A Mediterranean Tapestry

A recent anniversary cruise in the Mediterranean and adjacent seas (Aegean, Ionian, and Adriatic) has me recalling the countries my wife and I visited (Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Croatia) and searching related ephemera from my collection. The trip was promoted as a "Mediterranean Tapestry," so with a nod to that wonderful vacation here's my own little tapestry of bibliophemera from that region of the world, some of which has been posted here previously.

First up is Spain, our embarkation country, where we spent a few days in Barcelona. Here's a newsletter about the Civil War in Spain during the 1930s (actually published in New York) that features a book fair in Barcelona taking place despite the war. These newsletters were featured here on this blog.

And, as Barcelona is in the autonomous region of Catalonia, where many independence-minded citizens support secession, I should throw in another piece from elsewhere in Spain just to cover my bases for any future modifications to the country's map. Here's a pair of covers advertising a 1950 exposition in Valencia (Catalonia's southern neighbor) for the art ex-libris: La Exposicion Iberia de Ex-Libris.

For a visit to Nice, France, here is a book shop label for L. Barma, which was featured in this post. I came across neither this book shop nor any other during my too-brief stroll through Vieux Nice (Old Town) and other areas of the beautiful Côte d'Azur.

We visited several regions of Italy, but the piece of ephemera I have in mind for this country is from Firenze, or Florence. The first post on this blog nearly five years ago was about a colorful billhead from an Italian book shop, Giulio, Giannini & Figlio of Firenze (Florence).

On a book-related note, in Tuscany we drove near the village (at least I think we were near it) where Carlo Lorenzini took his pen name, Collodi, by which he is better known as the author of Pinocchio.

On another blog several years ago, I explored the story of Pinocchio and its author Collodi (click here to read), prompted by the acquisition of an early American printing of the book that revealed a different version of the story than the Disney treatment I had grown up knowing. Poor ol' Pinocchio had a much rougher go of it in that original version.

As for the rest of our Italian adventure, I did acquire an item in Amalfi for my collection, along with an introduction to the history of paper making that the Amalfi Coast region is known for. The people there learned the ancient craft from Arabs (who learned it from the Chinese), who came to their area around the 12th century. But I'll save that for another post. I'll try to wait for the publication of Nicholas Basbanes' forthcoming book, On Paper, scheduled for early (I hope) 2013. I'd like to see what he may have written about the area I visited.

Sailing on around the boot of Italy and into Greece, here's a bookstore piece that I can't read (and you know what's coming)... It's all Greek to me. Anyway, I trusted the dealer who sold it to me and you can sort of make out the root of a few words related to books.

The last country on our trip was Croatia, for which I have an interesting 1956 bookseller's catalog from Zagreb, though our time was spent in Dubrovnik and the neighboring Konavle region.

Again, I can't read the language, but one of the images in the catalog is no mystery, though the genre is. A copy of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon is offered in the Croatian language, perhaps the first translation of Hammett's classic into that language.

While in Dubrovnik, I found a few book shops, but the stock was newly published books. No antiquarian or second-hand shops to browse, but serendipity in another form awaited.

We visited the Dominican Monastery there and from the courtyard I looked up and could see into a few second floor windows bookcases full of old books. I wanted to figure out a way to get up there, though I'm sure access would have been denied.

Fortunately, the Monastery's museum was next up in our walking tour and to my surprise and delight, several examples of illuminated manuscripts were on display. I hadn't expected to run across such beautiful antiquities from the book world, but the monastery had a fine collection I would soon learn.

I would have given anything to touch and hold such treasure, or to even capture them in photographs. Of course, none of that was allowed--the books were behind glass and photographs were forbidden. So I looked around for booklets or brochures in the tiny gift area that might provide me with images and more information. I found the following souvenir book in English:

Scanning its pages, I found the library I mentioned seeing from the courtyard...

And the illuminated manuscripts from the museum.

Back home, I've been researching what I saw and trying to find out what I missed in the way of libraries, old book shops, and rare books. Of course, I did similar research before hand, but actually walking the streets of some of these places provides a new perspective, vastly different from the one you get on a computer screen. That, along with a tight schedule and the considerations of my traveling partner's interests (hers run a bit counter to mine with regard to biblio-anything), provided for some missed opportunities, I'm sure, and also the justification for a return trip some day. As if the scenery, history, and culture in these places weren't enough!

But with other places on the bucket list to see, I'll likely retrace recent travels with only ephemeral reminders and see what I can learn from them. There's often something new in something old waiting to be discovered.


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