There is a place in Spain with less than two hundred inhabitants and a dozen bookstores. A medieval town that contains thousands and thousands of books. When we were driving to Uruenain the province of Valladolid, our guide told us: “You have to arrive before the sun goes down. With the night, it’s like everything disappears.”
Listening to that woman, we felt a chill, fearful that the paper city was going to fall apart because of a sky that, being daytime, was already very dark. Then we smile, thinking that the guardians of Urueña give a novel for writing to the traveler who announces himself.
We parked at the entrance of the town. A wall and a castle stood. it was raining At the doors of the houses, rocks held the curtains against the ground. The noise of the fabrics, stretched, in contact with the wind could be heard. That is, we think already with the hood on, one of the most characteristic soundtracks of the empty spain.
The houses, almost always, with two floors. Of stone. In Urueña everything is stone. With small balconies. The place works like a circle. The wall is the compass and, by following it, one can remember with some ease where everything is. Inside, despite having a church, everything becomes labyrinthine.
They say that Urueña is the first “book village” in Spain and that follows in the footsteps of other places such as Hay-on-way in Wales, Redu in Belgium or Montolieu in France. The council must have put some money almost fifteen years ago and the project is still standing.
We think that public investment would have turned Urueña into a sort of artificial paradise, but that is not the case. There is no bookstore street. They are scattered around the town. You need a map to find them and that gives the walk the most necessary verb in literature: “Wander”.
I was once told that the best books are the ones you don’t look for, the ones that appear when the reader doesn’t expect them. I learned it in Slope of Moyano, in Madrid, where it is much more exciting to walk without asking. At first, I approached the booths with several titles on my mind. I even got frustrated if I didn’t get one of them.
Until I learned (what happiness that day!) that there is nothing comparable to seeing what the mythical Riudavets, sitting on his wooden chair, wrapped in his blue dressing gown. Uploaded, like Aladdin, to a cloud of dust.
It is an inexorable law. The old bookstores do not disappoint. We entered the first one we found. Two story. With soft armchairs to lie down for a while to turn pages. With some wet readers who, like us, seemed rescued from the Acheron River.
On one of the dozens of shelves, a small but plump book caught my attention. That is, low but thick. Pink and red today, but different shades I think when it was published more than thirty years ago. Was Rosa Krugerthe unfinished novel Rafael Sanchez Mazas.
I had always been excited to have that book, specifically that edition, which has become practically unfindable. they posted it Andres Trapiello and Valentine Shoemaker in the disappeared Trieste back in 1984. It had been unpublished until then.
Rafael Sánchez Mazas wrote it during the war, taking refuge in the Chilean embassy in Madrid, to alleviate the confinement of his companions at night. Among those listeners was my great-uncle Jesus. The author was writing it almost at the same time that he was reading it to his friends. They see him? An inexorable law. Few illusions comparable to that of the unsought book.
We continue along the path of the wall. Urueña preserves two large stone gates. Outside, you can see the fields of Castilla. The wind and rain were blowing harder. Inside, in one jump, again in the narrow streets, we feel protected. Who wrote that “books shelter a life”?
At the next stop, the bookstore, charming, said of ours. She, as it were, had also just arrived. She explained to us how the place works. The City Council grants the premises at a symbolic price and the bookseller bears the expenses. “Some have stayed here, they have renovated a house and they are happy. Others come and go.”
We asked him about the competition, about the Spanish saying “small town, big hell”. “The relationship is very good. For me, who is learning, they help me a lot. Look, I’ll give you an example. I don’t have a dataphone. My clients who only carry a card pay at the bookstore next door and then we do the accounts”.
Knowing the character of the booksellers, or at least the majority, that did not surprise us too much. What did seem unprecedented to us was the close coexistence of bars with bookstores. Urueña has five restaurants and three rural houses! Hemingway I would have been proud.
From boat to boat, from bookstore to bookstore, we reached the night. And it was true. With the setting of the sun, the padlocks began to be put on. Then, throughout the town, that sound of the door curtains fighting with the wind was heard.
It was cold. In the car, it took us a while to warm up. As the engine warmed up, we randomly opened another of the books we bought during the ride: childhood recoveredfrom Fernando Saveter. Page 116 reads thus: “I remember other things. The warm and sweet taste of white rice with tomato sauce, a certain way of filtering the sun through the cracks of a blind that I can see perfectly just by closing my eyes. At night, turning off the light, I felt chills of joy at the thought of the next day. It is the first and last time that I have unreservedly approved of the future. From time to time, I would leave the book open on the bedspread and close my eyes, in a trance of joy so intense that I wanted to cry.
What is reading if not recovering childhood? Right off the bat, we learned why bookcases disappear at sunset. In a respectful retreat, they make way for The Five, the Secret Seven, the Jabato, Captain Thunder, and Guillermo Brown. Yes, I think we saw them. When the streetlamps came on, their shadows fell against the rock.