Remembering a Light Blue Olivetti: Fidel Castro, Pablo Neruda, and Oscar Neimeyer Also Liked Her

By Barnard Law Collier

Light blue Olivetti typewriter – Lettera 22 portable – light blue case – retro 1950 design by Marcello Nizzolli

Like the younger Tom Wolfe, it’s my belief that writing instruments, like certain drugs, make a difference to what’s written.

My elegant Olivetti and her case was a perfect traveling companion, light blue like a North Carolina sky, light in weight enough to carry miles on foot, very low maintenance, architecturally beautiful, with a gentle touch yet sure impression keyboard, a clear and pretty font, plus a most pleasurable percussion melody like a muted snare drum when the typing was really going good.

When I wrote badly, she made embarrassing Italianate clacks.

I lent her a few times on a  Platonic basis: Fidel Castro, Pablo Neruda, and Oscar Neimeyer all rendered notes on her keyboard, and they all paid her Italian ancestry many compliments.

I once carried her in one hand and a Nikon camera in the other through a building-to-building street fight in Caracas, and together they were my sole journalistic credentials and I was, by oral tradition, not supposed to be shot at by either side, because the “prensa” was out there to “tell the truth.”

Dear Olivetti and I parted as true friends after I bought my first Toshiba, a machine I respected and admired, but never fell in love with.

I can recall with melancholy a glimpse of her dusty case neglected on a storage shelf in Montauk, and then, no more.

If there was a place to send her, where she would be cherished, and touched, and her story well told, I would not have hesitated. I’d have sent her there.

It’s interesting that you have a typewriter that talks and I have a dog that talks.

Un abrazo,

Barney Collier describes himself as cultural anthropologist, writer,  former New York Times correspondent and bureau chief.

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