David Arioch – Jornalismo Cultural

Jornalismo Cultural

The Bookseller of Arthur Bernard Street

without comments

From a distance, he looked like a suspicious character out of one of the Charles Dickens stories

o-livreiro-da-rua-artur-bernardes

The first edition of David Copperfield, the greatest treasure of the John Romani’s family (Foto: Reprodução)

At least once a month, the bookseller John Romani came to our house at Artur Bernard Street, when I was nine years old. Through the branches of tropical almond, I saw him crossing the Silvio Meira Street, carrying the same brown suitcase, adorned with names of dozens of writers.

From a distance, he looked like a suspicious character out of one of the Charles Dickens stories. He was no more than 35 years old, medium build, olive skin, a peculiar walk and dressed as a man of the 1920s, with his fedora hat carefully aligned, and a slim fit coat. Next to the suitcase, he always carried an umbrella, that could be taken apart and used as a walking stick.

When I met him, he was in the house gate talking to my mother, offering a collection of 16 volumes of Barsa Encyclopedia. As the bookseller spoke, in a growing paroxysm, everything came alive and became more important than it really was. He smiled, gestured and moved his feet from one side to the other, making the encyclopedia presentation a theatrically didactic performance.

That was how John Romani persuaded her to buy the collection, in negotiations more motivated by their selling methods than the quality of the product. His power of persuasion only did not surpass his most virtuous human qualities. And that day, he asked permission from my mother to rest for a few minutes on the balcony. She consented without flinching.

Invited in, he sat in a chair with nylon strings and my mother went to the kitchen to bring a cup of coffee while the drizzle shone serene on our garden. Before opening the suitcase, he took off his hat and kept it on the umbrella’s tip, anchored on the window grid. He adjusted his brown wavy hair, and asked my name. I answered and he shouted excitedly:

“Wow! Stupendous! David! Do you know if your parents chose your name because of the young David Copperfield? Do you know his story?” I smiled and enthusiastically with his charisma, I asked if he spoke about the magic or the boy. “That’s right! The boy!”, he said. With the simplicity inherent in children, I told him that he was an orphan, and suffered greatly because he lived alone in the world. Nevertheless, he believed in humans, in a better world.

Very good! You know, David? I’m Romani, I have gypsy origin, and we never believe that names are chosen at random. I’m sure it says a lot about who you are and who you will be. David Copperfield was extremely persevering, a dreamer, and though I have known you today, I believe that you will be like him. Our meeting has a special meaning that one day may make more sense in your life – told the bookseller with an enigmatic expression, which further highlighted his square face and his velvety big eyes like a fruit of the tropical almond.

My mother did not take long to return with the coffee. John Romani thanked her and drank in silence, watching Happy and Chemmy playing in the garden, rolling on the damp grass, with the jasmine scent, and stubbornly jumping on the plant bed. With a curious look, the bookseller smiled at the spectacle of everyday life. He scrutinized so strictly the trivial things that even the most ordinary of scenes seemed to convey something surreal.

When I threatened to take off Happy and Chemmy from the grass, preventing them from becoming even more dirty, I heard a double and synchronized sound. The bookseller was opening the suitcase. At the same moment, I pulled away from the two poodles and approached him, intrigued to know what he was carrying.

“Look, I’ll tell you a secret. I usually do not show anyone the treasure I carry with me, but as I believe you are a genuine David Copperfield, I know that there is no problem”, he said, then asked me to close my eyes and extend my arms. Soon, I felt something plastic between my little fingers.

On my hands was a neat copy of David Copperfield. The cover was green and had provocative illustrations of the adventures of the young orphan. Although I did not understand in depth the importance of that moment, I was very happy to hold the work in my hands. And the countenance of Romani made me realize that I was faced with an invaluable opportunity.

“It’s different from the book of St. Vincent School. It seems that this is older and less colorful. Remember an old magazine, a hornbook”, I commented without hiding innocence. The bookseller gave a short laugh, took the work from a protective packaging and asked me to read what was written on the cover. “You forgive me, I am not good in English”, I justified. Then, he said I did not need to read everything, and showed me the year of the book – 1849.

This was the first edition of David Copperfield, the greatest treasure of the John Romani’s family. His great-grandfather Vladimir received a copy of the hands of Charles Dickens shortly after the release. “He fled to England in 1846, and later he met the author at the corner of the publisher Bradbury and Evans in London. My great-grandfather worked as a shoeshine boy, and one day Charles Dickens talked to him. If it does not fail my memory, he said the following, before handing David Copperfield: “Here’s a seed. Maybe becomes a gift”, recounted the bookseller smiling.

The young gypsy met Dickens three more times. In the last rendezvous, the author made the 15-year-old boy cry when he stated that he might have written a better story if David Copperfield was based on Vladimir’s life. Born in Romania, the great-grandfather of John Romani was a serf, slave of a wallachian boyar – transylvanian aristocrat. He was an orphan, and he spent most of his childhood doing housework and working in mining in exchange for food, until one day Vladimir managed to escape.

Even as a child, I was awestruck with the narrative, and the resourcefulness of the bookseller guaranteed more realism to the story. The copy of David Copperfield, who I held with both my hands, had a dedication, and Vladimir’s name written by Charles Dickens appeared on the protagonist’s name, a simple gesture of affection.

There was a moment that I noticed him with teary eyes, trying hard not to weep. He made so much effort that the veins of his neck stood out, and revealed a discreet and vivid tattoo near his neck. It was based on a combination of colors that I could not identify. There was no design, only two words – Pacha Dron. I discovered a few years ago which means the way of life.

As soon as the mist disappeared, John Romani packed David Copperfield and tucked it inside the suitcase, with the same care that a mother dedicated to her son to put him to sleep in the crib. When the suitcase was closed, I felt a warm and fleeting air caressing my cheeckbones. The bookseller stood up, said goodbye to my mother and I accompanied him to the gate. Outside, he snapped his fingers, pointed at me and said: “Goodbye, David Copperfield!” He gave a wink and went to Arthur Bernard Street as a singular character. If in coming, and by far, he seemed to me a kind of Uriah Heep, in turn, he resembled more a hybrid of Ham Peggotty and Dr. Strong.

John Romani visited me over a year. Regardless of climate and weather, he always returned. One day, when it was raining a lot, the bookseller clapped his hands in front of my house – he was soaked, unprotected by the umbrella which was useless by the violence of the water. “Commitment is commitment!”, he claimed smiling. After hearing a good scolding from my mother, the kind that parents give their rioters children, he watched, hid his laughter and, crestfallen, accepted the reproach, until we started to laugh.

Attached to a profession that came into his family through his great-grandfather Vladimir, his greatest satisfaction was through the streets selling books. And for him, nothing was more important than the pleasure of telling stories and arouse feelings. On one occasion, when he was robbed, he gave all the money and bent over the suitcase in the middle of the asphalt, protecting the books; until the bandits disappeared as if they had never approached him.

At our last meeting, next to Christmas, John Romani left me as guardian of a Fountain pen that his great-grandfather gave to his grandfather hours before he died. “David Copperfield, this pen was used by Charles Dickens in the draft of Great Expectations. And what is the greater example of hope that put in your hands something that exists since 1860 or even earlier? Yeah…”, he said. That was the last time I saw the bookseller to whom I still keep the Fountain pen.

Hopefully, when the reality ceases to exist for me, as the vaporous shadows that my imagination separates voluntarily this time, I can find what is truly most important next to me, with my raised finger pointing to heaven! – wrote Dickens in David Copperfield, in an excerpt modified by me.

Written by David Arioch

November 7th, 2016 at 10:58 pm

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: