Hazel McHaffie

Lisbon Story Centre

Obrigada Portugal!

This past week was intended as a complete break away in sunny Portugal (high 20s every day!), but somehow the subject of books kept cropping up. Wry smiles each time. I’m just back this afternoon (to 8 degrees!) so a few illustrations must suffice.

In Lisbon, large banners advertise a Story Centre in the main Commercial Square. Story Centre? Yes!! It’s my first day there, antennae are instantly quivering. But this is actually an exhibition of the history of the city, not the story-telling mecca I was imagining.

Lisbon Story Centre

A beautiful bust of the French playwright Molière put me back on track, however.

Moliere bust

And this, together with many amazing ancient illuminated manuscripts in the fabulous Gulbenkian Founder’s Collection elsewhere in the capital, gave due reverence to the written word. (This one was under glass so apologies for the quality of the photograph.)

Illuminated manuscript

I was amused by the initiative of some bright person in the lovely little town of Óbidos, who’s created a breathtakingly precarious tower of shelves using open wooden crates, edges overlapping by mere centimeters, and combining hundreds of books for sale with stalls loaded with fresh fruit and vegetables.

Obidos bookshop

Perhaps unsurprisingly Harry Potter kept cropping up. After all JK Rowling was married to a Portuguese man and taught English there years ago before she became famous. The Hogwarts book store in Oporto is a huge draw for many pilgrims, recreating as it does, features from the stories.

Hogwarts bookshop

And enormous placards broadcast recent publications. Somehow one expects the author’s name to be translated too!

Harry Potter advertising

Nor are books limited to bookshops. Converted churches are adapted in enterprising ways – this one with concentric circles of bookshelves.

Converted church to bookshop

Fences and wooden structures are used to advertise books. All ingenious and attractive ways of capturing the attention of readers.

Advertisements for books

Then there’s the ancient collection of books in the famous baroque library at Coimbra University. People whisper and tiptoe about these sacred portals, and cameras are definitely a no-no. (Check the link if you want a glimpse of the magnificence.) No Dewey decimal system here! Dear me, certainly not! The huge number of tomes are stored according to colour of binding and size, with large books on bottom shelves, smaller ones at the top. And there’s no grubby thumbing by the masses. Students must wait while staff climb ladders three storeys high to select the volume of their choice, and must then wear white gloves to handle the precious publications. A magical place to visit by appointment.

Nor is storytelling confined to the written word. The main station in Oporto tells the complete history of transport through the ages from donkeys to trains in ceramic tiles.

Oporto station

And my children’s-fairytale brain went into overdrive in Sintra with its plethora of palaces scattered over the steep slopes, including a fantastical one perched on top of a mountain which would make a fabulous – if unbelievable – setting for the film of a book.

Pene palace

A brilliant break away and so warming to see books featuring so prominently.

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