Saturday, November 3

Italy's 3Rs...missing a letter?

This week, I heard that J.K. Rowling’s very first Harry Potter book, signed with her full name, Jeanne K. Rowling, sold for the hefty sum of $40,000. Amazing news… especially if you happen to have a first edition signed copy lying around the house (I don’t).

But, what struck me was how important that signature was to the very value of the book, and, even more so, the importance that her name was completely legible and therefore valuable to the buyer (not to mention the seller!). And, I certainly hoped that news hit a great many of us here in Italy, and not just their awesome collection of brilliant writers. Italy boasts the most number of bloggers on the internet. We obviously have a lot to write about.

It made me recall Mean Miss Ferguson (only to avoid a lawsuit for calling her by her real name, Cruella DeVil), my 6th grade teacher who, in her sadistic ways, forced us not only to write with liquid ink pens last used by Benjamin Franklin, but, also to write legibly, with no drips of ink on a page (you’d be suspended first from recess, then from her class altogether, not to mention the rather large E you'd find scrawled atop of your page, and decidedly not written with a nice black cartridge pen, but rather a felt marker – in Red).
She’d ridicule you in front of everyone, tape your hands to the pen, do things that today would land her in jail. Needless to say, I became pretty good with that pen, real fast.

And so, it came as quite a surprise when coming to Italy, a country that has penned their fair share of parchment, starting with those tablets of stone to St. Paul's letters to the Corinthians, right up to dozens of monasteries, filled with monks’ stunning miniatures painstakingly penned in great big books, ‘til today, to find that people merely scribbled their names on documents. In fact, nearly everyone here has the same signature…one form or another of a straight line going across the page. It’s no wonder everyone thought Leonardo was such a genius--his penmanship is gorgeous and, he did it all backwards!

Now, I can think that maybe people are just copying the graffiti writers they’ve grown up with…but even those scribbles have loops in them sometimes. So, you start to wonder why no one signs their name properly. Have one look at the penmanship, and Miss Ferguson would have simply keeled right over in an apoplectic fit of rage; pens held with the entire hand (all fingers and thumb on the utensil), pencils thrust between two fingers, thumb freely waving in the air -- it’s no wonder they don’t serve Chinese with chopsticks here. Nobody could begin to handle the opposable thumb.

Of course, all this breeds your own little Italian conspiracy theory, since Italians pretty much spend about 7 years of their lives just signing documents and registered letters. They really don’t want anyone to know whom, exactly, made the signature. This theory is not my own-- it was actually related to me once when I asked someone if they could please sign legibly on a contract.
It’s no wonder those monks invented the very first printing press. They were the ancestors of comedian Rodney Dangerfield; they just got no respect.

You can buy a print of Leonard's writing here.

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