Since my early formative years, I have always loved books and reading; books were my portal into a world of adventure, Romance and Mystery.
Over the years I have digested books on a diverse array of topics, from fact to fiction encompassing a world of subjects. I used books to educate myself in life, (having been removed from a Christian Brothers college in grade three, due to my inability to learn and being classified as illiterate). My world became a fairytale of adventure and excitement, how soon did my books become alive, virtuality replaced words, experience replaced books. Soon I found myself in uniform, and carrying out Humanitarian work in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, among the Cannibal Kuka Kuka tribe in 1969, from there to South Vietnam in 1970 as a Medical Advisor, I was living my own books and writing my own words as I travelled and experienced the world in a different light. This experience, combined with wisdom, has formed who I am today, formed my opinions, formed my political views and formed my perception of Spirituality. My love of books continued throughout my working life, but now I have defined my interests and hobby into factual accounts from earlier centuries, I love old bookstores, antique stores with books on high shelves, mouldy and dust covered, as though recently taken from the hands of the dead in gloomy graveyards of the 1800s. So my story continues, I now collect ancient books that tell the stories of other times and places, told through the eyes of those long gone, whose memory’s live on in letters and diaries.
So now I collect old books, books dating back into previous centuries, not overly valuable books, but valuable through the eyes of the reader. First edition, mint condition books don’t interest me, they have never seen the light of day. I prefer old books that are dirty, ink stained from notations, curled leaves, scribbles from notes written centuries ago, old books that have been held and cherished by those long gone, that is when you become immersed and one with history.
Now to my literary finds in Chile, Ana and I set out mid morning to locate a small bookstore we had been to once before, we wanted to purchase a basic modern book on Mapuche language that we knew they stocked. We left the secured apartments we were staying in with an Aunt of Ana’s, secured in that there was security gates and guards at the entrance, a quite common occurrence in housing estates throughout Chile. The estate gates led directly onto the main highway into Valparaiso and a set of traffic lights. Now traffic lights in Chile fascinate me, they are always a form of entertainment; once the lights turn red you can expect a display of entertainment, this could be acrobats, jugglers or just those selling products, their timing is spot on, they finish their demonstration about thirty seconds before the lights change, this gives them time to walk between the line of cars and collect donations. Leaving the traffic light entertainment we located our book store a few streets down and off to the side. A small bookstore with shelves awaiting discovery, the storekeeper was an elderly gentleman who gave me the impression of never leaving the store, in actual fact he could have been a character out of many of his tomes.
As in most bookstores in foreign countries, there is a small section that stocks books in English, being directed to the shelf, I found an array of literature worthy of perusing; I looked for that which first met my eye. A biography, by one Peter Dawson. So began an interesting journey back into Australian history of music and Opera.
I read that Peter Dawson was born in 1882, and his career spanned 60 years as a Bass Baritone, performing worldwide with many notable Opera tenors of the time, including Dame Nellie Melba, who he describes in his book, 50 Years of Song, as a rather abrupt person.
Dawson made his first 78 on a wax cylinder back in 1904, and his first Vinyl stereo in 1958; he was one of the first recording artists in Australia, recording for EMI and other new emerging musical studios. I read the biography in a couple of days and unfortunately left it behind in Chile, which I will retrieve next year.
We left Valparaiso and returned to Santiago, my penchant for the elusive antique words was still foremost in my mind. By this time I had learnt to rethink my efforts in finding the books I dearly loved. I came to the conclusion that what I was looking for would not be found on bookstore shelves or any nondescript bookstore in back streets. My books were elusive and would only be found where no one else would look for them.
Bearing this in mind, Ana and I were exploring the streets of Santiago one late afternoon, shops were thriving with business, and stalls of every description impeded the footpaths, it was a moment then that I spied a shop with promise. Through the window I was able to view right to the back of the shop, high on a shelf I saw what I thought was a number of books, now this shop was not a bookstore, more like a cross between bits and pieces, old furniture in need of repair, oddments of forlorn artwork, pieces of vintage era glassware. We entered the store that appeared to be managed by a Husband and Wife with a small Boy in tow. Casually browsing the shop I made my way to the shelf I had seen from the footpath, and find my treasure, a number of books in English that had not been removed from the shelf for over many decades. Dust covered tomes, faded covers with a smell that could only have come from a Charles Dickens bookstore.
Before I describe my finds, I think it I should explain to you my thinking of finding old books in Chile. Back in the 1800s Chile was quite an emerging country, Santiago and Valparaiso particularly, became of much interest to Colonial Europe, British and European countries opened up various Government buildings, Embassies and Trade Colonial buildings emerged throughout Chile. My thinking was that representatives of these countries were housed in Chile; with them they bought furniture and comforts from home, such as books etc. When the Colonial era started to die out, the representatives sold up and returned home. Hence to this day, one may find Colonial British furniture and artefacts and books in diverse places throughout this South American country. Now to my literary treasures. The first book is titled The Good Book, which one may perceive by its title to be a Religious writing, in actual fact it is a collection of many story’s and articles, written of the political times and emerging world times of Britain. There are biographical papers, historical papers, and social papers, and notable Government writers, adventurers on masted sailing ships, explorers and entrepreneurs. There are firsthand accounts of the times of Charles and Scotland’s history. One story continues as a series, called The Men of The Mosshags, these are the people of the moors who opposed the reigning King of the time. To read these stories’s one must try and decipher the language of Scotland way back then. Permit me to write a short paragraph for your perusal and interpretation, I find the language quite charming.
“ Mither ! mither!” he wailed, “ I aye telled ye it wad come to this—mockin’ Yon disna do. A wee while, maybe, He can bide his time, and juist when ye are crawin’ croose, and thinkin’ on how blithe and cantry ye are— blaff! Like a flaught o’fire—Yon comes upon ye, and where are ye?”
From the shelf of the forgotten words, I found two more books of antiquity that showed promise of historical entertainment and education. Both books are titled Heaths Book of Beauty, one published in 1840 and the other 1844, the drawings are finished engravings and both edited by The Countess of Blessington. To imagining the era these books were written in, we will set the stage of the writers, they are mainly Ladies. Or the Honourable Mrs, a Countess, Lord so and so, numerous Sir’s and others of the bourgeoisie of those times of Britain, suffice to say the books were edited by a Countess. The contents of the books detail the daily lives and times of these titled rich people, lavish estates and dowry that ruled the country at the time, personal diaries of the love scenes between different titled nobility, these were the times of, I think they are called, Peri wigs and powdered faces on males, times of gala events like grand balls. Now having also read the works of Charles Dickens we can see the opposite of British England at that time, poverty rampant, the poor house a place of dread, the Hulks moored in the Thames awaiting the exportation of criminals to the land of exile, Australia.
Ahh, what a beautiful world we live in, that allows us to look back into our past, and our history, books are a treasure, read them and pass them on, for its knowing our past that we can face our future, and change that which is wrong.
Ps Just between you and me, I believe my ancestors may have had a passage to the new continent Australia, on one of those Hulks moored up the Thames.
Cheers and keep Smiling