I’ve had some decent secondhand book scores recently. Calle Claudio Moyano in Madrid, located between Paseo del Prado and Calle de Alfonso XII, (right next to the Real Jardín Botánico which is an amazing, shady, peaceful spot to relax with a book) is filled with antique and used bookseller’s stalls. Here I found copies of:
Life With Picasso by Françoise Gilot (who spent 10 years with Picasso & gave birth to a couple of his children) & Carlton Lake: This only confirmed my suspicions that Picasso was a nasty, manipulative prick of a human being.
Our Language by the linguist Simeon Potter: This is a bit like Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue: English And How It Got That Way, but without even the faintest trace of a sense of humor: “’I would say’ and ‘I should like to say’ are blended and so we hear ‘I would like to say’, an undesirable form which is helped on its way to acceptance by the general tendency to ignore the (relatively recent) traditional distinctions between shall (should) in the first person and will (would) in the second and third. ‘It looks as though’ is now on everyone’s lips – ‘It looks as though there will be a general election soon.’ ‘It looks to me’, said Burke in 1790 (Reflections on the Revolution in France) ‘as if I were in a great crisis’. The verb today would be in the past subjunctive…” and on and on for 200 pages.
Selected Essays and Notebooks by Albert Camus: “In the end, the world always conquers history. I well know the poetry of the great cry of stone which Djemila utters among the mountains, the heavens and the silence: lucidity, indifference, the true signs of beauty or despair. Our heart tightens as we behold this greatness which we must already leave. Djemila stays behind us with the sad water of its sky, the song of a bird from the other side of the plateau, the sudden, quick scurrying of goats along the mountainside, and, in the calmed and sonorous dusk, the living face of a horned god on the frontal of an altar.”
The Spaniard and the Seven Deadly Sins by Fernando Diaz-Plaja: I was just about to put this back on one of the tables overflowing with, to borrow a term from a Scottish friend, pap when I came upon this passage pertaining to one of Extremadura’s great 20th century tragedies. And I quote: “In 1936 an American journalist from the Chicago Tribune entered Badajoz a few days after the city had been taken by the Nationalist troops: ‘They were young, mostly peasants in blue blouses, mechanics in jumpers. “The Reds.” They are still being rounded up. At four o´clock in the morning they are turned out into the ring through the gate by which the initial parade of the bullfight enters. There machine guns await them. After the first night the blood was supposed to be palm-deep on the far side of the lane. I don’t doubt it. Eighteen hundred men – there were women, too – were mowed down there in some twelve hours. There is more blood than you would think in eighteen hundred bodies.’”
After a visit to the booksellers on Calle Claudio Moyano it’s a quick stroll over to the Museo Nacional de Antropología which houses the bones of Agustín Luengo Capilla, the Extremeñan giant. Agustín was born in the tiny village of Puebla de Alcocer in Badajoz in 1849. He was 2,35 meters tall (or 7 feet 7 inches for my metrically challenged friends). Agustín came from a poor family and he did a stint in a travelling circus. His life was sad and short. Tuberculosis got him at the age of 28. I recently discovered that there is a book about his life and his relationship with D. Pedro González Velasco (the doctor who purchased Agustín’s bones for the museum) entitled El Hombre Que Compraba Gigantes (The Man Who Bought Giants) by Luis C. Folgado de Torres. I’m in the process of tracking down a copy.
Agustín, his mother and a neighbor
The filthy, disorganized Petra’s International Bookshop (Calle Campomanes, 13, Metro: Opera) recently changed hands. The new owner got rid of the endless mountains of crap (you can actually see the old tile floor now) that you had to kick your way through to get from one room to the next. Unfortunately, one of the reasons I used to love coming here – the cats sleeping on the shelves, nestled between the heaps of dusty old books – are no longer around. But I did score big here recently:
Coltrane: The Story of a Sound by Ben Ratliff, Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression by Bill Morgan & Nancy J. Peters, My Life In E-Flat by (Charlie Parker’s widow) Chan Parker, Collins Portuguese Phrasebook & Dictionary (2015 is going to be the year I start getting a handle on Portuguese)
One Sunday morning in the massive, chaotic flea market El Rastro (Metro: Puerta de Toledo) I got my greedy little hands on:
Portugal: This is a beautiful old hardcover guidebook in Spanish from the 1950s published by El Mundo En Color. It’s not a typical guidebook, though. There is no hotel/restaurant info here. It’s filled with pieces on the country’s history, culture, art, food, etc., divided into geographical regions. The writing is accompanied by hundreds of dreamlike color illustrations that look like something out of a surreal children’s book. The guy wanted €7 for it, but Lola (who loves to haggle) talked him down to €5.
The Celts by Nora Chadwick: Published by The Folio Society, this is another hardcover gem which comes in a slipcase. The guy wanted €13. Lola offered him €10. He acted like his feelings were hurt. (He was a really bad actor.) She called his bluff and we started walking away. He took the €10 and immediately started haggling with another customer.
