Friday, March 31, 2017

The old bookstore is gone. Goodbye Schoenhof's.

Growing up and growing old are not the same thing but they do intersect at certain points in life. Learning how to say goodbye is one of them. 

In a further example of the changing times, Schoenhof's Foreign Books, the bibliophile's dream in the heart of Harvard Square, finally closed its doors on March 25th after 161 years of selling foreign language tomes to Harvard students, their teachers, and the general citizenry alike. For many, it was a month of mourning.

I too stopped by the old place to say goodbye and pay tribute to the store and to an earlier version of me ... when languages, both classical and modern, meant so much. When Shoenhof's opened, the great European houses had not yet started standardizing classical texts. Not Oxford, not Teubner, not Cambridge or Bude. Not even Loeb. 

In the Ancient Greek section, I couldn't find a book I wanted to buy. The notorious Oxford light blue volumes lay in no particular order on the shelves. Demosthenes in Greek, or Cicero (from Cambridge) in Latin. Teubner always in the burnt orange. They looked like bricks on a street.

Oddly, it made me think of Berlin after the war.

So I bought a picture book of Le Pere Goriot instead, Balzac's novel set in the time Louis XVIII. This seemed about right. 

The cashier was sufficiently pompous in a 1980s kind of way, a time when a little bit of knowledge could provide a tortoise-like shield against the world.

The old bookstore is gone after 161 years. That is how much it all has changed.