One icon I really wanted to see in Porto was its famous bookstore (indeed, one of the most famous in the world), Livraria Lello & Irmão. I’d read about its gorgeous interior architecture, and it did not disappoint.
I nearly missed the bookstore itself, being on the lookout for a big “Lello” somewhere and seeing only “Livraria Chardron,” which is inscribed on the central glass pane above the door. The bigger sign above, which says “Lello & Irmão,” is invisible from the near half of the sidewalk due to the slight overhang. You have to step out toward the edge of the sidewalk to see it. Fortunately, my wife was more prepared than I was, and yanked me inside before I even realized where we were.
Once inside, it was obvious where we were. There aren’t too many bookstores that look like this.
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As you can see from the storefront, it’s not a big shop. But the glorious staircase makes it bigger on the inside than on the outside, rather like Mary Poppins’ carpetbag.
Oh yes, and do you see those signs on either side of the staircase, taped to the posts? The ones that have circles with lines drawn through them? They say No Photos. But I was so busy taking photos that I totally missed them. I was also distracted by the enormous stained glass window that takes up half of the ceiling on the second floor. (You can see a corner of it in the above photo.)
And then there was the ceiling on the first floor. Seriously, LOOK at this artwork! Isn’t that simply amazing? I oohed and ahhed and took this photo right in front of the cash register, with my camera held over my head. The clerk at the register could not possibly have missed me. He didn’t say anything, and thus I was still clueless that I was breaking the rules.
Having read up on the bookstore previously, I knew to look for the plaster molding that had been painted to look like wood.
It is astonishingly realistic until you get up close and note the scratches and dings that reveal plaster beneath. I was quite impressed by the wood “grain.”
There is also an iron track embedded in the floor for the wooden book cart, visible here at the back of the store.
The view from the back of the shop is possibly even more impressive than from the front, due to the staircase landing which hovers in the air like a particularly grandiose pulpit.
This gives you a better idea of just how large the stained glass window is. My next goal was to climb the stairs and photograph it, but this is when I was finally advised that No Photos Are Allowed.
Upon climbing the stairs (where an employee kept a fierce eye out for wayward photographers), I figured out the reason why. The bookstore sells postcard photo packets of itself for seven euros.
Okay, I understand the need for bookstores to make money and stay in business, especially in the modern Amazon/ebook era. (Though I would question how much competition Amazon is for a bookstore selling mostly Portuguese books.) And I would be willing to pay for the privilege of taking photographs in this store. But I am not willing to buy postcards instead of taking my own photos, for two reasons:
1. I’m not a scrapbooker; postcards don’t work for me. I can’t email them, blog them, or store them in my digital photo library. (And scanning them is less than effective; I tried that with a postcard of a local church.)
2. I would much rather take my own photos than buy someone else’s. It’s a photographer thing.
Having been alerted to my own transgression, I finally began to notice just how many people were wandering around this store with cameras, and just how often the (rather harried) clerks were having to admonish them. This seems like a big mistake to me. It overworks the clerks, who were often fruitlessly saying “Não tire fotografias” to tourists who don’t speak Portuguese (and then having to use sign language), and it pissed off a lot of tourists, who shrugged their shoulders and immediately left.
Why not have a big sign at the entrance saying something like, “Thank you for appreciating our beautiful bookstore. If you are here to take photos rather than buy a book from us, we must ask you for a small fee of two euros. This helps us keep the store beautiful (and in business) for your photos!” I guarantee you that most photographers would willingly pay. Those who did not would have earned their scolding from a clerk. The store could hand out little stamped Post-Its that photographers could temporarily stick to their cameras, which would immediately mark them as paid customers rather than freeloading tourists.
And the bookstore would make a boatload of money.
There was one other photo that I really, really wanted to take — not of the store, but of the most perfect juxtaposition of books. On one shelf were titles including the Kama Sutra and half a dozen sex advice books, and right next to them were titles like How to Breastfeed Your Baby and Your First Child. When I pointed this out to my wife, she said (as only a practical Portuguese can), “Well, one leads to the other.”
So of course they should be on the same shelf.
I went to a clerk and asked “Podia tirar uma fotografia dos livros ali?” He shook his head. “Apenas os livros? (Just the books?)” I pleaded, but he said it wasn’t allowed. When I said okay, he smiled tiredly and thanked me for understanding. Well, I understood his position. But I don’t understand the shortsightedness of the bookstore management.