Monday October 16th 2017

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Book Report from the Southern Cone: Santiago and Buenos Aires

The long flight to the other side of the hemisphere had a Southern Cone touch with two award-winning films by Chilean director Pablo Larraín: ‘Jackie’ and ‘Neruda’ along with ‘Cien años de perdón,’ an Argentine-Spanish co-production.

After almost a five-year absence, this will be a 48-hour stay in Santiago. Although unplanned, the visit coincided with a small book fair, accompanied by a book festival with local bookshops staying open late. Similar events were also taking place in Lima and Madrid, all as part of the Día Internacional del Libro.

Located only two blocks away from my hotel, Metales Pesados is perhaps the best book shop in Chile, with co-owner and poet Sergio Parra, impeccably dressed in black, always ready to answer any inquiry about art and literature. This morning he is hosting some Colombian visitors but recognizes familiar faces from the United States already browsing at one end of the store. Later that day I will stop by to donate several copies of my New York Times Book Review, the ones I don’t get a chance to read and I carry on long flights hoping to catch-up. I can never bring myself to discard  them, always looking for an avid reader who will accept the weekly publication. This rainy Autumn day I have found such a character.

The shop carries both a broad selection of the country’s scholarly and independent publishing output and world art and literarure in translation. Today they are out of a title I saw at New York’s Latin American Studies Association (LASA) conference and I get a referral to the neighboring book store Prólogo, a block away.  The same street also houses La Tienda Nacional and a smaller outlet with several graphic novels, both local and in translation…then there is Ulises only two blocks away. But that would be after a visit to the museum nearby.

The late 19th century Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is one of the oldest cultural institutions in South America. Unfortunately today it’s closed for renovations and so is the book shop. But  the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, on the opposite end of the building, is showcasing an exhibit of late 20th Century Chilean art, Coleccion Mac: Post 90. One of the pieces on display Estudio para torrente altamente erótico is by José Pedro Godoy. A controversial exhibit of Godoy’s art a few weeks earlier had a piece stolen that was eventually recovered.

***

No longer raining, the second day will start with our local distributor and I visiting the Plaza de Armas (Main Square) in downtown Santiago for theopen air book fair, supplementing the previous day’s scholarly-heavy book outing. After lunch, it will be a visit to the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral, named for Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. It houses a bookstore among its many visual and performing arts venues. Today there is small lending library in the adjoining plaza between buildings with users encouraged to exchange books.

A last minute stop at Librería Ulises will round-up the visit to Santiago that was coming to end sooner than expected. Now it was time to (re)arrange luggage to accommodate several heavy books.

***
The two-hour Air Canada flight to Buenos Aires appears to be popular with porteños for a quick shopping weekend excursion to acquire goods less expensive than in Argentina. I was probably one of the few non-Mercosur passengers.

The Argentine capital hosted its own Noche de Librerías earlier in March and was now preparing for the 43rd Buenos Aires Book Fair, one of the oldest book events in the Spanish-speaking world. The city has been noted as the “book capital of the world,” with Avenida Corrientes (only three blocks from my hotel) home to several of those bookstores. As if there weren’t enough such cultural outlets, Avenida Santa Fe, not far away, has a new one. Plenty of places to spend the next four days book-hunting.

***
On a late Sunday morning most visitors to the Argentine capital visit the San Telmo open-air market. This bright sunny day seems to have attracted a large portion of Brazilian tourists in Buenos Aires. Arts and crafts, food, antiques, old photos and books, stamps, money bills, jewlry and all sorts of collectibles along with plenty of tango music and dancers can be found all over. Interestingly, in the 20 years I’ve coming here I had never noticed images of same-sex tango dancers (both men and women), this time both in filoteado art and photographs. Perhaps reflecting the recent Queer Tango movement.

The long walk was enough to work out an appetite long before the traditionally late lunch (and dinner) Argentina shares with Spain. On a previous visit I was invited to join a group hosting the president of the American Library Association for dinner (at 7pm). Later, his wife wondered why the locals had hardly eaten. Could it had been the high price? She wondered. A fellow California colleague and I would eat a salad at our usual dinner time (6pm) before joining porteños for a 9pm dinner.

