Iberian Spring

By Jeffry Larson, Yale University Library

WESS Newsletter
Fall 2005
Vol. 29, no. 1

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The national book fairs in Lisbon, Porto, and Madrid happily coincide over a two-week period in late May and early June, making it possible to visit them all in one transatlantic trip.  The Lisbon book fair (http://www.feiradolivrodelisboa.pt) took place this year from May 25 to June 13; Porto's (http://www.feiradolivrodoporto.pt/) was from May 25 to June 12; and Madrid's (http://www.ferialibromadrid.com/) went from May until June 12.  Unfortunately, the sponsors do not announce the exact dates much in advance, so international visitors have to book their travel arrangements based on the confidence that the dates will correspond to previous years’ fairs.

The Feiras do Livro in Lisbon and Porto are sponsored by the Associação Portuguesa de Editores e Livreiros (APEL), the União dos Editores Portugueses, and the respective Câmaras Municipais of their host cities.  Since Portugal no longer has a unified publishers’ trade list nor a national bibliography published in chronological installments, the Lisbon and Porto book fairs loom larger as opportunities for quickly acquiring large quantities of bibliographic information: my main purpose in attending was to obtain publishers’ catalogs.


The geography of Lisbon highlights the location of its annual book fair.  Along the north bank of the estuary of the Tagus River is the Baixa, the low part of the town that was rebuilt by the Marquês de Pombal after the 1755 earthquake.  Jutting off to the north by northwest from the grid of the Baixa is the central artery, a wide boulevard called the Avenida da Liberdade, which ends 1.5 kilometers later at the Praça Marquês de Pombal, a large traffic circle with a monument to the enlightened rebuilder.  Jauntily perched on the fulcrum of the Rotundo (the name of the Metro stop for the Praça) and stretching further up the steep hill is the inverted pentagon of the Parque Eduardo VII, dedicated to the English monarch in 1902 on the occasion of his visit to reaffirm the centuries-old Anglo-Portuguese alliance. 

Usually the book fair takes place in the southern tip of the park, but because of construction of a tunnel under the Praça it has been moved up to the park’s northwestern reaches. 

There are hotels on the avenues bordering the park on the east and the west; those on the west are more expensive.  Consequently, I chose a large hotel on the east, within easy walking distance of the exhibitors' booths, even when burdened with bags full of catalogs.

The book fair consisted of outdoor stands along the park’s alleys that stretch southeast to northwest; in them were displayed the wares of some 123 exhibitors: publishers, book stores (more than a third of which were affiliated with publishers), and antiquarian dealers or alfarrabistas (my favorite word in Portuguese, so I have to use it).  The stands were brightly painted in different colors, but apparently at random, so that this was no key to the type of stand.  The lower southeast quadrant had 17 booths devoted to children’s literature, but only 2 of them were of publishers who did not have stands elsewhere in the fair; in addition, booths throughout the park also contained juvenile materials.

At the top of the park was a large red pavilion containing a snack bar and a semi-enclosed amphitheater where concerts and major panel discussions took place.  One principal session, commemorating the 250th anniversary of the earthquake, was devoted to the cultural impact of the Lisbon disaster.  The panelists were seated on a stage in front of a large glass wall which looked down the central axis of the park to the Rotundo, the Avenida da Liberdade, and afar, the Baixa framed by the Castelo São Jorge on the east and the Bairro Alto on the west.  Had there been a tsunami, the audience could have seen it roll in from the Tagus, through the Baixa, up the Avenida da Liberdade, swirling past the Pombal monument, and up the park’s sloping pathways toward the pavilion’s picture window.  Fortunately, history does not repeat itself, at least in Lisbon.

Other panel discussions were held in tents scattered throughout the fair.

While in Lisbon a Portuguese selector also takes the opportunity to meet with export dealers: Richard Ramer, who covers current imprints as well as rare books; Puvill, which has recently opened an office in the western suburb of Lisbon, Carcavelos—which also gives its name to a fortified wine (the Portuguese call such a wine “generoso”).  In addition, Armin Ruhland, manager of Iberbook Sánchez Cuesta, came from Madrid to Portugal for the book fairs, as ISC also offers Portuguese approval plans, relying on the bibliographic and logistical support of Puvill’s local office.  (Puvill recently acquired Iberbook and merged it with Sánchez Cuesta, another Madrid dealer; the Spanish operations of Puvill and ISC are more separate than are the Portuguese.)


On the way from Lisbon to Porto, the assiduous selector does not forget to stop in Coimbra, for centuries the seat of the only university in Portugal.  It is still the center of much scholarship and some publishing, as well as offering spectacular views from the hilltop plaza to which one gains access by means of medieval arches and passageways. 


The dates of the Porto Feira do Livro are almost identical to those of the fair in Lisbon.  Most publishers are represented at both, but some smaller publishers can afford to attend only one--hence the need to sample the offerings in Porto.  There the Feira do Livro takes place in a small sports arena, the Pavilhão Rosa Mota, also called the Palácio de Cristal after a building it replaced, a fifteen- or twenty-minute walk from the hotels in the center of the city.  The fair spread out from the arena into a big tent on the grounds of a large walled botanical garden, which also contains the Biblioteca Municipal Almeida Garrett (http://www.cm-porto.pt/pagegen.asp?SYS_PAGE_ID=456348), a modern branch of Porto’s public library system.  As in the Lisbon fair, the stands are arranged randomly.  The fair had 88 exhibitors, of which 7 publishers were not represented in Lisbon.  It was thus less crowded than the fair in Lisbon, and it was easier to engage in conversation with the sponsors.  In the passageway between the arena and the tent were the stands of the co-sponsors, APEL and the Câmara Municipal de Porto (Voltaire reminds us in Candide that one can also say Oporto).  The Porto CM offered a sheaf of a hand-out, the Bibliografia Portuense, containing many titles available from the municipal library. 

