Shop here: Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy

Libreria Acqua Alta
Where? Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, 5176/B, 30122 Venice
When? Open daily 09:00 – 20:00

If you’ve ever been to Venice in the colder months, you’ll have no doubt seen what looks like trestle tables stacked up in random corners of the city (go on, Google it – I’ll wait). The city is not perpetually prepared for a giant street party; it’s ready for acqua alta.

When the tide rises, the waters of the Adriatic Sea come roaring in, and poor little Venice dips even further under water for a while! Those trestle tables go up to be used as elevated walkways (called passarelle), and everyone tries to keep their belongings and merchandise dry.

Luigi found a novel solution for the bookshop he named after this natural inconvenience, which he opened in 2004 – he put his books in water proof bins, small boats, bathtubs, even a gondola, parked in the middle of the store. When you open a store full of books on an island that’s slowly sinking, you have to take some extreme precautions!

It’s a haphazardly arranged shop with both new and old tomes, a fire escape that leads to a canal, and a stairway to heaven made of old books with one hell of a view from the top. The staff member I spoke to, while not terribly friendly, did speak English and was able to point me in the right direction. There are some books in English, French, Spanish – mostly they’re in Italian, though. There’s really not much else to write about this place that other bloggers haven’t already So, here’s another set of photos from this little piece of heaven, because how could you possibly get sick of looking at these?!

Read this: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

The Museum of Innocence
by Orhan Pamuk

I came across this book a few months ago while reading a travel magazine that mentioned a few books worth reading that were set in certain cities. Considering we’re planning to visit Turkey next year, and it was described as being a beautiful look at Istanbul over the past few decades, I thought I’d add it to my reading list without looking too much more into it.

How to describe this book… I really have no idea. There are a few aspects to it, for me…

1. I guess on the surface it’s a bit of a demented love story. Kemal, the gentleman telling his story back in this book (beginning in the 1970s), is from a very well-off family in Istanbul society. He’s engaged to another society darling, Sibel, but manages to fall in love with a not so well-off, younger, distant relative (before anyone starts thinking this is more incestual than it sounds, it’s a relation by marriage, not by blood), Füsun.

The book starts when they first meet, and follows an incredibly tumultuous number of years; not to ruin the story for those also wanting to read it, but basically, he’s madly in love with Füsun which costs him his engagement to Sibel, and it seems, ultimately, his happiness. Star-crossed lovers, heart break, romance, etc, etc.

 

2. At several points while reading this (very long) book, I was ready to throw in the towel, because I am not a fan of romance novels. I don’t care for love lost or “The Notebook” or star-crossed lovers or any other crap like that. At those points, it just felt like a sad romance novel. But then I’d read parts like this and I realised that it actually wasn’t just a love story after all; it was a story of melancholy, of loss, of confusion, of someone trying to find meaning in their life. That, I could relate to.

“‘Don’t worry, it will pass,’ he said softly. ‘You’re still young. It’s still very early for you to be losing sleep over this kind of pain, so don’t fret. But when you’re my age, if you have some regrets in life, you’ll have to lie here counting the stars until dawn. Beware of doing things that you might regret later.'”

 

 

3. It was also a really interesting study of Istanbul as a city, with Pamuk noting how the city evolved as the characters did over the years. As someone who was already looking forward to seeing the city, I was really fascinated to read about how it had changed. And, as a woman, I  really enjoyed reading about the changing roles women played in society, and how families and groups of friends interacted. The book was written in such an effortlessly descriptive way that you almost felt you were right there when they were dining in a noisy restaurant or eating at the family dinner table.

 

4. I’ve never had an unrequited impossible love story of my own, yet parts of this novel were so scarily relatable in other ways, and just so, so beautiful…

“In fact no one recognizes the happiest moment of their lives as they are living it. It may well be that, in a moment of joy, one might sincerely believe that they are living that golden instant ‘now,’ even having lived such a moment before, but whatever they say, in one part of their hearts they still believe in the certainty of a happier moment to come. Because how could anyone, and particularly anyone who is still young, carry on with the belief that everything could only get worse: If a person is happy enough to think he has reached the happiest moment of his life, he will be hopeful enough to believe his future will be just as beautiful, more so.

But when we reach the point when our lives take on their final shape, as in a novel, we can identify our happiest moment, selecting it in retrospect, as I am doing now. To explain why we have chosen this moment over all others, it is also natural, and necessary, to retell our stories from the beginning, just as in a novel. But to designate this as my happiest moment is to acknowledge that it is far in the past, that it will never return, and that awareness, therefore, of that very moment is painful. We can bear the pain only by possessing something that belongs to that instant. These mementos preserve the colors, textures, images and delights as they were more faithfully, in fact, than can those who accompanied us through those moments.”

Reading this hit home and made sense to me. I’m a journaller, a recorder of details, a hoarder of memories. I am prone to melancholy, nostalgia, quiet sentimentality. I spend a lot of time analysing life and it’s meaning, trying to understand who and what and why I am. So does Kemal, in this book.

