Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 17, No. 3, 2018
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Lynda Renée
Gary Olson
Howard Richler
Oslavi Linares
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
  Music Editors
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes
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Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
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Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




David Solway is a Canadian poet and essayist (Random Walks) and author of The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity and Hear, O Israel! (Mantua Books). His editorials appear regularly in PJ Media. His monograph, Global Warning: The Trials of an Unsettled Science (Freedom Press Canada) was launched at the National Archives in Ottawa in September, 2012. His debut album, Blood Guitar, is now available, as is his latest book, Reflections on Music, Poetry and Politics.

I don’t make a habit of visiting used or rare bookshops – the print museums of our digital age – but I have occasionally enjoyed book-hunting in an out-of-the-way bibliotheca, most memorably when I was living in Greece a few years ago. I had wandered in, quite by chance, to the Karaghiozis Emporium in the warrens of the Plaka – the neighbourhood at the base of the Acropolis. Despite its impressive moniker the Emporium was actually a decrepit little hovel, its name borrowed from the celebrated Turk-Greek shadow puppet-theater character – an uneducated, unemployed trickster given to risqué jokes and sharp social satire – who has delighted Greek audiences for generations. The place struck me as a kind of bookend, so to speak, to the Karaghiozis Museum in the posh Athenian suburb of Maroussi, thus bracketing the vast social disparities in Greek society while at the same time accentuating its cultural and historical unity.

The Karaghiozis Emporium was nothing more than a literal hole in the wall, a gap in a stone façade fringed by a pelmet of aluminum shutters. It was not so much a used bookstore or a rare bookstore as a rarely used bookstore. The only occupant when I entered the premises was the affentiko (proprietor, from the Turkish effendi), a grizzled dwarf who seemed a dead ringer for the rogue puppet himself. He was seated on a rather high tripod, sipping a turkiko (Greek coffee, adopted from the Turkish occupation) which he poured from a battered briki and scanning a much crumpled newspaper, which turned out to be the popular left wing Eleftherotypia, favoured by trade unionists, diehard communists and prospective terrorists.

He scarcely troubled to notice me as I cast a skeptical eye over the mouldering copies of socialist tracts, translations of various French anarchists, a prominently displayed Franz Fanon and, of course, the obligatory pile of Communist Manifestos and Das Kapitals, all looking distinctly worse for the machinations of that ruthless free market enterprise, Time. There was also a saucer of milk and the scattered heads of maridhes (smelt) on the dirt floor laid out for the feral cats that would slink in for a brief repast. The affentiko obviously had a soft spot for the proletarians among the scavenging classes.

As he had not bothered to acknowledge me and as I could see nothing of interest among his wares, I was about to leave when I noticed, at the top of a corded bundle by the cave-like entrance, a cat-eared copy of Yannis Ritsos’ Epitaphios, the radical poet’s 1936 threnody for a worker assassinated during the Salonika general strike. This was indeed a rare find. Receiving permission to untie the parcel – permission consisted of an abrupt lowering of the head, the Greek gesture for assent – I also discovered the 1967 edition of Dinos Christianopoulos’ Poiimata (Poems) and a loose-sheet copy, collected between cardboard panels, of Eleni Vasileiou’s Appolonia, which I’d vaguely heard of but had never come across.

I couldn’t believe my luck and immediately began the process of negotiation. Notwithstanding the advice of bookseller and author David Mason in his charming pamphlet The Protocols of Used Bookstores – “Do not ask for a discount” and “It is not nice to lecture the proprietor on how and why you know that the price of his book is ludicrous” – I knew that bargaining is expected and pro forma in a traditional Levantine or Greek marketplace, which the Karaghiozis Emporium manifestly was. Now the affentiko deigned to address me and pointed to a tiny stool at the edge of the cluttered table where I could make myself uncomfortable. And so the haggling began, amid the yowls of cats, the incessant hammering from the adjacent metal shop and the whorls of black smoke wafting in from the passing trikiklos (3-wheeled motorized carts).

