A few years ago, before I visited it the first time, I learned that the Frankfurt Book Fair is marketplace where publishers, agents, librarians and others in the book industry gather to conduct business. It is not for consumers like you and me; people like us must remain content with noting down the ISBN of titles we find interesting. Nevertheless, a day at the fair presents a wonderful multicultural experience: with stalls from dozens of countries – displaying colorful titles in unfamiliar scripts, and occupied by men and women seriously negotiating business deals – the experience is not dissimilar to what it may have been walking through a bazaar in a town along the ancient Silk Road, with merchants from Europe, China, Africa and South Asia exchanging their wares.
In a couple of stalls I eavesdropped on conversations between publishers and agents. A young lady with an American accent was marketing a new author to a foreign publisher: “…and his background makes all that he writes so very unique…and he really is so very funny…”. At an Indian stall an elderly English woman returned a large book on South-Indian architecture to a portly Indian man: “Not this book…perhaps next time.”, to which the Indian replied, without expression, “Okay, no problem.”
For lunch we sat at a table occupied by a middle-aged German who was at the fair because his partner was a librarian. He was curious about India, and upon hearing that Wife was from Kerala he said: “Ah, that is the state which has a lot in common with the West, isn’t it?” I was still trying to figure out the common elements when Wife remarked that there were many Christians in Kerala and Goa which made these states different from most others. That seemed to satisfy him, but when I added that Kerala had a history of success with Communism, he looked a bit bewildered. The conversation shifted to occupations, and he was delighted to learn we worked in the software industry – finally got to meet those Indian software guys the media keeps talking about! – and even more so when he heard the name of the firm we worked for. It turned out he was a yoga instructor offering classes for corporate clients. “Ideal to relieve stress – so common these days at work.” He had been practicing yoga for around 30 years. I checked my seating posture, and straightened my back a little.
While they normally do not sell books at the fair, I’d heard one could – with a bit of persuasion and luck – sometimes convince the publishers to do so. At a Japanese stall a book on Haiku caught my attention. I approached the man nearby and asked if I could purchase it. “Of course you can!” he replied, with a wicked grin. “It costs, let’s say, a hundred Euros!” We both laughed. He then picked a file, looked up the price and prepared a bill for ten Euros. So my only “goodie” – as Rash called it – from the fair was a book titled “Writing and Enjoying Haiku”. I’ve only read a few pages, but I think I know what it’s all about, so here’s my first Haiku:
untrue label, inescapable irony
muses eager bibliophile