Evening falls in La Candelária neighborhood in Bogotá, Colombia. Clouds drape the eastern hills overlooking the old city. Church bells toll, and pigeons break into flight. But in one of the more quiet lanes above the hustle and bustle of the cathedral dominated Plaza Bolívar—Rafael Martínez is bent over the “guts” of an antique book. He is binding and hammering down the yellowing pages of the aged volume.
Martínez is “un encuadernador,” or bookbinder, who repairs antiquarian books. But Martínez is also a hold-out in modern day Bogotá where glittering storefronts throughout the commercial district display stacks of bestselling novels in hopes of enticing a customer.
Martínez, however, plays a little explored link in the country’s intellectuel history from his tiny workshop. By helping to restore damaged and worn out books to their former glory, Martínez is preserving a piece of history for coming generations. Books, I may add, that would otherwise be destined for the landfill.
“Old books are my life,” he says with a quiet matter-of-factness.
The walls of his centuries old shop are crammed with books from floor to ceiling. Without a doubt, his shop looks more like a scriptorium than a place of business. The only open space in the shop is his wooden work bench. “This is what I do,” he says with a simple smile. “I restore books.”
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Tom Darin Liskey spent nearly a decade working as a journalist in Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi. His fiction and non fiction have appeared in theCrime Factory, Driftwood Press, Mount Island, The Burnside Writers Collective, Sassafras Literary Magazine, and Biostories, among others. His photographs have been published in Hobo Camp Review, Roadside Fiction, Blue Hour Magazine, Synesthesia Literary Journal,andMidwestern Gothic. He lives in Texas where he tells his children that he has done worse things for less money.
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