By Bob Fleck
One of the joys of being a bookseller is the chance to take occasional trips overseas as part of my business. My latest adventure was a two week, three country trip by plane, train, car, and boat to England, the Netherlands, and Hungary (with an airport layover in Poland). I saw lots of old friends and made some new ones, bought books, finalized a publishing deal, and ate many great meals.
The main purpose of the trip was to participate in the International League of Antiquarian Bookseller’s (ILAB) Committee meeting in Budapest. The Committee that runs the day-to-day affairs of the League (8 booksellers, an Executive Secretary and the Web Editor) meet in the Spring of each year. This year they chose Budapest as Hungary is the newest country in ILAB and the Committee wanted to show support for the Hungarian organization and get to know the booksellers better. I’m not an officer any longer (President from 2002-2006) but was elected a President of Honour in 2008, which means that I get to go to the meetings and offer a bit of advice on occasion.
Day 1 and 2. One lovely part about New Castle, Delaware, home of Oak Knoll Books, is how close it is to the Philadelphia International Airport, which operates as a hub for US Air and British Air. I took the late direct flight to London’s Heathrow Airport on British Air and got in at 10 in the morning. I have been staying in a small boutique hotel in South Kensington simply called Number 16 for many years as I can just hop on the tube (Piccadilly Line) and be at the South Kensington station about 40 minutes later. The hotel is very small but in a great location and has great ambiance. I spent the rest of the day checking out the neighbourhood and making sure I had lined up a restaurant for the evening.
Day 3. I have bought many books from Howard Mather at Wykham Books over the years but had never sat down with him for a meal to get to know him better. He specializes in my kind of books (books about books), so I had emailed him a number of weeks before leaving and asked if we could have lunch together. He gave me directions to his warehouse location in Wimbledon Park so I took the tube from South Kensington and arranged to meet him at 10:30. So how the heck was I to know that Wimbledon and Wimbledon Park are two separate tube stops! After a half an hour of scouring the neighbourhood I finally asked a street cleaner how I could have missed the location. He looked at my directions and quickly spotted the word “Park” after Wimbledon and said I had gone one tube stop too many. A cell phone call got me back in Howard’s good graces, and I eventually found him. Off to lunch we go, in an ancient long hooded English convertible that my “full figure” barely squeezed into. We then had a pleasant two-hour lunch getting caught up on mutual friends and past experiences. There is nothing like a bottle of wine to help one figure out the future of the book business.
Days 4 and 5. One of my buddies in the book business is Tony Cox, who operates Claude Cox Books in Ipswich. When Oak Knoll bought the Randeria collection in England a number of years ago, Tony was a great help and bought the less expensive store stock as part of the deal. He has stayed with Millie and me in New Castle and extended an invitation for me to stay with him for two nights while I was in England. He has a great store in an ancient building with lots of books about books and is always worth a visit while I’m in England. I took a taxi to the Liverpool train station and caught a train for Ipswich. Tony picked me up at the station and took me to the shop for a quick book fix. We then headed off to his home, which is a 17th century house with rentable holiday space. And – lucky for me – he had gotten in some books about books collections that had not yet made it to the shop but were available for browsing and instant pricing. He is my kind of man.
Day 6. When I was planning my trip, I was considering various options for getting to Amsterdam from England. I noticed that there was ferry service twice a day from Harwich, England, to Hoek (Netherlands), and asked Tony what he knew about it. Harwich was an easy drive from Ipswich, and Tony offered to drive me to the ferry port on Sunday morning. The ferry trip was long (7 hours), but when you consider all the problems in flying and the fact that my travel day was a Sunday without much else to do, I thought it worth a try. When we arrived at the port, I was amazed at the size of the ferry as it looked more like a cruise ship! I hadn’t been on a ferry like that since cruising around the Baltic Sea during ILAB’s Scandinavian Congress. This car-ferry line operates once in the morning and once in the evening. They have staterooms, casinos, restaurants, entertainment, and great views if the sea is calm. For less than $200 for the entire trip, I decided to take the optional stateroom upgrade (necessary if you take the evening trip). I scouted out the ship and quickly spotted the best restaurant on board, where I reserved a table right on the water. The seven hours flew by in one of the most pleasant trips that I had taken for quite a while. When I arrived in the Netherlands, I walked to the close-by train station and got on the train to Rotterdam and then transferred to the train for Amsterdam. I had some help with directions during that part of the trip as I bumped into a Los Angeles restaurant owner making his first trip to the Netherlands who had, in turn, made friends with a young Dutchman on his way home to Amsterdam. We travelled as a threesome to the central station in Amsterdam, which was an easy walk from the hotel I had chosen with help from Ton Kok, a Dutch bookseller friend of mine. It was right on the edge of Amsterdam’s famous red light district so walking around the neighbourhood proved to be quite a sight seeing adventure!
Day 7. I had various business propositions to talk over with people at the University of Amsterdam and started the day with a leisurely walk around the city followed by lunch with Cees de Jong, who is a book packager and designer. He has recently put together a book on the Jan Tholenaar Collection of type specimens published by Taschen. We walked to the University, and I met the people working on an upcoming Oak Knoll Press distribution title (John Lane, Diaspora of Armenian Printing). I also talked over some business with the rare book librarian. I then had time to walk to Ton and Marga Kok’s bookshop in Amsterdam, which is a huge establishment full of interesting books. When the shop closed, Marga and Ton and I walked to a famous Amsterdam restaurant (Haesje Claes) and met Irene and Arnoud Gerits (current President of ILAB) for dinner.
To be continued.
(Posted in the Oak Knoll Biblio-Blog. Presented here by permission of the author.)