“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” – William Wordsworth
Paper – a trade tool most every writer has used. Sometimes we curse it, when it is blank due to writer’s block. Other times, we crumple or shred the pages we pour our souls onto, thinking the work is no good. Yet there are times we frame that paper, because it bears our byline. Either way, there can be a love/hate relationship with the paper we need and use.
Notebooks, journals, typing paper, napkins, bags, construction paper – the list goes on. If we can write on it, we use it. We love movie scenes featuring a writer jotting down something important – even using an old food wrapper. Most of us keep a notepad in our purse or pocket.
As much as I have used it, I never really thought much as to the origin of paper.I never really thought much as to the origin of paper. Click To Tweet
I think that is why I was so enamored with our visit to the Museo della Carta in Amalfi on our trip to Italy. The “Paper Museum” was a fantastic guided tour of one of Amalfi’s main exports at one time – high quality paper.
Now, I had absolutely no idea about Amalfi paper before our trip. It was my husband who had searched for places to see in the coastal town, and he shared this little gem.
After making a harrowing trip from Positano to Amalfi on a tour bus, we walked a little less than a mile to the museum. Along the way, we passed shops and restaurants, noting where we’d grab our lunch after our tour.
Paper making started back in first century BC. As time marched on, and due to trading among merchants along the Mediterranean, the Amalfitani were introduced to “bambagina,” a soft, elegant paper made from cloth. Most historians date the ancient trade as starting in the 12th century. The Amalfitani learned the process from the Arab trading merchants. (Source: AmalfiCoasting.org)
When we stepped into the museum, our tri-lingual docent led our group down the stairs and into an underground paper mill. The impressive mill had been powered by water, which was piped in from the mountain springs. The mills ran on water and muscle for centuries before electricity came along.
Our docent walked us through the process, beginning with fact that the paper was made from cloth. Way back in the day, the Amalfitani would gather rags and old clothing to be used. They were recycling before it became a “thing.” The cloth was cut or ripped into pieces, soaked in tubs, and pounded into fibers.
I had volunteered to be the assistant on the tour, so I was involved in the next step.
Once our docent stirred up the fiber water mixture in the stone “tub,” I took the mesh frame, plunged it into the murky mix, covering the screen with the pulp. After letting the water drip away for a few seconds, we transferred it to the drying wrap, where excess water continued to be absorbed. The piece of “paper” continues to dry, and eventually gets pressed. As rustic as their implements were, these early paper makers were able to create several varieties of paper, for writing, painting, special documents and more.
As a writer, I can’t even explain how much I appreciated our trip to this museum. I had an emotional connection to writers of the past, wondering what their lives were really like; picturing them writing on this beautiful paper by the light of the sun or hunched over a candle. I wondered about their struggles and what they had overcome – all paving the way for future generations.
As I had written in earlier posts, our entire trip to Italy was a spiritual journey. Every time I glide my fingers across the silky pages of journal I bought at the museum, I close my eyes and breathe in the entire experience once again.
© Lynne Cobb 2017
Have you ever wondered about the paper-making process? Do you still use a real pen and paper to write? Share your experience in the comment section.