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Monday, July 03, 2006

The Bookstore at the Corner of the World

Michael Godard, Real Estate Sold
One night I was returning home by metro – it was on a Saturday. I had taken the metro from Bethesda, in the outskirts of Washington, I was going to the Metro Center station, to change there for another train - a long ride. I was trying to read a book, while my thoughts were running in all directions.
We arrived at the Cleveland Park station, and the metro didn’t run further. Something had happened on the line, the rail was out of order and we were asked to leave the train.
I followed the other passengers and got out on the street. It was midnight, and we were in a very distant corner of Washington.
A bus appeared suddenly from nowhere and seemed to go towards nowhere. I found the holiness in the land of nowhere, was it a sentence from the book I had tried to read on the metro?
Anyway, I was too tired and I did not care any more. We took places and the bus put itself slowly in motion.
The bus took firstly down the Connecticut Avenue, but after a couple of minutes changed direction and we found ourselves in the Corner of the World: 18th Street, full of small restaurants, Hispanic, Turkish, Ethiopian and all kinds of African, Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, full of people of all sorts.

It was midnight but everything was very animated. The restaurants were full, the sidewalks were full, the street was full and the bus was advancing slowly. Adams-Morgan, the immigrants crossroad of Washington, I didn't know the place at all. It didn’t matter any more that it was so late, I was marveled by the unique scenery I was watching from the bus. It was the very Corner of the World, and I was in the middle of it.

I came back the next day to see the place again. The architecture of the houses was witnessing a history of at least two hundred years, it was the architecture of so many Washingtonian buildings: small three-store brick houses - only they were painted by the present owners in the most unexpected colors: red, blue, yellow, black, pink, green - a joyful mix, without any consideration for fitting the paint and the architecture, to say nothing about color balance...

Besides restaurants, you could see there almost everything: small hardware stores, electrical appliances, electronics, adult and cult movies, tattooing and body piercing, liquor stores, African masks and drums, Peruvian jewelry, European antiques, Indian furniture...

I reached Columbia Road, and I discovered Editorial El Mundo: you were passing through a hole in the wall, and you were among the books of Marquez, of Borges, of Vargas Llosa ... Cien anos de soledad, of Marquez, near a volume of poetry by Neruda …

Amor, cuántos caminos hasta llegar a un beso,
qué soledad errante hasta tu compañía!

Where was I now? In Guatemala? In Peru? In Chile? And what language was this song? Still Spanish? Or Aymara, perhaps?... A book about Peruvian herbs, that could cure of love and unhappiness. A map showing La Tierra del Fuegos. Old photos, magazines, ceramic figurines, and books, books …

Books are moving sands - you open a book always at another page and get lost inside. Editorial El Mundo was a journey that had no end at sight. I found the holiness in the land of nowhere, was it a sentence from the book I had tried to read the night before while on the metro?

Now the bookstore closes. It was sold, and the new owner will move it to another city, Manassas, in Virginia. There is a nostalgic article in Washington Post.

(Adams Morgan)


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