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Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice

1 October 2014

Questions: Andrew Birbeck / Answers: Store manager of Libreria Acqua Alta, Gianni Coppola

Books and Venice is a marriage made in heaven. When did you open Libreria Acqua Alta?
We opened nine years ago when, after a long search, the owner Luigi (Frizzo), who’d run several other bookshops in Venice, finally found a space big enough for his vision of how the shop should be. The shop oozes Venetian character and authenticity, with stacks of books piled in every nook and cranny, yet it floods regularly (Acqua Alta means high water). 

How do you protect the stock?
This is where the various boats and bathtubs come in. Luigi, who’s a ‘volcano of ideas’, had a brainwave to bring a real gondola into the shop. It not only adds Venetian charm, but of course when the shop floods, the books, which are inside the boats and bathtubs, float! 

You have everything from new editions to guidebooks, maps and second-hand collectibles. Where do you source them and what’s the most precious book ever to come into your hands?
The shop is divided into old and new. Our second-hand stock comes to us in many different ways: apartment and house clearances when a relative passes away, sometimes from people who just need the money or are simply downsizing. We once received a magnificent book by the Italian anthropologist Cesare Lombroso. It was signed by him and was worth more than €2,000. 

Tell us about the resident cats. Are they strays or members of the family?
Luigi loves cats, he’s famous for it. This is Venice, and it’s a good idea to keep cats anyway, for obvious reasons. When we opened Luigi was given three and now there’s four – Tigre, Pirro, Dominique and Mussipul. And yes, they’re part of the family. 

We love your staircase made of books with a magnificent view of the canal from the summit. How did that come about?
The best ideas seem to come out of nowhere and just evolve. That’s how it was with our staircase. We had a huge number of encyclopaedias that nobody wanted, so we put them to good use. Now it’s one of our biggest visitor draws. Nobody’s more surprised than we are. 

Do tourists still buy books as mementos of their visit to Venice, or has that changed in recent times?
People find the shop in itself fascinating and want to buy something to remember it by. If it’s just a simple bookmark, gift or small souvenir, of course that’s great. It keeps the memory safe. 

What’s the best thing about living in Venice, and what’s the worst?
That’s easy, no cars. The downside is the huge number of tourists in such a fragile, beautiful and unique place. If you were to give a visitor to Venice just one piece of advice, what would it be? Come see us at Libreria Acqua Alta.

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