 restaurants. The restaurants will create a dish to accompany the wines selected by the wineries. The event takes place from 16:00 to 21:00, with different entry charges for 'early entries' or the regular one at 17:30. Tickets are limited to 3000 and it was sold out last year.

The last report about the Café Metropole Blanc de Blanc was about its label and why it is like it is and why Allan likes it.

Expect to see other news here shortly. I would say what it is, but all these 'shortlies' have a habit of turning out to be somewhat extended. Soon. Check the 'Washington Wine' URL above for more complete details.

Café Metropole Club 'Reports'

Hit this link to last week's "HEY! The 11th is OKAY!" club meeting report, which was lively, animated and, well, lively.

With spring fever in the air I get to club meetings half asleep, expecting the meeting to be like me. But no! Somephoto: theatre marionettes, luxembourg new members and members are so excited to be in Paris that they wake me right up. Once the club report is done, I fall back into a doze for a week.

The marionette theatre in Marie's park.

The coming meeting of the Café Metropole Club will be on Thursday, 6. March. This - first! - March meeting finally marks the definitive and final end of all February meetings for this year. The saint's 'Day of the Week' will be Sainte-Collette.

Nearly all of the three details concerning the club - actually only the club's address is useful to know - are handily placed on the 'About the Club' page. The virtual membership card may be useful, especially if it is laminated.

The 'Call for Beano 'List' - asking readers and club members for their favorite Paris restaurants - if they are willing to share their favorites - is getting a steady stream of responses. Although the 'list' is still not long it is getting longer and I need to put it together, in some tidy fashion.

This is to be sort of the Café Metropole Club's own guide, suggested exclusively by its hungrier and possibly thirstier members. You might trust fellow members taste if you trust your own. And you do, don't you?

This Was Metropole Two Years Ago:

Issue 6.10 - 5. March 2001 - This issue began with the Café Metropole column's 'Winter' In Paris Confirmed' The 'Au Bistro' column's headline was 'Plague of the Week.' There was one feature titled 'Do You Have the Missing Utrillo?' This issue also had an Emails feature with the subject, 'On the Back of the Bus.' The update for the Café Metropole Club meeting on 8. March was named the 'First 'John Wayne Day' report of the week. The issue's 'Scene'photo: sign, rue de medicis column's headline was 'Seeing Is Believing.' There were four new 'Posters of the Week' and Ric's 'Cartoon of the Week' had the caption, 'Smoking Platform.'

This Was Metropole Seven Years Ago

Issue 1.02 - 4. March 1996 - This week's Metropole 'Diary' column was headlined, 'A 'Grand Depart' Weekend, Danger and Taxes.' The 'Au Bistro' column's unlikely title was 'This Is a True Story About French Taxes.' There were three Salon de l'Agriculture features, one with 'Food and Drink' and another with 'Cheese.' There was no Café Metropole Club update for this issue because the club didn't begin until the fall of 1999. The 'Scene' column hadn't started its erratic life yet. But there were new 'Posters of the Week' and Ric's Cartoon was called 'Ric's Cartoon of the Week.'

Two Mystery Count-Downs

Try to keep in mind Hector Berlioz and his coming 200th anniversary in 284 days, while considering that the franc is also 200 years old this year, or would be if it hadn't disappeared at the end of 2001.

When the franc was introduced in Napoléon's time, during the 13-month 'Peace of Amiens,' it was fixed at 4.5 grams of silver, and it maintained this value until WWI. The short-lived peace allowed the British their first chance to visit Paris in a long time, and there were 10,000 reported to be here in September of 1803, four months after the 'peace' ended. Madame Récamier was amused.

So she should have been, because 1803 was also the year that France sold Louisiana to the fledgling United States for a measly $15 million. With taxes and interest the total came to $23,213,567.73 - and did not include any territory south of the Red River. This amounted to 4¢ per acre, for a bit of land 43,000 square miles larger than the existing United States.

photo: pencil, faber castell grip 2001

The 'mystery' with these two events concerns the exact dates. Since I do not know them, I cannot supply their matching days of the week. Lacking these, you will be happy to know that we are currently in the revolutionary calendar month of 'Ventôse,' which continues until Thursday, 20. March.

The number of days left this year is 303. This is not an excessive length of time until New Years, especially when you consider that we've just run through 62 days of 2003 without too much exertion.
signature, regards, ric

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