Sunday’s are traditionally a family day and I often go to the movies, but this time I have arranged to meet a retired journalist friend. Where else? The coffee shop at the Centro de la Cooperación Cultural, which also happens to have a bookstore. A good excuse to arrive early and take notes/photos of the books/magazines not yet in our library collection. The next two hours would be a lively conversation on local socio-political issues, publishing, literature, books (print and digital). Then came the question about the United States presidential election outcome! But it was closing time at the Cooperación.

***
SALALM librarians had one more day before the Book Fair’s opening day. The Librería de Mujeres and Librería de la imagen, on the same street not far from the hotel, were a logical starting point. At both places we had to ring the door bell to be allowed inside. Initially, the staff seemed less than friendly at our group, turning immediately to the book’s bibliographic details and asking about removing the plastic wraps or asking to open the vitrine to see more expensive/limited edition books. In the end, they warmed-up to us after it became clear we were going to buy something!

After lunch it was a good time to run across Avenida 9 de Julio, right by the iconic Obelisk. I’ve never been able to cross all 14 lanes with one green light. The excursion was to the Centro Cultural Borges to visit a bookshop that had been closed the previous day. After buying a book on peronismo posters I hurried back to the hotel when I  wanted to take pictures of other interesting book covers and realized my Iphone was missing. I had left it in the room…what a relief!

***
The day we had all been awaiting was here. Los Angeles was the Ciudad invitada (Guest City), and the U.S. Embassy generously provided a shuttle to transport ten librarians from the United States on a book-buying trip as part of the many activities it was sponsoring for the event.  The next three weeks would book readings, music, and art showcasing LA culture. 

Clouds pointed to an approaching storm that arrived once we were inside La Rural Fair Grounds, a good reason to stay indoors all day and wonder from pabellón to pabellón (red, blue, yellow and green), if only the carpet’s color could point to where we were.

To close the Fair’s first day, our  group  visited a public library where we took refuge from the rain and enjoyed meeting local colleagues. Empanadas with a nice glass of Argentine wine was a great way to end the day. The Embassy’s shuttle provided a much-welcome ride back to the hotel on a rainy evening.

***
The next three professional days afforded the many book professionals uninterrupted time to become acquainted with a wide variety of books and publishers. At the combined stand of Argentine University Presses it was certain to meet a fellow SALALM colleague. In an apparent effort to highlight its return on investment, the stand displayed a big sing that read: “academic books represents 7% of Argentine publishing.” Still other librarians could be found at the Frente Latinoamericano Editorial, new this year. Independent publishers like La Sensación, Siete Logos and Todo libro es político (where I joked with one the staff asking  if having a beard was a prerequisite to work there)  were a good complement to scholarly titles from Prometeo, Biblos, Corregidor, Siglo XXI, Capital Intelectual and the Fondo de Cultura Económica. The latter confuses the country-based approval plans from many of our libraries as it publishes in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Spain.

For several years now, the Book Fair haa also hosted a series of related events during the professional days: for translators, academic publishers, children’s book illustrators and librarians. This year libraries will  play a key role beyond the professional days. The Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) was the official representative from California’s largest and diverse city. LA in BA showcased a library maker-space at the joint booth with the United States Embassy and LAPL members would be staffing the booth during the times the fair is open to the public.

I was probably boarding my flight back to California as local author Luisa Valenzuela delivered the keynote speech (video, text) at the opening ceremony. Her key words: Freedom, Empathy, Education, Inclusion are also ones that resonate with libraries on this side of the Equator.

Notes:
*See Facebook photo album with book covers on various subjects.

*The acquisitions trip was supported in part by Stanford’s Center for Latin American Studies, Stanford Libraries and the Buenos Aires Book Fair.

*Images: Feria del Libro Plaza de Armas, Feria Internacional del Libro de Buenos Aires, John Szabo (LAinBA).

Adan Griego, Curator for Latin American Collections, Stanford University.

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