Lost Things in the Garden of Type

Printing Press

I went to the South of France recently, to visit my Aunt Helene. She’s getting on now. When she was still a relatively young woman she gave up her typographic practice and moved to a retirement village, the Home for the Disappointed on the little island of San Serife, in the Mediterranean. The people in Bembo, the only town on the island, are mainly employed in the printing and publishing industries, so she feels at home there.

Aunt Helene has her own cottage, with a garden out the back: she calls it the Garden of Type. It’s a place for abandoned things, she says, and typefaces that have been lost and then found again. When the weather’s misty she wanders down there in her slippers and turns over the soil and kicks things around.

Nothing seemed to grow there now, and I asked her what the garden was for. ‘To remind me to remember to remember,’ Aunt Helene explained. ‘Soon I’ll be the only one left who remembers what metal type looked like, or what blotting paper was for.’

‘You sound like Henry Miller,’ I said. ‘I remember he wrote a book called «Remember to Remember».’

‘Miller? He remembered nothing. He made things up. Did you know that an ancient Greek invented the art of memory? Simonides. He’d write you a poem for twenty pounds. He wrote a lovely elegy for the Spartans who died bravely at Thermopylae — for a fee, of course. Poets composed and memorised their works in those days. But then someone went and invented paper, and the art of memory has been quite lost.’ She seemed pleased with the thought.