In Luzern, Lucerne, Lucerna – call it what you will – for the first time in some forty years. Distant memories of the picturesque old wooden Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge), although I somehow now prefer the shorter Spreuerbrücke (Mill Bridge) with its jaunty Dance of Death skeletons. I also seem vaguely to recall a bit of a fracas with a hotelier who thought that 10pm in the evening was an unacceptably late hour to rouse him from his slumbers to regain admittance to his shuttered-up establishment – we were in complete disgrace and pointedly refused breakfast the next morning. Of course nothing so unseemly this time round, as the presidents of the far-flung world of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) gathered for their annual meeting, to be followed by the fortieth ILAB Congress.
At least not quite so unseemly – the Russian delegation were in fact asked to leave their hotel at one point, but this, I am very reliably assured, was simply a mix-up over the booking.
A damp and misty Sunday morning as the presidents assemble in formal session at the rather splendid Hotel Montana, perched high above the lake. I’ll probably write a full report for the ABA Newsletter – but in brief: the usual formalities – introductions, apologies, proxies, minutes, adoptions of reports, and so on – and then the presidents in turn spoke on the activities of their associations over the year. Much on the development of websites, bookfairs past and planned, and so on,
with some interesting thoughts from Sally Burdon (Australia) on the Melbourne Rare Book Week – a series of free events, discussions and lectures, bringing in local libraries, universities, and guest speakers via Skype – which she estimates tripled the attendance at the Melbourne Book Fair that rounded off the week. Something to examine for ourselves, perhaps – and an instance of the potential utility of these exchanges of ideas. Discussion on this that and the other – export regulations, internships, Wikipedia entries, patrons of honour, bibliophily, the ILAB directory, security, etc. Suggestions of Seville for the 2015 Presidents’ Meeting and Budapest for the 2016 Congress and Fair. A discussion on the future of the Congresses and the associated bookfairs was led off by Paul Feain (Australia)
with some interesting thoughts on moving beyond our present horizons and taking these events to the emerging markets beyond the affiliated ILAB nations – why not Hong Kong, India or Latin America? I posited our footholds of membership in Argentina, Singapore and South Africa as possible springboards, but didn’t entirely feel the enthusiasm of my counterparts. The proposed budget was accepted – a few items trimmed, but a welcome vote to spend some more money on improving still further the excellent ILAB website.
We then moved on to the secret ballot for places on the ILAB Committee – three on offer, four candidates – and adjourned for an excellent buffet lunch while the votes were counted. Somewhat weightier – I saw one dignitary have at least three desserts – we reassembled. Votes in and scrutinised – Gonzalo Fernandéz Pontes (Spain), Umberto Pregliasco (Italy) and Michel Bouvier (France), duly elected, but no place for our own Angus O’Neill (Omega Bookshop).
A result not entirely unexpected – four exceptionally strong candidates, figures with strong track records and well-known within ILAB, but I can’t help but feel that the League could have done with the calm intelligence and international experience of our best and brightest thinker.
Uncontested were the elections to high office – Tom Congalton (USA) a popular choice as the new president, likewise Norbert Donhofer
(Austria) as vice-president, Paul Feain (Australia) as treasurer, and Ulrich Hobbeling (Germany) as general secretary. We pause for a top-table presentation of badges, medals and the like, with special awards to the outgoing and long-serving treasurer, Poul Jan Poulsen (Denmark) and to our own Adrian Harrington, who became a President of Honour.
On to other business. A brief discussion of the treatment of overseas members and the nature of membership in general – the Australians looking to widen their franchise, as are we, the Americans sensibly having done it long since, although insisting that members have a financial stake in their business. The French wedded to the corporate model of membership. I know which side I’m on.
The presidents join up with the wider group attending the Congress, although beyond presidential spouses, partners, and other ILAB luminaries, there are disappointingly few booksellers signed up – their mistake, we were in for treat after treat – and a number of genuinely magical moments (see posts to come). We begin with a visit to the Glacier Garden, with its extraordinary potholes, glacier-polished rock, and random boulders of ancient granite – and then on to something called the Bourbaki Panorama. As we stroll towards it, Neveen Marsh (ILAB Executive Secretary) talks of the Bourbaki Group of French scientists who invented the computer – What? What? Surely everyone knows that the Londoner Charles Babbage built the first model of his Difference Engine in 1822. Apparently in France they don’t – or perhaps I’d misunderstood her. And we both burst out laughing at two so similar nations fated never to understand each other.
The panorama of course has nothing to do with any of this – it’s an immense and haunting nineteenth-century painted panorama of the type we read about – an incident in the Franco-Prussian War – and a lesson in the horror of warfare, compassion, neutrality, mercy, the unifying of the Swiss cantons and the founding of the Red Cross. A week of Swissness has begun.