The Cemetery of the Books

Years ago, in another life (and over the course of several years), I traveled to Spain and Portugal with some frequency.  I would normally come back with suitcases chock full of handwritten manuscripts. Many dating to the 1400’s. There were the Spanish garrison records for Gibraltar (from before the British occupation!), the thousand page manuscript history of the Church in Santiago de Compostela (1540-1822), the Jesuit diaries in Goa (India) dating to the early 1500’s and so on. 

As we all say when time marches on – “those were the days.”  In Lisbon, during one visit, I found it.  I found the cemetery of the books.  This was a term made popular by Carlos Ruiz Zafon in his must read book The Shadow of the Wind.  The cemetery of the books in Lisbon was a 3 or 4 story warehouse on a narrow street in the Bairo Alto.   It was chock full of manuscripts, rare books and manuscript books.   It was not a museum or archive.  It was literally a cemetery of rarities.  Which one could buy for a song.  Few people knew about this place.  And somehow I had stumbled upon it.  For those who are squeamish, stop reading here. 

The books and manuscripts I would pull off the shelves were literally crawling with dust mites and lice.  All manner of insects.  Vermin scooted in the corners and along the walls.  But oh my – the things that were there.  As good as the Rock Island Railroad warehouse (see May 15, 2014).  I would load up a suitcase or two with books and manuscripts – carefully wrapping them in plastic bags – and bring them home.  Once home, I would put the plastic bags in a large freezer for a month or two (a recommended Rx for dealing with the creepy crawlers) and later leaf through what I had found.  Create listings and sell them.  But on one sad trip to Lisbon, I went to the cemetery of the books and – it was no more.  It had burned to the ground a month or two before.  I still have an item or two or three left from these forays.  I am sad that the cemetery of books is no more.  If it was still there, I’d likely be flitting off to Lisbon every few months. . . . . 

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