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Those sorely missed antique bookshops | Juan Emilio Ríos

Juan Emilio Ríos

They would open very early in the morning, and stay open until one o’clock – during this time, if you wanted to buy one of their books you’d have to literally grab it from their hands, or rescue it from a big cardboard box that was due to be sent back home, only to be returned to the same place in an improvised shop window the next day. Luis Coca’s bookstand was like pure poetry.

Ancient books which, after years of comfortably dwelling on someone’s shelf, were on the market once again. Fourth and fifth-hand books that would even tell you about their previous owners through doodles strewn throughout the worn, yellowing pages and sometimes, if you were lucky, you’d find handwritten letters nestled between the pages; with stamps that have been around the world three times, only to end up in the hands of bargain hunters such as myself.

Endless volumes of titles and authors made up the varied offering of Coca’s great warehouse of dreams, curiosity, the exotic and the unexpected in his little buy-and-sell book stand.

Luis’ bookstand was a paper oasis at the market, nestled amidst the tangled labyrinth of fruit, vegetables, fish, clocks and knick-knacks. Luis’ bookstand was the house of culture seen through mirrors straight out of Valle Inclan’s famous work ‘Callejón del Gato’.

There, you could look, touch, read and dream, but you also had to fight to the death to ensure no one would take a rare book, or a book that had been discontinued on every side of the planet, right out of your hands.

Luis’ book stand was the only museum in the world selling these treasures.

I also frequented Antonio Moreno’s stand, he was an antique bookseller on Las Huertas Street. He would trade in your old comics for new ones, sold you books from untraceable editions and even took books you no longer wanted off your hands.

I would spend hours there, looking for treasures. Antonio himself was a poet and he would always talk about literature with great passion; he would even recite classic poetry as well as his own. ‘Golden hours’ – that is how I would describe the intense time I spent between the mountains of books piled up in his sunny establishment.

Today, the charitable ‘Betel’ and ‘Reto’ markets run by those who have overcome the tyranny of drug abuse, and modern stores buying and selling all kinds of articles, together with the antique markets, have taken the baton from those rancid establishments, and sell you books, records, films, paintings and all kinds of objects for ridiculous prices. I, as you know, frequent them daily.

Today, Sunday, as I write this, my mouth is already watering thinking about tomorrow, when all sorts of wonderful stories will be within my reach for next to nothing.

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