Weather improves – we are in luck for our Tuesday afloat on Lake Lucerne. Assemble on the quay in sunshine, board, and sail away. Coffee and croissants. Splendid. Disembark to ascend Mount Pilatus on a sheer, gravity-defying, cog-wheel railway. Views. Air. Lunch at 7,000 feet in the hotel at the top. Booksellers on top form. Down the mountain again. Back on board.
We slot in the ILAB Open General Assembly in mid-afternoon. No substantial business, no awkward questions, everyone content. Pause for the top-table to repeat the badge and medal-giving thing. Disembark at Vitznau. Another mountain railway, heading up Mount Rigi. Pleasant, relaxed – but now, but now, it gets a little weird.
Train stops in the middle of nowhere. We are ushered off onto a woodland path apparently going still further into nowhere. What on earth? We eventually emerge into a Swiss meadow – cows, bells, views – essence of Switzerland – half expect Julie Andrews and the Von Trapps to appear. That doesn’t happen, but somewhat improbably, there’s a table in the field set up with drinks and glasses. Well, we are booksellers after all – they don’t last long. I assume it’s going to be back to the train to continue on to wherever we were going, but no – we are directed still further into the woods. Begin to suspect we are about to be taken hostage – but why and by whom?
Round a corner – and, my, oh my – a spectacular waterfall. But not just a waterfall – there’s a cave behind it and we can see coloured lights. Essence of fairytale. Essence of folklore. And within the prehistoric cave, tables set up and laid for dinner. That man Alain Moirandat, whom I’m beginning to suspect of a latent theatricality of character, has done it again. Complete and utter surprise. Powerful magic. A wonderful and entirely Swiss supper by candlelight. Top yodellers to entertain us.
But I’m not at all sure that allowing the booksellers to play with crossbows inside the cave was altogether a good idea (there are always liable to be some mild political tensions on these occasions). And some of us had clearly been practising.
Alain Marchiset made mincemeat of the postcard size target – don’t mess with the French. A passing thought of Agincourt and the superiority of the English longbow fluttered improperly, inappropriately and wholly unbidden into mind (and was firmly left unvoiced).
Fabrizio Govi (Italy) no slouch with the crossbow either. Mental note to review ABA policy on target practice. Meanwhile, I concentrated on the desserts.
Very jolly evening. Tramp back through the woods. Train takes us back to the boat – and a moonlight cruise back to Lucerne. Share a glass of wine or two with Ádám Bősze, the Hungarian president, and others.
Because although it may sound as if I’m simply having a good time (which I certainly am), the cement that binds these events together is the numerous individual conversations we have with each other, the ripening of friendships, the building of trust and understanding. Conversations with Barbara Werner van Benthem, the ILAB website editor, and the pooling of ideas and material there. With Ádám Bősze, who specialises in music, and introduces a morning programme on the Hungarian equivalent of Radio 3. He gives me a hugely entertaining account of his covering the Hungarian broadcast of the Last Night of the Proms (what on earth do they make of that in Hungary)?
We talk of fairs and congresses and how to attract people to Budapest. He’s making a video of the Congress for the ILAB website, so you can check on the veracity my scattered recollections. And I’m charmed to discover that he too has taken to blogging on WordPress (link in the Blogroll) – and, yes, it is in Hungarian, but the Google translation renders it hilarious. He’s also a great admirer of the ABA Newsletter, which I discover all the overseas presidents receive – and almost all thoroughly enjoy. (Some of them appear to know more about ABA affairs than I do). Just wish we had something like that, was the consensus.
Conversations with Sally Burdon (Australia), fast becoming a firm friend, and we have already been exchanging ideas over the last twelve months. With Tom Congalton, incoming ILAB President, of course. With Norbert Donhofer (Austria) on the internship programme. With Paul Feain too, the new ILAB treasurer – the ILAB bank account is being switched to London – and if we want an ILAB Fair in Hong Kong, he’s our man. He’s going to investigate India too. With young Zoltán Földvári (Hungary), whom I sat next to at the farewell dinner – now there’s a bright young bookseller. Marcus Benz (Switzerland), stalwart of the Zurich fair was to my right. Conversations with Maria Girsel, the Danish president.
With Fabrizio Govi, the Italian president – sat between him and John Hellebrand (USA) at lunch one day – and between us set the world to rights. Book-trade past and book-trade present.
With Christian Hesse, the German president – a stroll though Lucerne with him. Ulrich Hobbeling (also Germany) is still, I suspect, more or less persuaded that I am a sworn foe of the whole ILAB idea – can’t imagine why he thinks that. Complacency is the enemy, not honest questioning and a desire to make things better – but we get along well enough for all that. Conversation with Ton Kok, the Dutch president, on the delicate matter of an ongoing and rather fierce dispute between a Dutch dealer and an English-based one – just the sort of situation where ILAB could and should help resolve things. What it’s for.
Conversations with Anne Lamort, French president – now faced with eighteen months’ of intense preparation for the Paris Congress and Fair in 2014, to celebrate the French association’s centenary. Good luck with that. With the delightful Professor Olga Tarakanova of the Moscow State University of the Printing Arts, who currently heads the fledgling Russian association – only a handful as members as yet (and almost all of them women). She seizes me by the lapels to emphasise how very, very, pleased she is to meet me (Lord knows what they’ve told her) – and we talk of internships and the Russian book-trade.
She is accompanied by the equally delightful Alena Lavrenova, pioneering intern and an old friend from Weimar last year. Both plainly enjoying themselves and forging links with the wider book world. With Alain Marchiset on our differing approaches to membership. With Liam and Candice McGahern (Canada) – good people. Discussions on trade, auctions, internet, with a couple of American dealers who have made the trip, Bruce McKittrick and Jeremy Norman – both enjoying themselves, both asking interesting questions, both with an offbeat style. With
John Thomson, enjoying his first Presidents’ Meeting on behalf of the USA. Another lunchtime companion was Bhawa Nand Uniyal, an Indian journalist and collector – quite fascinating on the book-trade in India.
Poul Jan Poulsen (Denmark) took me aside at one point for a homily on the utility of ILAB – he’s clearly another who’s been briefed that I’m hostile towards the League. No, I’m not. This is my fourth Congress – I know, understand, approve and believe in their function and purpose. But my message to the assembled presidents was that we in the ABA have been pursuing a policy of trying to reconnect with our wider membership – it can’t all be about top booksellers, top prices, top fairs. It is our roots that need nourishment and support.