Not very often we find a place where we can gather our thoughts, find solace, have a cup of coffee and browse through an impressive collection of literature – fiction and non fiction. After visiting Auschwitz, I came back to Krakow in the evening and wanted to be at a place that can give me silence for some time. My hostel wasn’t conducive of such ambience so I walked a little south west of my location across the Planty park and reached Massolit books and cafe at Felicjanek 4/2. I entered the quiet bookstore and strolled around, a few people were browsing, a few talking, and a few were working on their computers as in any coffee shop in a big city of USA. I ordered a latte and seated myself in a corner seat besides an old woman who most probably was a teacher and was correcting papers and was nodding her head in disappointment while embellishing the answer sheets in big red circles.
A few days ago I was in Nordisk Museet in Stockholm and learned about the concept of lighting the spaces and how optics and light designers have revolutionized the concept and the device itself. The Scandinavian region doesn’t get a lot of light for a large part of the year, so artificial lighting is the key but the fundamental principle is to have a smooth transition between darkness and light or vice versa and create an environment that is cosy, comfortable, and makes you calm. While I was sitting there, I could feel those principles in application.
The books on the table in front were the ones which I won’t generally find in your around the corner bookstore unless I go to City lights in San Francisco. Apart from that, the old and used tables here have a charm that needs to be enjoyed again whenever I find myself in Kraków.
Guy de Maupassant can easily be one of the best short story writers that existed on the face of the earth. But as all talented people aren’t perceived normal in society’s eyes, so was he. Maupassant swayed between happiness and sorrow, Emile Zola used to say that he is happiest of the unhappiest people on earth.
After serving in the Franco-Prussian war he spent most of his free time in writing stories and meeting women from different strata of the societies, many of whom became the subject of his stories later in life. He eventually contracted syphilis which later became the cause of his death but his mood used to alter greatly because of his condition and it had an effect on his writing which would have mood swings of a human if personified. His mother had introduced him to Gustav Flaubert who had great influence on him and he urged him to pursue literature and writing on a serious note.
The admirable subjects of his writing are real as life and are taken from various walks of life and their interaction with the rest of the society. Some people could term it as vulgar but he wrote about what he knew and the audience appreciated it. The characters are not deified in his works, they have the natural tendencies and inherit the human flaws. Short stories are special; the characters, the plot, the emotions, the climax all develop simultaneously and the writer has the responsibility to do justice with each of them without considering one or the other as his/her favorite offspring and he has to execute the task in finite number of words without creating a tome. Maupassant was successful in this and that puts him in the cohort that belongs to Munshi Premchand, Anton Chekhov, Natsume Soseki, Allan Poe. He was audacious like Flaubert to write on controversial subjects that gives makes him stand in a cluster of his own.
It takes a thinking brain and strength to create Boule de Suif, Bel Ami, Une Vie, and likes of The Necklace, and Guy de Maupassant had both.
Scheltema – a book store on Rokin st. near Dam Square in Amsterdam is one of the largest bookstores in Europe and the oldest in Netherlands serving the bibliophiles since 1853.
When I walked in, some children’s activity was going on and a few volunteers were arranging things. I was scouring for the Tulipmania by Mike Dash for I was interested in how tulips came to a level at one time that single bulb of tulip costed more than cost of a house. It mirrors today’s economy when we think of bitcoin’s surge in past few months.
I finally found it on 4th floor of the store in the history section and sat down on a cosy chair to flip through the pages. There was a lot of moving space around and the place carries the attitude of a young and confident speaker, telling stories coherently in a cogent fashion but I won’t compare it with the capitalism that Barnes and Noble brought to the world.
Apart from the American Book Center on Spui 12, Scheltema is another place where one can find quality English literature in Amsterdam area.
It’s here I realized how wonderful oil pastel art can be and thus I picked a random book from the shelf named The Secret Lives of Colors. It is so interesting to see the possibility of a book on colors. Soren Kierkegaard said “Is anything more sparkling, more dizzying than the possible?” The book provided history on many colors, how they were found, what’s the significance, which artists use them, how do they align with the values of various countries, what is/was the economic significance of certain colors. It would lead you to the paths of history where you can find yourself in the multitude of kaleidoscope of hues and pigments. It is a compendium of answers that will establish the connections such as bard, green, and envy. I wonder what Moilere might be thinking here?