One Sunday morning in Oporto we stumbled upon a flea market in the Praça de Gomes Teixeira just up the hill from the Torre dos Clérigos and right around the corner from the Livraria Lello. (Livraria Lello is a beautiful old bookstore which is always so packed with Harry Potter fans trying to get a photo of the wooden staircase, which apparently made an appearance in one of the movies, that it’s nearly impossible to get inside). I found a copy of Memórias de um Ex-Morfinómano (Memoirs of an Ex-Morphine Addict) by the mysterious “Repórter X” for €5. Lola wasn’t sure about the do’s and don’t’s of haggling in Portugal so I just handed over a fiver and that was that.
Repórter X (aka: Reinaldo Ferreira)
I bought this book because of the title, not knowing anything about it or the author. It’s not easy finding information about either one in English (another reason to learn Portuguese). What I did find out is this: Repórter X was the pseudonym of Portuguese journalist, fiction writer and film director Reinaldo Ferreira (not to be confused with Reinaldo Ferreira the poet, who was Repórter X’s son). He was born in Lisbon in 1897 and died there in 1935. He “interviewed” Mata Hari and Arthur Conan Doyle and was known for his newspaper reports on murders and scandals, but it appears that he fabricated most of it. Today he is acknowledged as a pioneer of crime fiction and the crime novel in Portugal.
Reinaldo is also credited with directing seven films. Five of these are dated 1927 and four of them have apparently been misplaced and are completely lost to history. Of the remaining three films: one, titled O Táxi no. 9297, is 49 minutes in length and (from what I can tell by the available info in Portuguese) the plot has something to do with an American military lieutenant, an extravagant millionaire, drug addicted homosexuals, jewel thieves and an actress dying in mysterious circumstances; another, titled Rita ou Rito?, is 20 minutes in length and may very well be the first film ever to deal with the subject of tranvestism; and of the third film, titled Hipnotismo ao Domicilio, only 566 meters of it have survived. I have no idea if that is a little or a lot… When I get a better handle on the language this is the first book I’m going to read in Portuguese.
In the quaint little Portuguese town of Ericeira I found the following books in a flea market for €2 a pop (It doesn’t take much to make me happy):
Walt Whitman: A Gay Life by Gary Schmidgall (what a great last name… Schmidgall): which sheds some light on Walt’s less serious side by reprinting the following groaner which the poet wrote in the 1840s. Hold on to your hats… ´cause it’s a doozy:
“Carelessly knocking a man’s eye out with a
broken axe, may be termed a bad-axe-i-dent.”
Uncle Walt, ladies and gentlemen. The future greatest American poet of all time.
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury: “A dream I had. I dreamed that it was going to be over, and a voice said it was; not any kind of voice I can remember, but a voice anyway, and it said things would stop here on Earth. I didn’t think too much about it the next day, but then I went to the office and caught Stan Willis looking out the window in the middle of the afternoon, and I said a penny for your thoughts, Stan, and he said, I had a dream last night, and before he even told me the dream I knew what it was, I could have told him, but he told me and I listened to him.”
Peking Story: The Last Days of Old China by David Kidd: “For a time, the local police seemed content to let me come and go as I pleased, even though I was an American. Then, in the spring of 1950, my life, as well as that of almost everyone else in Peking, came under stringent control. Restrictions were placed on travel, new taxes were imposed, and all Chinese citizens were required to register with the police. Foreigners living in Peking not only had to register but had to submit to a police interview, in which they were asked who their friends were, what books they read, what kind of radio they had, what kind of camera, what kind of weapon (if they had no gun, then did they, perhaps, have a sword?), and what they thought of Marxism.”
Sheesh… Never again will I bitch and moan about the fact that I spent half the summer studying for my Spanish driver’s license (despite the fact that I’ve had my U.S. driver’s license for over 20 years) because the bureaucrats in Madrid apparently think the traffic laws in the U.S. are so significantly different than they are here. Yet the British and the Irish who live in Spain – who come from countries where they drive on the other side of the fecking road! – are allowed to drive with driver’s licenses from their own countries.
I passed the exam the first time. It was a piece of cake. Everybody told me it was extremely difficult. (One of Lola’s sisters failed seven times!) The only difficult part was reading the manual which is 250 pages of poorly written, impenetrable, technical jargon in Spanish. I definitely got some strange looks in class, being the only student who a) was over 18 years of age, b) was fully bearded, and c) has been driving pretty much every day for the last decade despite the fact that my U.S. driver’s license is invalid in Spain since I am a resident. It’s valid for an American on vacation who rents a car, but for an American residing in the country… nope.
I’ve only been stopped once. It was a sobriety checkpoint late at night. I handed the cop my U.S. license and said, “Estoy Americano” (anybody who knows a bit of Spanish will know why that’s funny). The cop briefly glanced at my license, probably thought it would be too much paperwork and hassle in general if he had a drunk foreigner on his hands, gave it back to me and waved me right through. ¡Viva España! ¡Viva el vino!