A chance meeting in Ciudad México.
The greatest gathering of intellect since the last time Thomas Jefferson dined alone.
Some time back, I read a quote from the academician David Berlinski, to the effect that no man may consider himself truly educated if he can only read a book in one language. It struck me as inarguably true, and moreover convicting: I could not read a book in any language but English. So, in the intervening year or two, I have worked to correct this — and now I can read a book in at least one other language. Though my grasp of Spanish is deeply erratic — I have a pretty good passive vocabulary, and a wholly inadequate active one — I can pile through a mass-market paperback or my subscription to El Pais without much problem. Challenges that stop me short come with fiction and literature. Octavio Paz’s 1962 El Labertino de la Soledad is not too bad, but Juan Rulfo’s 1955 Pedro Páramo is much more difficult than its slim size would suggest. Partly that’s a function of the vocabulary I’ve acquired. Mostly it is because literature employs subtlety and shades of meaning that straightforward linear narrative and analysis do not.
All this is how I came to find myself, with two hours between meetings, at the Fondo de Cultura Económica’s bookstore on the southern end of Condesa. It is a lovely building, and I presume a historic one — all whitewashed art-deco sweeps — that I have admired many times. The previous visits were mostly for its cafe and the mere atmosphere of a great hall packed to the rafters with books. (There were also invariably entertaining publications to browse, for example a children’s picture book about Che Guevara.) But this time was different: I knew I could read the books, and I was intent on getting some. The value of access to this alternate-language literature is inestimable, depending on interest and need. Which is to say, I don’t need a biography of Lazaro Cardenas that has never been translated to English, but I am interested.
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