Monday, October 31, 2011

Lands of the midnight sun

I scored this trio of Scandinavian travel books from one of the best sales I've been to in San Antonio. A doctor's estate in one of my favorite midcentury hoods, Castle Hills. I was hugely pregnant at the time, which made me more shameless, aggression-wise (this is Texas, where pregnant ladies get their very own special parking spots at the grocery store; not NYC, where you could be dilated 9 cm and no one would dream of offering you a seat on the subway). Doctor estate sales are generally pretty good, but you can't count on it—sometimes you just find more expensive versions of the same old crap everyone else has plus a lot of medical reference books.

But these folks were obviously a cultured, intellectually curious pair—the study was wall-to-wall books, tons of first editions being picked over by the serious antiquarian book dealers (think: leonine hair, interesting glasses, the scent of nicotine and mold). I don't even try to compete with those fellas (and they are always fellas from what I've seen), though I seriously regret not picking up a couple of classics published by the Limited Edition Club in NY. I scored a few vintage interior design books and I got my dance critic pal back in New York two scrapbooks full of ballet clippings mostly from the ’70s—Time magazine, New Yorker articles, local newspapers—incredible stuff. Obviously the doctor's wife was a balletomane, which is not a passion you can indulge very easily in San Antonio. I feel for her!

I also paid 50 bucks for an Eames-style leather swivel chair that is the beloved go-to swivel spot in my family room. Like I said, an all-round excellent sale, but I think my favorite purchase was this set of travel guides published by Vista Books. I am in love with the covers—how gorgeous are these girls? Apparently these books were originally published in France and then translated and revised by Viking in the early 60s. The covers are frame-worthy and the writing is off the hook. Not in Let's Go or Frommer's will you find such cheeky, opinionated, discursive surveys of the history, culture and um, physical attributes of the people. Exhibit A is a passage from the Norway guide. The writer, Silvian Pivot (his real name?), rhapsodizes about some 18-year-old students he encounters on his travels:
What a delicious surprise indeed, for the pupils turned out to be three young beauties who introduced themselves in halting English punctuated by devastating smiles. There was Kari, the fairest one with a pearl-coloured skin, who was wearing a fisherman's oilskin covered with the signatures of her admirers. Berit of the huge, gentle eyes, and Grethe, whose freckles immediately enslaved me.

Whoever thought of having their oilskin signed as if it were a cast or an autograph book? Kari, you must've been some kind of genius! Anyway, Vista travel guides seem to be pretty hard to find. I know I googled them immediately after buying this set and turned up a Belgium guide on Amazon for six bucks—the cover was Audrey Hepburn! Ack, why didn't I buy it? Still kicking myself over that one. The back of the Denmark book lists 28 guides, including Finland. I would definitely pay more than $6 for Finland.

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