Saturday, July 8, 2017

A bookshop with a vengeance

Lello & Irmão 07/07/2017


Lello & Irmão on the rua das Carmelitas in the city of Porto is arguably the most beautiful bookshop in the world. Or second most beautiful…or third, whatever. A confirmation of its status as a cultural landmark is that the bookshop is even mentioned in Hachette's famous blue guide.

It is without doubt a compulsory place to visit and mentioned on the bucket list of many bibliophile.

The bookstore is easy to find with its conspicuous build-up and nice neo-gothic façade, but imagine my surprise to see that my entrance is prohibited without ticket and without my turn at the back of a long line of people waiting on the sidewalk to enter the famous bookshop. A bouncer at the door, disguised as a I don’t know who, with round glasses, black tophat and coat, regulates the entrances and exits. The entrance fee is 4 euro and tickets should be bought at a booth a few houses further on, where another queue is standing in line to purchase an entrance ticket.

 ….to enter a bookshop ?

There was no way, I would stand in line for something as ridicule as that. I cut my losses and decided frustrated and fuming to visit other more worthwile sites in Porto, like the world – heritage church of Saint Franciscus ( no queue there ) and Palace da Bolsa which tourists do not seem so eager to see as Lello & Irmao.

By the end of our day, my wife suspecting a life – time frustration ushers us back to Lello & Irmão, where wonder oh wonder, there is no queue anymore in front of the shop. I rush to the ticket shop, stand in line a few minutes with one of my sons to buy our entrance -voucher and then rush into the shop…to find it crammed with picture taking tourists.

The explanation of all this circus is that J.K. Rowling, who lived ten years in Porto, got her inspiration at Lello & Irmão for a few of the props and scenes used in her Harry Potter industry : the library, the bookcases and the uniforms of the students.( The university is nearby ).

Lello & Irmão has since been overcrowded by tourists seeking to make a snapshot of the interior, but without buying any books. A nuisance, we can imagine, for the regular book-buyer.

It is then understandable that they charge their 4 euro, which they discount when you buy a book, in an act of self-protection. It is a fair deal. A very fair deal especially, if you see that the books that are on display cater to all tastes : The Potters ofcourse, but also Ivanka Trump’s “women who work”, a book about the Go Pro camera, guru books and “Economia com todos”.

Lello is not forcefeeding Literature or Portugese writers to the hordes of visitors. They should. Bookish people and especially Portugese bookish people are way to kind.


So I bought two books of José Saramago to make my point, claimed my discount and a stamp on the title page to proof that yeah, ...

I was here too.

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