Notebooks with a Soul

Václav helps one of the group decide how a map might work in her notebook.

Making a trip special and getting to see what other tourists don’t is the aim of just about every traveler — including me. Airbnb knew that, so one way to grow beyond its rent-someone’s-house-and-not-a-hotel business was to create “experiences.”

Launched in 2017, the plan, according to the company website, was “a natural extension of the local, authentic accommodations provided by our homes hosts. Experiences allow small business owners, new entrepreneurs and community non-profits to create immersive experiences for travelers.”

Examples include food tours, walks through unique parts of a city, classes for everything from making dumplings to creating jewelry, sports activities, plus photography trips and lessons to be able to capture a city most effectively. Perhaps the most unique are the social impact experiences, which allow small nonprofits to create an experience related to their purpose and keep all the money their organizations make from those who sign up.

That’s what Notebooks with a Soul is. This sheltered workshop in Prague, away from the city center, is the dream of 41-year-old book designer, Václav. His main purpose was to combine his “love for art and the need to help those less fortunate.” Adults with disabilities produce books of all kinds — from diaries to journals to sketchbooks to planners.

Vaclv welcomes us to Skoba.

And so can five outsiders on the days when Václav opens his workshop as an Airbnb experience. He said Airbnb in San Francisco actually contacted him about creating an activity. Although the books his workshops regulars make are hard cover and often cloth-covered, to make the project scalable and able to be completed in one sitting, the books  the Airbnb clients make are soft-covered.

Still it was quite a process. Selecting cover photos and section dividers came first, and it could have taken hours, just pouring over old magazines and books. Apparently influenced by the black and white prints of Josef Koudelka yesterday, I kept looking for more intense, dramatic black and white images. But many were castles or an entire book of first president, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, in office from 1850 to 1937. Somehow his visits and official regalia, did not have the impact of the 1968 invasion of Prague or gypsies in Slovakia in the 1960s. But I found enough.

We had to trim images, cut them, line everything up, glue the binding and book cover and insert a “pouch” in the back — we pretty much did it all. We did NOT use the scariest cutter imaginable that Václav used to trim our books (and I must admit, he helped me with a bit of the image cutting when the X-acto knife didn’t cooperate and when I had no clue how to cut and fold a map I wanted to unfold inside the back cover.) Still we all pretty much did it ourselves and have some remarkable books to show for it.

P.S. Thanks, Skip, for this great birthday present. Coming Saturday, Jeff’s gift: How to make Czech fruit dumplings.

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