Books, espresso and Buenos Aires

Cultural Insights — By on May 7, 2007 at 5:12 pm

Argentines love to read and to drink coffee. So the annual Buenos Aires International Book Fair, which runs late into the night and draws more than one million visitors during its two-week schedule, is a popular event with most Argentines. Here is a description from a recent Washington Post article:

For all those who love to read, who enjoy getting lost in crowds, who are intrigued by the idea of a powerful espresso after midnight, who loathe being rushed, who get mildly depressed when reading yet another article prophesizing a straight-to-hell future for the printed word — this is the time and the place for you…

Unlike some international book fairs, this one does not cater to publishing industry types. It caters to readers. These readers happen to live in one of the world’s great nocturnal cities, where cafes do brisk business until dawn on streets named for writers — Jorge Luis Borges, Jose Hernandez, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and so on.

Seven minutes after midnight, the entrance to the exposition looks like an amusement park at noon on a Saturday. Chorizos, spicy sausages, and hamburgers sizzle on sidewalk grills, clowns hand out programs. Drum music pulses from a band of unseen street musicians caught somewhere between the thousands of readers leaving the fair and the thousands just arriving.

The publishing industry is shrinking in many countries, but not Argentina. Since an economic collapse in 2001, the number of new titles published annually here has more than doubled. Argentines are, for the most part, proud of their country’s reputation as a literary capital in South America…

It is on nights like this when the fair is at its most quintessentially Argentine, when the national passions for reading and for the night feed into one another, when more than 35,000 pass through the entry gates after 9 p.m., most lingering until the red-eyed hours.

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