The Most Beautiful Bookshop in the World

Words and Images by Kevin Rabalais

One by one, several Italians enter Venice’s Libreria Acqua Alta and ask Luigi Frizzo whether he stocks a particular book. He mumbles directions, gesturing toward the beautiful chaos of his shop, where he displays many of his books in a gondola, bathtubs and small boats in order to protect them during floods. The Italians squeeze through the narrow shop with its overcrowded stacks. They pull books from shelves and bathtubs and boats, turning the spines face out so that they can read the titles.

Frizzo comes more alive at the sight of a foreigner.

“French, Spanish, English, German?” he asks one after another. He holds up a pen light. “Look at the picture,” he says, smiling eyes directed to the red dot that traces over a 3D image of San Marco on display to the left of his counter. He then gives specific directions about how to reach the courtyard. “You will find there a beautiful view,” he says. In that courtyard, books form a ladder that allows customers to gaze down upon a canal.

Frizzo runs through this routine dozens of times an hour and doesn’t seem to tire of it. He has specific advice for every foreign woman who leaves his shop.

“Be careful,” he says from behind the counter. “In Venice there are many Casanovas.”

Men accompanying wives hear a similar version: “Don’t let your wife out of your sight,” Frizzo says. “There are many Casanovas in Venice.”

And somehow, probably because it’s Venice, you browse these “shelves,” certain that you would never tire of hearing these repetitions.



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