I promised Christine, my wife, that if she married me, we would travel the world like in Hemingway’s Moveable Feast, living cheaply in a foreign land with one express purpose: to write. So finally we saved up for a year, quit our jobs, moved our few pieces of furniture into storage, and flew into Buenos Aires, the Paris of the South—the budget traveler’s paradise where steak and wine costs a few dollars, and the
dozens of mountain ranges inspire for free. Armed with a few Moleskines, we headed into the Argentine interior and found cafe-filled cities where we could write for hours on end everyday.
Just as I was getting into my second Moleskine, two con-men played my wife and me, and my shoulder bag was stolen, along with the freshly filled notebook. This was a little over a month into our trip, just
when you begin to get a couple pangs of homesickness. My writing was gone. Depressed and fed up with noisy cities, we took a bus into the desert to a small town named Cafayate. The town was basically a green plaza with a beautiful church on one side and cafes lining the other three.
After a day or two in town, we found a small market place nooked into one of the plaza side-streets. Several artisans had their wares laid out, from jewelry to hand-woven baskets. In the far corner, we saw a
stand where a man with a large mustache and sleepy country eyes was selling purses–the most interesting and gorgeous purses we’d ever seen. The purses had geometric designs etched into the leather, but the designs were complex, like fine lace. And I had never thought leather could have the rich yet subtle colors that these purses had.
We oggled for awhile, and then I got up the courage to ask if he had any larger items, like maybe a shoulder bag to replace my stolen one. He began telling us all about his purses, their names (each style was named after a daughter), and how he certainly could make me a bag if I wanted. He told us to come over to his house the next day and we could talk about it.
The next day, we knocked on his door, and he brought us in and served us lunch with his family. His name was Enrique Valdez, and later on we learned that he was a differential calculus professor that years
ago had become sick of the crime in the cities and moved his family into the country to begin a simple family business. We agreed on some general parameters for the bag, and he asked us if we wanted to come over the next day and help him make it. We thought he meant maybe pick out the colors.
The following day, he sat me down at his bench and handed me a hammer and a piece of leather. Every day for the rest of our stay in Cafayate, we were with his family, and my wife and I learned everything he could teach us about his leather method, Cincelado Del Sur. At every major city that we stopped at for the rest of our trip, we scoured the neighborhoods searching for the rare shops that sold the stamps, hand-cut railroad spikes, for this artform. Our bags were heavy with metal spikes by the end of our trip.
As soon as we got home, we purchased what we needed to begin where we left off. The result was Sojourner Leatherwork, our small artisan business that, in honor of my stolen treasures, specializes in
moleskine book covers. We use exclusively the same techniques that Enrique taught us, but we’ve adapted cincelado to many more styles to create renassaince and medieval-feeling covers as well. We wanted our notebook covers to reflect how unique each moleskine’s contents are, so every item is entirely unique, from design to production, truly one-of-a-kind. We’re working hard at making the business a 100%
environmentally friendly and humane company (which is extremely challenging in the leather and dye industries).
My wife and I are both writers at heart. We know the value of what goes into our notebooks, and we’re trying hard to create something deserving of them. But we also do this in memory of Enrique and his
family. Within weeks, our shop had more tools than he could ever afford in Argentina, yet he was able to make masterpieces we can only hope to model after. And with so little, he was still the greatest of
artists that shared the joy of his art with us, and we can only hope to do the same for you.
Our online website is www.sojournerleather.com, and we’re selling primarily through Etsy at sojournerleather.etsy.com. Check us out, give us your thoughts, and we’d love to make you a moleskine cover that’s particular to your story.
About the author:
My name is Luke Thompson. I did graduate work in philosophy, taught
a little philosophy, worked in business ethics for awhile as an ethics
consultant, and am now back at school working in theology. Last year,
my wife and I traveled to Argentina for three months to write. We
saved up for a year, quit our jobs, put our stuff in storage, and
traveled through Argentina doing the "poor Hemingway" thing. My wife
is a playwright, and I tried hard to write novels about philosophy and business ethics.
I brought a stack of moleskines along with me within which to write my
novel. Half way through the trip, my bag was stolen along with all my
At that time, we met Enrique Valdez, a master leather artisan, that
took us into his home and taught us his leather craft. When we came
home, we began a leather journal company that specialized in making
leather covers for Moleskine journals.