Monday, February 15, 2010

Antiquarians in the Age of E-everything (e-books, e-readers)

Apple’s iPad was unveiled about 2 weeks before the San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair. The latter event might almost look anachronistic at a time when e-readers seem to be the “último alarido de la moda….tecnológica,” certainly with more potent/newer technologies to come. And yet, for the avid collector/bibliophile, the bi-annual event held in the City by the Bay on even numbered years, was a “gran deleite visual” not easily reproduced in hand portable devices.

Some items seemed out of reach, no doubt: Bruce Weber’s O Rio de Janerio ranged from $1,800 for a signed edition to a mere $500 for the most affordable. I had gathered enough strength (and credit) to buy that one, but it was gone when I went back the second day!

Weber’s ventures into Iberoamericana may be lesser known than the highly seductive and charged images of sexually ambiguous men and women, but it's there, like the photo of the Chavela Vargas for her live 1994 concert in Madrid, after she had been (re)discovered by the Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar.

You had to look closely to find other rare Iberoamericana, and after browsing casually the first day, I went back (obsessed?) for a second round with lots of notes, not taken in any “dispositivo electrónico,” but done the old fashion way: with pencil and paper. This is not to say that laptops and cell phones were not present at the fair. Indeed they were, and they provided a good “pasatiempo” to many a dealer as there appeared to be fewer customers than in previous years.

Hidden among the many boxes of vintage postcards was a real treasure of images from the Mexican Revolution, some of which have a library presence at Yale or Texas A&M. (Did I miss other libraries?) The one I found of a woman soldier went beyond the iconic image of the “soldadera.” Here she was, surrounded by other "revolucionarios." Some one had written the words “mujer valiente” right next to the image on a horse, proudly posing for the camera, with her pistol, rifle on hand and “carrillera” ready for the next battle. I could not help thinking of the famous song that has cemented the fame of these “adelitas.”

And yes, in the age of the GPS, the antiquarian map goes beyond left and right turns to give us an ethnographic layout of a region, in this case mid 19^th century Mexico. Even a booth with travel posters gave a peek into the exotic art of going to far away and distant places. There’s always a surprise, like the one showcasing a Buenos Aires Book Fair from the 1940s with no tango motifs and certainly no Evita!

A ring of my cell phone told me it was time to get some lunch. Once I finish with my (un)traditional taco with no chiles and no onions, I go home to update my Facebook status so all my 450+ friends can hear about my antiquarian adventure!

Images above:
1) Borges Poem

2) Spanish Civil War Poster

3) Si Adelita se fuera con otro

4) Air France Travel Poster