Monday, January 25, 2010

Yellow envelope

Or more precisely, a manila envelope - manila being more or less Yellow, but a kind of mild ochre as well. Manila is given its color by the manila hemp that is used - or was used, now it's presumably dyed - to make these big, tough, no-see-throughable, potentially multi-use envelopes: the Latin name for this hemp is abaca (and thought of as a species of banana or plantain by turn of the century commentators, who mustn't have looked too closely). It's also used to make rope. Manila itself - the port through which the commodity was exported - was named after another plant, though: the nilad (may nilad is, I think, Tagalog for "there is nilad," which apparently is a shrub that grows in profusion on the banks of the Pasig River. And this name, in turn, is probably derived from the Spanish, which had taken the word from the Arabic...

In other words, this is a surprisingly transnational envelope. Even though it's just started on its journeys around Rutgers (for there's my name, at the top of all those neat red rectangular boxes), that very layout could be seen as a metonymic representation for the layers of linguistic exchange that the name of this item of stationery contains. On the other hand, it could just be read as Yet More Admin - past, present, and to come.


  1. Last night I read your reminiscences of seeing the Tom Robinson Band in London. At lunchtime today I was browsing the secondhand stalls in Aylesbury's Market Square and came upon a drum kit, piled up in its rather battered cases at the end of one of the stalls. And the name painted on them in white enamel, in a rather uncertain hand? 'T. Robinson'.

    Well, even if it wasn't THE T. Robinson, it was a good coincidence and it made me think - it's a shame Aylesbury Market is too far away to be useful to you. It would be the perfect place to dispose of a locked wooden box without a key.

  2. Maybe I could try a junk import business? And then the box could join the stray objects that somehow have ended up in my mother's Oxford flat as being impractical in the US - like a high-end icecream maker, videos that won't play on the systems here, and magazines from the 1980s that will become vintage if I hang onto them long enough. The sale to be heralded with a drum roll, of course.