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To note, or not to note ... no contest

I gave my wife a Moleskine notebook, and she-who-keeps-her-life-in-a-big-organizer gave it back to me for a trip we took. They say you give the people you care about things you'd like to have.

In any event, the little notebook showed its mettle on the journey. I wrote of the places we went and stuff we did and what we ate and how the weather was. I recorded names and numbers and e-mail addresses and mini-reviews of eateries and such.

This is one of the most archaic of activities available to the postmodern traveler. I don't know whether Alexander kept a notebook as he conquered his way to India, but I'm pretty sure Julius Caesar kept his Gaul stuff on parchment before he made up one of history's most famous hendiatrises — vini, vidi, vici — and sold it to the Roman Senate and Doctor Who.

When I was a kid I was a book nerd meeting words I didn't hear in conversation. So I came up with funny mispronunciations and weird misunderstandings. I read Moleskine as "moleskin" and imagined the covers on the little books were made of the hides of furry underground mammals that ate worms. The first time I ever heard anybody say mol-es-SKEEN-a I thought maybe it was a funny guy in the Commedia dell'arte.

In the Dark Ages notebooks went into a long decline because nobody could write because it was dark.

"Honey," cried the Venerable Bede to his wife, Bedehilda, one dark day in Monkwearmouth in 725. "When's it going to get light?"

"If yer so bloody venerable," Bedehilda replied, " 'ow come you can't find yer glasses?"

When illuminated letters came in they dealt a further blow to the notebook industry. It was hard to concentrate on an ink-pot and quill pen and vellum while galloping on your charger. And those pretty Gothic letters blurred.

Then one day in Italy the Renaissance began. It was 10 a.m. on a Tuesday. Leonardo wanted to take a coffee break, but the barista told him Michaelangelo had just left with a cappuccino with a triple shot of espresso, and Leonardo quickly invented a notebook and started sketching so Michaelangelo wouldn't get one up on him.

Shakespeare created the greatest oeuvre in the English language without a notebook, seemingly. When he died in Stratford in 1616, no notebooks were found, nor any poems, or scripts, or letters or books. Make of that what you will.

Imagine Dr. Johnson filling notebooks in London coffeehouses as he wrote a dictionary that in addition to defining giglet, fopdoodle, dandiprat and jobbernowl, defined oats as "a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people."

Did Jefferson carry around a little black book with pages like, "Write Declaration of Ind. by March without fail" or "Don't forget Sally on Mother's Day"?

Did Einstein carry around a little pocket book on which he scribbled inscrutable equations and memos to pick up the dry cleaning?

Did Hemingway wish he'd kept his little notebooks full of his stuff when Hadley lost his manuscripts on the train?

Of course all this is laughably antediluvian. My friend Ron has an iPhone. Alongside my notebook, it's like the Space Shuttle next to a donkey cart. It will do many things my Moleskine can't dream of, like receiving tweets from Twitterers.

Sure, but can it tunnel through the ground and eat worms?

Reach Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.