Socialism may be anti-capitalist, but socialists often make the best capitalists. So with my interlocutor. His political disposition was no impediment to his shrewd and sinuous bargaining methods, which included claiming that the rarity of the books was akin to “triremes that fly over the trees at sunset,” quoting one of Ritsos’ better lines from “The Dead House.” This impressed me greatly, far more than another used bookseller I had dealt with in Montreal, who quoted only prices. He then described his strenuous and costly odyssey to obtain these coveted tomes in the scriptorium of a monastery on Mount Athos – a most unlikely repository for a cache of leftist volumes – and expressed unwillingness to part with them except to someone worthy of so precious and exquisite an intellectual treasure. Sensing that he was attempting to compensate for his unusually short stature with an unreasonably tall price, I feigned a weary indifference, assuring him I was mainly interested in the books as a sentimental token of my visit to the Plaka.

Moreover, I affected to have little leisure, letting it be known that I had to stop by the shoe shop across the alleyway for a pair of sandals before rushing to Pireaus to catch the ferry back to the island where I was living. This was, I soon realized, too clumsy and transparent a ploy to be effective, but I partially recovered lost ground by matching his Ritsos quote with one from Giorgos Seferis’ signature poem, “In the Manner of G.S.”: “Ships whistle now as night falls on Pireaus.” This earned me an involuntary grunt of approval and an apparent willingness to bend on price. To press my advantage, I glanced frequently and conspicuously at my watch. He sipped his turkiko and grumbled beneath his breath, peering closely at the books as if he were about to cut diamonds. It didn’t look like we were making much progress. Then came his crowning maneuver. He slipped from his perch behind the table and made as if to replace the books in the corner where I had found them. My face fell, rather too visibly. That was his cue.

Suddenly appearing to change his mind, he smiled benignly, as if taking pity on the poor foreigner who had belatedly understood the immense spiritual value of the antiquarian gift he was about to forfeit, and stated the final price, the best he could do considering his daily expenses, the stray cats he had to feed, the exorbitant rent for this spilaion (cave), and the three daughters he had to build prika (dowry) houses for. My daughters, he said, quoting Ritsos again, are “at the windows, hidden behind their dreams.” Despite the poetry and my growing respect for the man – which I don’t grant lightly to socialists – I resisted the urge to capitulate. But eventually, after due consideration of the bookseller’s dignity as well as my pocketbook, I agreed to a price that was a little higher than I’d budgeted for, and a little lower than he’d initially demanded. Like the characters in a Karaghiozis-orchestrated triumph, everyone was happy. The bookseller got his adjusted price, I luxuriated in my trove, the cats had their maridhes and the daughters, no doubt, could look forward to their prika.

But, of course, since the shoe shop was in full view directly across the way and I couldn’t honourably renege on my weak transactional strategy, it also cost me a pair of sandals.


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By David Solway:
Is Islamic Reform Possible?
Living on the Diagonal
The Birds and the Bees
Free Speech Vs. Hate Speech
The Shaping of Our Destiny
The Scandal of Human Rights
Reconsidering the Feminine Franchise
A Melancholy Calculation
Canada: A Tragically Hip Nation
The Ideal of Perfection in Faith and Politics
The Mystery of Melody
The Necessity of Trump
Dining out with Terrorists
What About Our Sons
Identity Games
The Hour Is Later Than We Think
Caveat Internettor
Why I Like Country Music
We Have Met the Enemy
The Obama Bomb
Don't Apologize Dude
Winners and Losers
Why I Write
Praying by the Rules
Age of Contradiction
Snob Factor Among Conservatives
Islam's Infidels
David Suzuki Down
Infirmative Action
The Education Mess We're In
The Intelligence Potential Factor
Gnostics of Our Time
Decline of Literate Thought
Galloping Agraphia
Socialist Transfer of Wealth
Deconstructing the State
Delectable Lie (Multiculturalism)
The Weakness of the West
When a Civilization Goes Mad
Deconstructing Chomsky
The Multiculti Tango
Utopiah: Good Place or No Place
Palin for President?
The Madness of Reactive Politics
Liberty or Tyranny
Shunning Our Friends
A Culture of Losers
Political Correctness and the Sunset of American Power
Talking Back to Talkbackers
Letting Iran Go Nuclear
Robespierre & Co.
The Reign of Mediacracy
Into the Heart of the United Nations
The Big Lie
As You Like It
Confronting Islam
Unveiling the Terrorist Mind



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Arts & Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the Library and Archives Canada.
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