Books, authors and literary activities have captured the headlines of newspapers as well as the heads of the Porteños- the inhabitants of Buenos Aires city, these days. The annual International Book Fair going on since 23 April till 11 May is more than just a trade fair. It is a Festival...a Fiesta... a Celebration ...of books and authors, poetry and thought. It is part of the city´s culture. The Porteños, who are perceived as flamboyant in the rest of the country and Latin America, go to this Fair not only for the show... they are ...hmmm...serious. They read, think, analyse and argue. The theme of this year´s Fair is Pensar con Libros which means Thinking with Books.
The Buenos Aires event is the largest book fair in Latin America and one of the top five in the world. It is also the largest spanish-language book fair in the world.
It is not only the long duration of the Fair (19 days) which is impressive; the number of activities during the Fair is even more interesting. There are book readings, poetry recitations, lectures, panel discussions, presentations, signings, workshops and children’s activities. There are also meetings and special events for publishers, editors, librarians and educators. The programme booklet containing the activities of the Book Fair runs into 70 pages. For example, on saturday 2 May,there are 35 activities packed within 1400 hours to 2130 hours. This annual Fair is an event avidly anticipated by the public who visit in large numbers. The number of visitors is 1.2 million . There are about 1500 exihibitors with stalls in the 50,000 sq m venue La Rural.
An International Poetry Festival is held from 29 April to 2 May as part of the Book Fair. Thirty six poets from Argentina and around the world participated in this. Poetry at the Festival is not just for those in ivory towers or within airconditioned Salons. It literally goes to the street. Yes,the poets are going to recite in streets and subways. They go even beyond... to hospitals and jails. Incredible... During this year´s poetry festival, the poets are going to recite at the Hospital General de Agudos "Ignacio Pirovano" and the Cárcel de Ezeiza jail on 30 April. Could this be ....Poetrytherapy ...! An Argentine invention !!
Ah.. there is one more Argentine innovation. The city government of Buenos Aires organises every year a Noche de las Librerias- Bookstores Night. The last one was on 10 December. This is a kind of street fair of books in the famous Corrientes Avenue, the Broadway of Buenos Aires. This large and busy avenue is closed for traffic from 8.30 pm till midnight and the street is taken over by bookstalls and readers. People sit on the sofas and chairs placed in the Avenue browsing and reading in the middle of the avenue. There are also poetry recitations, workshops and cultural activities.
Here is a picture of the Noche de las Librerias:
Buenos Aires is the publishing capital of Latin America. There are about 1000 publishing firms in the City and there are over 2000 in Argentina. They publish about 22.000 new titles every year and 85 million books in total. Two books for each of the 40 million population of Argentina ! Of course, part of the production is for export to the rest of Latin America and Spain.
The number of poetry books published in Argentina is around 1000 every year. In the Book Fair, there is an area called as Zona de Poesia- poetry zone.
Writers from Latin America, Europe and USA participate in the Book Fair which is a launchpad for regionwide publicity. Many Latin American writers have stayed in this vibrant city and written and published their books here. Gabriel Garcia marquez´s One hundred years of solitude was first published in Buenos Aires. Other Latin American writers such as Pablo Neruda of Chile, Carlos Fuentes of Mexico, Miguel Angel Asturias of Guatemala and Ruben Dario of Nicaragua had lived in this city and published their works. There is a book, called as ¨Buenos Aires- a cultural and literary history¨by Jason Wilson, which describes the literary links of the streets, cafes and bars of the city and the romance of the poets and writers with the city.
The Book Fair is not just a one-night stand for the Porteños. It is Amor Eterno. Books are part of the day to day life of Buneos Aires. There are bookshops in every nook and corner of the city. Many bookshops have cafe, bar and restaurants. They are the refuges and meeting points for the bohemians and the bourgeois. The most famous Argentine writers including Borges and Cortázar have frequented them to write and meet. The Porteños sit in these book cafes for hours together browsing books and discussing local and global issues till the end of the world.
Last time when I was invited to a poetry reading, I went a bit late assuming that the event might not start in time and in any case there might not be much of an audience for poetry. I was in a for a surprise. When I reached the venue, I found that it was not only full but was overflowing at the entrance and at the corridors. I could not get anywhere near the reading and had to come back.
Many of the book shops in Buenos Aires are more than just buildings. They are elegant and eclectic in architecture and interior decoration with attractive ambience. When you walk by, these bookshops provoke, invite and tease you with their style and appeal. There are some famous and traditional book shops and chains such as Ateneo and Cuspide. One of the landmark bookstores is called “Gandhi”, founded in 1984 with the same concept of book and coffee shop.
My favourite is the El Ateneo Bookshop in Avenida Santa Fe. It is the most beautiful bookshop I have ever seen. According to a survey by the London newspaper “ The Guardian” , El Ateneo ranked second in the list of ten most beautiful bookstores in the world, after the number one in Maastricht. El Ateneo was originally a theatre called as“Grand Splendid”, now converted into a bookshop. It is magnificent with high painted ceiling, curvaceous balconies and ornate carvings. The original stage with the crimson curtains has been made into a café bar. No wonder I felt there like a performer... after a few drinks ! El Ateneo receives 3000 visitors per day.
Here are the pictures of El Ateneo:
My tongue uncertain
To seek you.
I went speechless
And I can only reveal myself