It is humanly impossible to have all the experiences of the world (at least that’s my belief at this point of time) but the paper friends come in handy there. Books are the portals to unknown adventures, we can live a thousand lives and experience myriad emotions at the same time. In the era of kindles and nooks there is something about the independent bookstores that allures a tumbleweed. The unkempt bookshelves with piles of books packed tightly in close quarters such that various characters and the plots can talk to each other from various stories. Akin to vast empty space where you can drift forever or stumble upon something which will be your moment of truth, they epitomize the brain of a someone who wants to know it all but is busy scouring the pieces that are yet to be uncovered.
A week ago during a cold and wet winter evening in Vienna, I stumbled upon this bookstore – Shakespeare and Company booksellers, and was I delighted. I was roaming around the old part of the city and it started raining heavily, I took refuge under a window sill to open my bag and get umbrella out and that’s when I saw this bookstore from a distance and I knew immediately that I have to go in.
The charm of old bookstores is never fading, there is a sense of comfort in the ramshackle appearance and the disorganization. They are like human beings growing old over a period of time and accepting one’s flaws and being humble about it but not apologetic.
The bookstore is located on Stergasse and near Rupert’s church and Stephansplatz. The readers and writers have to go in for a time travel while walking in the labyrinth of this place on creaking wooden floors to get their dose of stimulant.
When you find yourself in unknown parts of the world, trying to finish some work assignment or a presentation while nibbling on your croissant and listening to some white noise to gain concentration,
always try to find some time for yourself, to gather your thoughts, to introspect and retrospect, to write your thoughts down to crystallize the concoctions of your brain over a cup of coffee and to listen to some music to enjoy those stolen moments,
because it is important to find your own story at the end. The story of our life to break us free from ourselves and from the tangible and intangible object, so even if our body can’t walk through walls and obstructions but our imagination and soul can.
Paris is no stranger to literature. It has been the centrum of not only the classics such as The Tale of Two Cities(Dickens) and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame(Hugo) but also Paris, France of Gertrude Stein and My Life in France by Julia Child. Henry Miller’s Quiet days in Clichy has a scene in which a policeman arrives at Joey’s and Carl’s apartment and questions them about Colette’s presence. By the grace of Franz Kafka Carl isn’t charged and only given a warning and that makes the statement ” It is Paris, even the policemen are literary” true.
I am in constant search of that literary Paris. Shakespeare and Co. is definitely part of my universe and so is Librairie Galignani on Rue de Rivoli. A part of me is always looking for that moment where I am in tight quarters with the books, the place with a personality of a human being, the one that makes you stay there and stand there leafing through myriad collections of timeless pieces. The place that tells the story, the place where books aren’t neatly stacked on shelves but in bundles. The place where they breathe and are allowed to be dog eared, where they aren’t an embellishment to an institution but an integral part that makes the institution. And I found one such place. In the city of lights! A friend had recommended Abbey Bookshop to me a while ago and this time I wasn’t in any mood to see the gimmicks of tourists on Rue de Bûcherie, I wanted to be in a quiet place which isn’t laden with people adorned with mini cannon sized cameras and taking photos of anything that moves or doesn’t.
It was one of those days when I wasn’t carrying my umbrella and it rained cats and dogs. Drenched, I entered the book store, dried myself a little and began my adventure in this heaven on 29 Rue de la Parcheminerie 75005 Paris. The place reminded me of Doctor Glas of Soderberg, Raskolnikov of Dostoyevsky, Holden Caulfield of Salinger, and Huckleberry Finn of Twain. It seemed all of them were having a conference there in their night suits while sitting on their warm and comfortable arm chairs generating the còsagach (competitor of Hygge these days) in the ambience.
I browsed through the various sections for hours and so did the two other people who were there in the store with me. The place has so many books that it seems to defy the laws of Physics. Brien, the owner, told me that gravity had its way many times there. I got my copy Chekov’s farces and polar opposite Miller and his escapades in NYC and Paris and decided to leave but it was still raining very hard. I asked Brien if by any chance he sells umbrellas as well, he went inside and fished for an umbrella and gave it to me and said with the usual Canadian warmth “Bring it back whenever it is a sunny day.”
With a smile on my face and an umbrella over my head, I knew I will be back again.