A bookstore with a canal entrance

Published 6:06 pm Friday, July 15, 2011

Who would ever have imagined that you could enter a bookstore from a canal?

As a former owner of a bookstore, I had to see this place.

The bookstore was described as “must-see” in the Venice guidebook by Rick Steves. It was located way into the innards of the city through a variety of narrow streets and alleys. We unfolded our city map, and began the journey through a myriad of twists and false turns, traversing bridges over canals, then finally we were there.

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We had been in and out of many bookstores in Italy, all of them neat, clean, bright and organized.

This one was none of the above.

The guidebook said the feature of the store was the gondola in its middle, stuffed and stacked with books. The gondola was not only stuffed and stacked, so was every nook and cranny in all parts of the store, as well as on top of nooks and crannies.

I had always attempted to keep our bookstore in Bainbridge neat and organized. Not an easy task but doable.

Yet this one in all its disarray, was most appealing.

It reminded me of the bookstore we visited several years ago in Cape Cod. Its outer color was painted pink. It was in an old Victorian house of several floors, each floor crammed and stacked with books. You had to walk sideways through the aisles, if they could be identified as aisles.

This one too in Venice was like that.

The inventory consisted mostly of old books. Really old. And if you were researching for antiquarian books of any value, you had to know your stuff in the art of discovery. No doubt they were in there, somewhere, taking up space in this 500-year-old building.

What’s intimidating about perusing books in foreign stores, is that most are in foreign languages. Makes sense. In this one, most books were in either French or Italian, but it did have a small section of books in English. Very small.

Certainly if you shopped the books in our bookstore in Bainbridge, the books would all be in English. Also makes sense.

This store’s adult section, right next to the cash register, was identified by a can’t-miss female nude sculpture in an erotic position, lighted by a red-shaded lamp hanging from the ceiling with female black fish-net stocking legs dangling from its middle.

Not so shocking in Venice, but I wondered how it would have gone over in Bainbridge. Might have given the old place a new spark of originality.

The store also was decorated with colorfully adorned female mannequins displaying equally colorful carnival masks.

Looking for something to read in English, anything, I bought a paperback for four euros about the New York Yankees perfect season in the mid 1990s.

It was that or nothing.

Yes it was another of those stores where you had to walk sideways to navigate. It had several rooms, each piled and stacked with stuff. Be careful how you pulled something from the stacks. It could be days before you were discovered buried under the rubble.

The most delightful part of the store was its rear entrance—from the canal.

There was a bench by the rear door so you could sit there, sample your interests, and watch the boats go by.

Outside from the street entrance, several tables of wares were on display, taken over as sleeping posts for the store’s two cats.

The bookmaster was an old gray-haired fellow like myself, and we told him that we had enjoyed his store, and that we had just closed ours in America. He said he had been trying to sell his store too so he could retire.

One custom you had to get used to in Italy was “Siesta.”

Most shops closed from about noon to 4 p.m. each day. It was time for lunch with family and friends, a time to relax and enjoy life for shop-owners, even in heavy tourist areas. Old traditions die hard.

Back home, I was in Books- A-Million in Tallahassee the other day. The place was so neat and organized that it just didn’t have any character.

We Americans are a strange bunch.

Jim Smith writes a weekly column for The Post-Searchlight. He can be reached on his cell at 229-254-2753 or email at bainbooknook@yahoo.com.