New York Ephemera - A transplant New Yorker writes about the city. Usually.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
The Almost Corner Bookshop
This is the latest bookstore installment that ran on Publishing Perspectives, a charming little English bookstore in Rome that I hope to return to again and again...
The Almost Corner Bookshop
We migrated to Rome for a few days after spending two days with my mom and stepdad who'd done an apartment swap in Anzio (which, despite it’s somber WWII history, is a lovely little port and beach town in it’s own right. Caeser used to vacation there, after all…)
This was my third time back to the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome, and I don’t recall ever turning down the windy cobble-stoned corner that leads to the twenty-year old Almost Corner bookshop, located at 45 Via Del Moro. When I first caught site of it at nighttime, it was closed, but the windows were so charming and sated with books in English that I made a mental note to return. On my last day in Rome I had the chance, and I’m so very glad I found it again.
Dermot O’Connell is the lovely Irishman who moved to Rome from Ireland to take over the store 8 years ago. I can't compare the store to what it was before he took the helm, but his is the rare bookstore that you step into and the shelves spring to life, their titles intermingling in a way that recalls a thorough and vibrant conversation. Maybe this energy surges when a small store lovingly and frequently restocks due to a brisk business of loyal regulars. I sensed, and it was confirmed, that the Almost Corner plays host to a dynamic expat and transient summer college-program community. In a tiny space, the shop heaves with books that can suit anyone (“I always say there’s something in here for everyone,” said his loyal Scottish staffer, Anita), and she’s right. There's a solid mix of mystery, contemporary fiction, non-fiction, and classics. I asked them if they leaned toward any specialty or another and I got a confident “Books about Rome in English.” Dermot pulled down two titles that he said would never sell in the States, but that fly out his store daily. Ironic, because he has to import them from the states, but I digress…
One of the titles was The Families Who Made Rome, by Anthony Majanlahti, and the other was the saucy Mistress of the Vatican, by romance historian Eleanor Herman (if you can call her that), author of both Sex with Kings and Sex With the Queen: 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers, and Passionate Politics. I learned that there was a woman named Olimpia Maidalchini, a self-made and driven woman from the 17th century, who collected taxes from prostitutes in the very neighborhood where I was standing for her brother in law (and lover?) Pope Innocent X. I was taken by the story of this "Scarlett O'Hara" figure who made her way hundreds of years ago among men and the almighty Catholic Church. Apparently, she would hang the family crest over the brothels to indicate them as safe houses; places not to be bothered by other tax collectors or any others from the old Roman Catholic morality guard. (The last few days I'd been mulling over a lot of tortured female Catholic martyrs whose lives hadn't ended up as satisfying … poor Saint Apollonia, who had a street named after her around the corner from the bookshop seemed to suffer the worst of it, and threw herself into a fire after having all of her teeth shattered and extracted.) Dermot told me about a walk he'd taken with an historian friend of his, who told him what the crest looked like, a dove with an olive branch hanging from it’s beak. In fact, he spontaneously took me around the corner and pointed up to the top of an otherwise beautiful but nondescript residential building, and there it was, her crest, still floating above the windows now filled with drying laundry. “What you’re actually looking at is a 17th century brothel.” And so it was; another copy of the book leaving his store, opening up a fresh spot for a new thoughtful placement.