A Bookseller’s Adventure in Europe: Part 2
Click here to see part 1.
Day 8. Finally another real book day! I walked back to the Kok store and spent a part of the day going through all the books in the rare book room and then walked on to De Slegte, which is a chain of new bookstores in the Netherlands with a rare book department in their main Amsterdam store. I found books in their store and abused my friendship with Ton and Marga by taking the books back to their shop to ship for me. (I have found a great way to have books shipped back to the US from overseas purchases: I use a company called UOcean, which picks up the boxes from the bookstore and sends them back to New Castle cheaper and faster than the various country postal systems. In this case UOcean picked up all my purchases from Wykham, Cox, and Kok, consolidated the shipment, and delivered directly to New Castle. I’ve used them in Australia, Spain, Germany, France, and many other countries.) And of course my trip to the Netherlands had to end with a great meal in companionship with one of the great friends I have met while doing ILAB and ABAA work, Jelle Samshuijzen. He is Oak Knoll’s web master and developer of our in-house database. I worked with him while he was web master for the ABAA and ILAB and love sharing a martini with him, a tradition that dates back almost two decades. He had found a new restaurant in Amsterdam that mixed Asian and European food in a superb manner.
Day 9. Had to get to Budapest in time for a Committee cocktail hour and dinner with the Hungarians and found that plane travel from Amsterdam directly to Budapest one way cost over $900. I kept waiting for a cheap flight to open up but the cheap airline serving Budapest went bankrupt the week before I made reservations. I finally flew LOT airlines, which is the main Polish carrier. I was served up many a joke by my friends about my chances of arrival in Budapest but they were all totally wrong. The flight to Warsaw and then on to Budapest went without a hitch. We were warned to be very careful taking the taxi from the airport to the hotel and only sign up with legitimate taxis. (This reminded me of Prague.) I found the right one who charged me in the Hungarian currency of Forint (they are part of the Euro zone but have not adopted the Euro). We met that evening with the Hungarian booksellers’ association for a “let’s get acquainted” dinner and had a welcome speech from Adam Bosze, their President, in perfect English and a passionate speech by the dean of Hungarian booksellers, Lajos Borda, in Hungarian. It was a very pleasant beginning.
Day 10. This is the real work day. The Committee of ILAB started the meeting at 10 and it lasted all day. It would amaze the average bookseller in ILAB how much time and energy is spent by the volunteer booksellers who run the organization. The current Committee of eight comes from eight different countries (Netherlands, USA, Australia, Denmark, Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland) with an executive secretary from France and a web editor from Germany. Email makes it possible for them to “talk” every day, and they do. The actual “Members” of the League are the countries but they only get together once a year in the fall so it is up to the Committee to steer the ILAB ship on the right course on a day-to-day basis. Issues such as export/import, stolen books, ethics, and promotion of the book and manuscript world in this digital age concern them every day. We ended the day with another fabulous dinner with our Hungarian bookseller friends.
Day 11. We now have a chance to see some of the sites of Budapest. Adam Bosze takes us to the castle overlooking the river followed by an outdoor lunch in a restaurant. We then go back to see booksellers along “booksellers’ row” near our hotel. I manage to buy a few books while trying not to get confused by the conversion of Forints to Euros to Dollars. Adam’s main job is as an interviewer for the equivalent of a PBS Hungarian TV station where he covers the arts. He scheduled five of us for TV interviews, which were filmed in one of the bookstores. I’m not sure how many of the Hungarians will understand our English, but Adam says he will take all of our comments and edit them down to about a six-minute segment. And, of course, we all have another great dinner.
Day 12. Adam has a surprise for many of us. He wants us to join him on the subway to go to a secret place for a late breakfast/coffee. Off we go to one of the last standing leftover cafés from the communist days (1989 was the end of communism in Hungary). He especially notes how we will probably be mistreated, abused and ignored for service just like in the old days of communism. One of the Hungarian booksellers explains to all of us what life was like under communism – how did it effect getting a home, finding a car, dealing with the government. And to think that was just 23 years ago. Tom Congalton (current ILAB Vice President, owner of Between the Covers here in America) and I go to visit one of the younger Hungarian booksellers and I buy interesting examples of 20th century printing from him. Adam then takes me (and the Poulsens from Denmark) to visit Lajos Borda who I mentioned was the dean of Hungarian booksellers. He speaks Hungarian and German so Adam is our most effective translator. It turns out that Borda has a publishing program which also includes some beautifully printed and bound limited editions. I am so impressed with his work that I ask him if I can try to sell a set of his works to an American library. I get a great smile and a handshake after Adam finishes his translation. I hope I have found a new friend through the book world. Some of the committee had to fly home this day so we gradually lose friends throughout the day, but, of course, there are still enough of us left to enjoy a fine dinner and a glass of wine or two that evening.
Day 13. This is a Sunday, and I’m now by myself as the last of the committee flies home one by one during the morning. Tom and Heidi Congalton are off to do the London Book Fair. I decide to use the sunshine filled day to go back to the Danube and take one of the 1 hour boat cruises up and down the river to see the sites. I see all the long river cruise ships tied up at the various docks after letting off their passengers to view the city. I walk all over the city enjoying the buildings and watching the people. My last dinner is spent by myself, which is something I really enjoy doing on occasion. I have a very leisurely meal in one of the streets that caters to outdoor eating with a bottle of wine and ponder upon the good life of an antiquarian bookseller.
Day 14. Home I go. Budapest to Heathrow using British Air and then on to Philadelphia with all flights on time. After 14 hours of traveling I quickly get through customs, find my bag and walk through the gate where they collect the customs forms. I am ready to see my wife Millie as I am beat. But wait – one more adventure. For the first time in seven years (according to the TSA personnel), I set off the radiation counter strapped to the belt of the young lady collecting my customs form. I had recently gone through successful seed implants for prostate cancer and had been warned that there was a faint chance I could trigger such a machine. The doctor had provided me with a card which described the procedure I had just completed and gave the date which was supposed to be my “get out of jail free” card. Unfortunately the TSA hadn’t had such a case for such a long time they had trouble getting the special Geiger counter to work correctly. After a hour of waiting while calls to headquarters took place, I was allowed to leave with apologizes all around. At least I know that the security at airports works!
And now I’m anxiously awaiting all the books to come in. I hear they have been mailed and I’m really excited to work on them and maybe even offer them to one of you reading this blog.