By Daniel Hester
Well positioned within this time honored tradition of fine bookstores and even better literature is La Internacional Argentina, an independent bookstore located at 4199 El Salvador here in Buenos Aires. I recently had the opportunity to drop by the store and talk with the shop’s owner, Francisco Garamona, about some of his books, his shop, and the independent editorial he recently created.
In terms of appearance, La Internacional Argentina and its owner share much in common. Garamona looks like the quintessential bibliophile with his mussed hair, skinny jeans, and a slim leather jacket with pockets just big enough to hide a small novel or collection of short stories. Like its owner, the shop is clean cut in appearance but has the telltale signs of a place that has been well loved and often used. In the corner lies a red cloth covered couch. Two old guitars lay propped in between the bookshelf and the white, paint chipped wall. The full ashtray lays rests on top of the coffee table and the front counter is buttressed by a wall of books and flyers creating a small fortress from behind which Francisco can comfortably preside over his small kingdom. And then of course there are the books- lots of them. Novels, poetry, short fiction, art, cinema, photography, the classics, first editions, the vanguard, and even books in English all line the shelves and practically every other flat surface in the store in ordered chaos.
Still more form cock-eyed piles on the floor that teeter drunkenly, threatening to topple over. Though small in size, the store more than makes up for it in character and pure charm. Garamona, the owner of two previous bookstores before opening up La Internacional Argentina, opened the shop several years ago and mostly deals with first editions, rare and antique books, and other fare that strikes his fancy. This is not your typical chain bookstore. There is no self-help section, there are no CDs or DVD to flip through, and there is no adjacent coffee shop connected through a side door. Instead, Garamona has chosen to emphasize quality over quantity, filling the store with his personal favorites and books that have consistently stood the test of time. Though trained as an artist and musician, Garamona has spent the last 17 years in the book business and has recently entered into the world of publishing through the creation of the small editorial Mansalva.
Orginally seen as a way to get some of Garamona’s favorite new authors into circulation, Mansalva quickly took on a much broader purpose. According to Garamona, Mansalva is built around the idea of preserving and promoting literature that would not necessarily otherwise see broad circulation. It takes material that is often older and under-appreciated, gives it a new face, and then puts it back in circulation, while at the same time finding the new and unheard and sending it out into the world for the first time. The editorial also works with well-known artist and designer Javier Barilaro to create new and unique cover designs for each release. The idea being that each work is composed of more than just words but exists as a tactile and visual experience unto itself. Mansalva, and consequently Garamona, plays the dual role of both literary archeologist and vanguardist, rescuing the old from obscurity while promoting the new. It is a labor of love and one Garamona seems to relish.
Throughout our talk, browsing customers or local authors would come in periodically to browse or just to say hello. Francisco greeted everyone with a warm smile, knowing most by name, perusing and suggesting books as he went. The store turns into a second living room for local authors, poets, and musicians at times so Francisco tells me. Community such as this does not make La Internacional Argentina look so much like a business as an ongoing conversation among friends, making it an ideal place for book lovers and artists to find people of like kind. Go check it out yourself. There’s sure to be some cigarettes, guitars, and good conversation waiting for you.