In the epicenter of the sports arena, tables and chairs were arranged in front of a stage to form a “café literário” where discussion sessions were held on recent publishing.

Attendees in Porto were asked to register, and my compliance resulted in winning a drawing in which the prize was 50 books donated by APEL (I never saw the list).  In view of the likelihood that the titles would prove to be duplicates or out of scope (children’s literature, translations, etc.), I decided to offer them to the Biblioteca Comunitária of a municipal social service agency fetchingly called the Casa das Glicínias (wisteria).  My contact at the Porto office of APEL indicated that another drawing winner had also given away the prize books.

While in Porto the diligent selector also takes the occasion to visit the export dealer Sousa e Almeida and the nearby retail Lello bookshop, with its baroque or rather flamboyant internal architecture. 

Since major university presses were not represented at either the Lisbon or the Porto fairs, my intrepid companion from Iberbook prospected catalogs from various faculdades of the Universidade de Porto.  The serendipitous collateral discovery of one such expedition was the Solar Vinho do Porto in a villa that also houses the Museu Romántico (the former abode of an ex-King of Sardinia).  Though situated just outside the southwest corner of the botanical garden, it is approached only by a circuitous route around the garden’s walls.  But the walk was worth it, as the Solar offers a wide variety of ports by the bottle and the glass which one can consume in a delightful rose garden on a high terrace overlooking the Douro River, with views toward the Atlantic.  Port and books seemed like a natural combination.

Tilting at Wind Turbines

On the way from Porto and Madrid I noticed Portugal’s efforts in renewable energy technology: solar panels on road signs and vast wind turbine farms (I didn’t understand why one group of the large turbines was stationary, while the others were all rotating gracefully).


Madrid’s Feria del Libro is organized by the Asociación de Empresarios de Comercio de Libro de Madrid (Gremio de Libreros) in collaboration with the Asociación de Editores de Madrid and the Federación de Asociaciones Nacionales de Distribuidores de Editores.  Held in the centrally located Parque del Retiro, it is well organized and easy to navigate.  It is not as ambitious as the other national book fair, Liber, which takes place in the fall, alternating between the capital and Barcelona (see Adán Griego’s article, "Madrid's Liber 99", in the Spring 2000 WESS Newsletter (http://www.dartmouth.edu/~wessweb/nl//Spring00/madrid.html).

In the past, major publishers, especially of encyclopedias, would reserve multiple stands spread throughout the fair, which made for much repetition and crowding out of smaller publishers.  This year such concentration was avoided, with just over 400 booths, which were conveniently color-coded, according to the different categories of exhibitors: 36 government agencies (which publish more than in most countries—and not just statistical reports), 211 private publishers, 45 distributors, 54 general bookstores, and 55 specialized bookstores (numbers may not be entirely accurate, due to overlap of categories for some exhibitors).  One group of small publishers collaborated on a hefty joint catalog and adorned their stands with a discrete sign announcing them as part of the “Calle de la Bibliodiversidad”.

The task in the Feria del Libro is not so much one of covering all the stands or the space of Feria, but in lugging away the catalogs that are freely handed out.  One quickly picks up more than one can carry.  Hotels are not close by, so it is necessary to interrupt one’s prospecting and take the catalogs in a taxi back to one’s room.  Fortunately, the Feria’s schedule has a built-in siesta.

The focus of the 2005 Feria del Libro was Catalan literature, and there were several roundtables held in pavilions and tents in the Retiro, in the Casa de América at the Plaza de la Cibeles, and in the FNAC and El Corte Inglés on Gran Via.  Despite the remarkable attention paid to Catalonia in the Spanish capital, there was no collective Catalan presence, aside from the off-site panel discussions—neither the Generalitat nor any publishers’ association had a stand at the Retiro to highlight the focus.  Instead, there was a polemic in the press about Catalonia’s presence at the 2007 Frankfurt Buchmesse (whether as the Guest of Honor wasn’t specified), concerning whether or not any writers not writing in Catalan would be featured. 

The Asociación de Revistas Culturales de España (http://www.arce.es/news/default.jsp) had a booth of its own; aside from the newspapers’ stands it was the only one devoted to periodicals.  Unfortunately, ARCE had no copies of its catalog to offer or to sell.

Cultures Passing Each Other in the Night

In Lisbon, there was a mammoth concert in the former World Expo venue by some American rock star unknown to me.  No surprise: I was, of course, more interested in Portuguese fado, to which Richard Ramer proved a thoughtful guide.  The visitor or tourist seeking typical features of Portuguese culture while the locals were hurrying to taste foreign wares was a pattern that reproduced itself in the book fairs: one had to cull meticulously through the translations to find the local authors.  My overall impression was of cultures rushing past each other, towards the more popular or more “authentic” manifestations of the other’s production.

I would like to thank Armin Ruhland of Iberbook-Sánchez Cuesta for his guidance and assistance in this Iberian expedition.

Editors: Sarah G. Wenzel, Paul Vermouth

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