Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Favourite Bookstores, p.4

There are books so rare they basically do not exist.

However, before I get to this idea - something about Livraria Lello. In a word, overrated. Because after paying three euros (for entering a bookshop, no less), you will be struck by the huge back of a giant Turk making a selfie at the entrance. Your blood will be up already, but wait until you see the screaming multitudes of Harry Potter fans blocking the staircase. Which is an impressive staircase, and would be even more impressive if you were here alone. The book selection is all right I guess, but it's not about books, is it?..

Ironically, my new favourite bookshop is not about books either. Or maybe it is, but I wouldn't be too sure. The place is called Alfarrabista Chamine da Mota and it's in Rua das Flores, Porto. I do not even know if I'm describing a particular spot or a series of similar-looking places (I've seen a couple of bookshops like that in Portugal).

When you enter the place, you feel the dust and the sheer age of things on display. Old maps, globes, postcards, gramophones, things you can't even name. It's a fairy-tale sight, and you are allowed to view it from within. The shopkeeper? The shopkeeper won't care as he is a man from the past inspecting a leather-bound ledger in the far corner of the giant room. He looks like a sleepy insect who will not be disturbed by any noise, never mind a visitor. His hair is silver by default and he is wearing a corduroy jacket abandoned by every moth possessing a vestige of self-respect. 

Soon, however, you focus on the centuries-old bookshelves soundlessly cracking under the weight of centuries-old books. You come closer to inspect the green, yellow, brown covers, but there's a catch. The book selection is vague to the point where you start wondering if these writers ever existed in the first place. For years you read English and American literature, you think you know it all, but you are left licking your wounds in the face of such mind-numbing obscurity. 

Inevitably, you open one of these books written by an author whose name sounds vaguely familiar (it is not familiar, you are deluding yourself), and you see a barrage of words you know well and you almost have to scream in bewilderment: "How in God's name?..." After which you close the book without buying it because buying books here will seem like an act of sabotage totally uncalled for.


Portugal is filled with bookshops. In fact, I haven't seen another country that would compare. 'Livraria' is the word you will see as often as someone will say 'obrigado' to you. You will see it under bridges, by liquor stores, in dead-ends, at places where bookshops do not belong. And you will walk in (unless you are dead inside), you will look around and you will see a million books that either do or do not exist.