Friday, September 21, 2012

Old Books

Off on a late-morning walk in Athens.  Down a street of old buildings and uninteresting stops I noticed, down a few steps below street level, a used book store.  I wandered down the steps and through the door and found myself in a long basement room with a few narrow aisles, passageway-like, between floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and bins and tables overflowing with old books.  The windows to the street well were obscured by piles of books, loose and in pasteboard cartons, and at noon on a sunny day the light from the opened door penetrated only a little ways into the shop and beyond that the one or two other customers moved about in the dim light of a few, small overhead bulbs.  There was dust everywhere and dark places where I would hesitate to stick my hand.  It was exactly my idea of what an old book store ought to be.

My delight was scarcely affected by the realization that almost none of their books seemed to be in a language I could read.  They were, however, satisfactorily old and I am quite capable of appreciating a book for the promise of what it holds and the pleasure of its dignified company without actually reading it.  I have quite a few such books on my shelves already, as do, I am sure, many others.  

I was perfectly happy looking through old books that I neither could read nor had any intention of buying, content to thumb through the pages sniffing their antique mustiness and hoping that perhaps something of interest might have been left between the pages by a previous owner.  A treasure map would be fine, though I would be quite happy with an obsolete candy wrapper.

After an hour or so of wasted time well spent, I found Lamport’s 1876 monograph, Numismatic Anecdotes of the Medieval Kings of Crete, printed in Greek, but with a fine bunch of line drawings of medieval coins that I had never seen before and probably never will see outside of a museum cabinet. 

The old fellow running the shop of course carried on as if he were selling me one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but in the end I paid what I thought a trivial price for a little treasure and he probably closed the shop early to take the family out for dinner.

[I don't have the book at hand at the moment, but I notice some odd variants of the spelling of the author's name and wonder if there might have been a problem in transliterating his name and the curiously-named "Lamport" is actually George Lambert, an English numismatist of the period who wrote on Cretan coins.]

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