 

5. Following on from that sentiment that mementos have the power to preserve memories, Kemal’s character collects bits and pieces throughout the story that remind him of his love, Füsun. Cigarette butts, hair pins, pencils, a shoe, restaurant menus… He collects these things to bring him back to moments that remind him. At the end of the book, he decides to open a museum to display these memories of his life and love, and the author of the book actually opened a real life Museum of Innocence in Istanbul a few years ago.

“Sometimes, thus consoled, I would imagine it possible for me to frame my collection with a story, and I would dream happily of a museum where I could display my life… Where I could tell my story through the things that Füsun had left behind, as a lesson to us all.”

 

It was such a strange book, and it seems that people either love it or hate it. I can understand why; I kept thinking I’d hate it when I got to the end, but actually, I absolutely loved it. It was beautiful, and so worth the read. You can grab a copy here – really looking forward to visiting the museum in Istanbul now!

Read this: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

A Confederacy of Dunces
by John Kennedy Toole

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“Novels are often able to capture reality very well, much better than in the world we see on Facebook, where, ironically, it’s about real people. Fiction, with its invented characters, gets much closer to reality. It’s about people as they really are, with all their problems and quirks. On top of this, the parallel world of books, film and television is always available. Even when the whole world is falling upon you, this is the one thing that keeps standing. A world that doesn’t change, that is nice and safe.”
— Marieke Nijmanting in Flow Magazine

I read this quote in Flow Magazine recently, when I was half way through reading A Confederacy of Dunces, and I couldn’t believe how apt it was. Despite the fact that this book is hilariously demented and the anti-hero’s every movement is a complete debacle, it was about a person as he was, with all of his problems and quirks, in a parallel world.

I’d heard about this novel a long time ago, but never knew what it was about. Until I read about the Ignatius J. Reilly statue that resides in New Orleans while I was reading 111 Places in New Orleans That You Must Not Miss. I figured if he was a big enough fictional character in a city full of characters (fictional and real), he must be worth reading.

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John Kennedy Toole’s novel was finally published over a decade after his suicide, after his mother pushed writer Walker Percy into reading it. It follows the adventures of Ignatius J. Reilly, a fat, lazy, unemployed 30-year-old man still living at home with his mother…

“A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs.”

It paints a picture, doesn’t it? Doesn’t sound like a character that embodies a “hero” of sorts. And yet, I absolutely adored him! He may be unemployable, eccentric, incredibly eloquent and well educated, and yet completely deluded, but he’s a character that I really related to in parts. At the heart of it, he’s struggling to find his place in the world. That’s partially his own fault, sure, but it’s a universal struggle I think most of us can relate to.

His misadventures in his home city of New Orleans are hysterical, and magnificently written – the articulate insults, the comedic disbelief at his own misfortune, the other characters, it’s all fantastic. Part of the novel is told through the Journal that Ignatius is writing, his indictment on the world. It chronicles his attempts to find employment at the behest of his mother, first in an office, then as a hot dog vendor on the streets of the French Quarter. This part had me in stitches, because it was just so perfectly written and so vivid…

But back to the matter at hand: Clyde’s vengeance. The vendor who formerly had the Quarter route wore an improbably pirate’s outfit, a Paradise Vendor’s nod to New Orleans folklore and history, a Clydian attempt to link the hot dog with Creole legend. Clyde forced me to try it on in the garage. The costume, of course, had been made to fit the tubercular and underdeveloped frame of the former vendor, and no amount of pulling and pushing and inhaling and squeezing would get it onto my muscular body. Therefore, a compromise of sorts was made. About my cap I tied the red sateen pirate’s scarf. I screwed the one golden earring, a large novelty store hoop of an earring, onto my left earlobe. I affixed the black plastic cutlass to the side of my white vendor’s smock with a safety pin. Hardly an impressive pirate, you will say.

However, when I studied myself in the mirror, I was forced to admit that I appeared rather fetching in a dramatic way. Brandishing the cutlass at Clyde, I cried, “Walk the plank, Admiral!” This, I should have known, was too much for his literal and sausage-like mind. He grew most alarmed and proceeded to attack me with his spear-like fork. We lunged about it the garage like two swashbucklers in an especially inept historical film for several moments, fork and cutlass clicking against each other madly. Realizing that my plastic weapon was hardly a match for a long fork wielded by a maddened Methuselah, realizing that I was seeing Clyde at his worst, I tried to end our little duel. I called out pacifying words; I entreated; I finally surrendered. Still Clyde came, my pirate costume so great a success that it had apparently convinced him that we were back in the golden days of romantic old New Orleans when gentlemen decided matters of hot dog honor at twenty paces.

 

He actually has many run ins with his fellow New Orleanians, and they don’t get any less hilarious as the novel plows on; in the end, I felt like he was just a misunderstood and slightly deluded man, who wanted things to just be right and couldn’t quite work out how to make them so. He just wanted to be left alone to write and express his thoughts. I get that; I can relate. But don’t take my word for it – pick up a copy for yourself here and enjoy a truly entertaining, unforgettable read!