Tuesday, January 14, 2014

El marcapáginas

La Rambla or Las Ramblas? You’ll see both written. La Rambla is español, Las Ramblas catalan. Anyway, if you take a detour off Barcelona’s famous street La Rambla down Caller d'Elisabets (Elizabeth Street), a narrow commercial passageway, you'll find the bookshop La Central. It specialises in the humanities, el ámbito de las Humanidades, but with some 40% of its stock made of international (foreign-language, I suppose) stuff, this shop is catnip to language dilettantes like me. Oozing erudition - not me, the bookshop - but disarmingly having plenty of comic novels at the same time, this is a sprawling, creaky, multinooked emporium that I managed to get away from lightly, given its riches, with only one book bought.

I had tarried awhile at the Roberto Bolaño section, coveting '2666' in the original Spanish, naturally. This is a book which, in English, I got halfway through once but whose whimsical 20-page digression on Florita Almada, the seer, somewhere around the midpoint slowed me enough to lose the momentum required to complete it, this stillborn book which was never meant to be, and I never recovered. I say stillborn because of course when Bolaño died his executors put together 5 more-or-less separate novels into one and called it ‘2666’. My copy still has the bookmark in it, witness to my labours, the high-water mark of my progress. Paradoxically, I feel ready for it now in Spanish. I’m stronger now. It's time to take the bookmark, el marcador, out. Still, I held off. '2666' is not something you want to be carrying around on holidays. It would be a brilliant joke if the enigmatic title turned out to be the weight in grams that Bolaño stipulated that all copies should weigh. Well, mine only weighs 725 grams (minus bookmark). Still not something you want to be schlepping around, almost a kilogram of words.

Sweet Jesus in Heaven, look at those 'r's.

At the counter paying for ‘Los enamoramientos’ by Javier Marías (300 grams), the woman serving me stashed a La Central bookmark in the bag as seems to have become the custom in bookshops nowadays. This reminded me of something we had talked about - the word for bookmark - in the Tertulia Español, the weekly Spanish-language get-together I've been having with some friends in Brisbane for the last 3 years. The hispanohablantes (una Columbiana, dos Mexicanos) couldn't agree on the best word for this most simple of artefacts, settling on 'marcador'. Here was a golden opportunity to ask a Spanish-speaking book-handling professional.

In a cultured, flowing hand that made me think she mustn't have a mobile phone, she patiently wrote out the words for bookmark as she knew them: marcapáginas (her recommendation), punto de libro, punto de lectura. She graciously accepted marcador but I could tell she was compromising her values. To be honest, marcador just sounds like it's the equivalent of 'marker'. I don't feel I can go back to it now, not since finding out about marcapáginas.

Bookmarks matter. Words matter. Which means the words for bookmarks really matter. And since the web relies heavily on the metaphor of pages, books, and hence bookmarks, this is a word I can use in that context too, with newfound satisfaction, rather than favorito or marcador. So thank you, gràcies, and gracias, young woman who served me in La Central. I'm not going to commit to an encomium I can't justify and say it's the best bookshop in Barcelona or anything like that. It probably is, who knows. It was simply the best one I came across.

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