Day One of the Baltimore Art and Antiques Fair:
the great and the good, and the occasionally only bearable, of the rare book trade are gathered in the echoing halls of the Baltimore Convention Centre. This is a building of cyclopean, Lovecraftian size designed by someone whose previous commissions presumably included Third Reich submarine pens and concealed headquarters for James Bond villains (“No Mr. Kearns…I expect you to become hopelessly lost!”).
We’ve arrived, myself and the pocket genius, and although jet-lagged and not pretty, we’ve set up our booth, our wares displayed in all their glory and we’re feeling quite good about ourselves.
I for example, am wearing a suit, something you would only normally see from the viewing gallery of one of my parole hearings. Mr. Gilbert is covering for my conspicuous lack of charm with his usual aplomb (I don’t even know what “aplomb” is, but he has it in shedloads). We are ready for some hardcore action book-dealing. Ready I tell you.
Having sweated blood and oozed sputum for most of the previous day honing our booth to its current state of eye searing perfection we are suddenly informed that due to Hurricane Irene racing in from the south east we are a) Doomed! and b) we have to move our booth lock, stock and barrel (don’t know why we brought those) out of the path of a presumed wall of angry, vengeful water. We are told that the roof leaks like a sieve, and they had an earthquake two days earlier, and for the information of people who come from Europe: hurricanes are wet.
So at the end of the first day Jon and I are quite ready to start drinking heavily; we haven’t sold particularly well because everyone is selfishly preoccupied with not drowning, prospects of eating any-time soon are right out the window and we have to shift approximately two tons of valuable books fifty yards to a new position.
On the plus side: Ashley Wildes of Between The Covers Rare Books
It’s a rare thing that I meet someone who talks as much as I do. If book-fairs don’t work any more I’m going on the vaudeville circuit with Ashley. Never have so many people stood gaping in awe for quite so long at someone who wasn’t actually on fire, naked or related to some deity or other. In all probability you could power a small Alaskan town off her. Alaskan towns are invited to start bidding now.
So, armed with our stiff upper lips and a hefty dose of Blitz spirit (assisted by Heidi Congleton supplying wine) Jon and I relocated the entire booth and rebuilt it in record time whilst looking cool, calm and unflappable (provided that’s a polite euphemism for sweaty, filthy and knackered) and were then whisked off to a posh steak restaurant for dinner. Many thanks to Between the Covers (Mr. Tom, Heidi and Ashley), Greg Davis (bookdealer and loud shirt wearer extraordinaire) and First Folio (The Luminous, The Incomparable, The Irresistibly Syncopated Dennis and Dennis…known as The Dennii) for a ridiculously entertaining and much needed feast.
Similar food and drink related credits go to Josh and Sunday Steinkirchner of B & B Books. Also, dog related entertainment.
You could be forgiven for thinking that bookfairs basically just consist of endless bouts of eating and drinking. In fact you wouldn’t be forgiven, you’d just be congratulated for working it out.
Joking aside, this Baltimore fair was undoubtedly, and unreservedly, cursed from a business standpoint:
The staff were overworked with complaints and concerns to the point that the poor mites probably wanted to run home by day 2 (but they stuck it out, seemingly through heavy tranquiliser use), people whose stock amounted to millions of dollars were understandably traumatised by the fact that they probably weren’t going to make the money they rely on this year, everybody from the local East Coast area was spending most of their time calling loved ones and neighbours to make sure their houses/pets/children hadn’t been washed away or carried off to Oz and in the meantime the news media (an area where calm and accuracy is occasionally appreciated) was positively screaming that everyone should run for the hills and that we were all going to be eaten by roving sharks come Friday. The only unflappable people (apart from ourselves obviously!) were the Marines staying in our hotel, who appeared to have raised quiet, smiling and awesome to an art form unseen outside of a Jackie Chan movie.
We bought some nice books. We sold some nice books. We saw the Orioles beat the Yankees. We saw Ian Kahn of Lux Mentis have his booth turned into a Christo installation:
We bought this and everyone said “Look at his English teeth!”:
We saw this happen a lot when water poured through the ceiling:
We did not buy this:
Then…after the joy, the tears, the walking inebriated booksellers home at two a.m. (Sunday Steinkirchner: you are to navigation what I am to the GQ Man of The Year Award…a complete and utter stranger.), the End of The World party at the Hyatt with the horizontal rain and the fast moving trees, enough steak to turn wolves vegetarian…we get on to our plane to discover that its undercarriage is seriously damaged and we’re stuck. This turns out to be a good thing (better than crashing anyway) and we finally made it home two days late and slept for about a week. With any luck we’ll do it all again next year.