Title Waves: Venice’s Charming Flood-Friendly Bookshop

Libreria Acqua Alta could be the most unique bookstore you ever visit. | By Sarita Rajiv  
Libreria Acqua Alta Italy St. Mark’s Square
The door marked "emergency exit" at the back of Libreria Acqua Alta, opens to the canal, and has a small couch from where you can watch the water. Photo: Carolina/Flickr

It is nearly noon and the scorching European sun beats down on my back. I weave through narrow Venetian lanes in search of what I’ve heard is an unusual establishment. A short walk from the excited commotion of the tourist magnet St. Mark’s Square, Libreria Acqua Alta rests in the Calle Longa Santa Maria Formosa area of Venice, close to the Santi Giovanni e Paolo Piazza. This charming, if messy, bookstore is a welcome respite when the City of Love turns up the heat.

Libreria Acqua Alta translates to “high water library” from the Italian—appropriate for a store that floods every time the canal it sits on swells. There are books everywhere; the volumes are stacked in an order apparent only to the owner Luigi Frizzo.

He directs me to climb a staircase, fashioned from old tomes, for a view of the canal. But before I head outside, I’m curious to discover the treasures within, especially the traditional Venetian gondola in the middle of the room that is impossible to ignore. It is overflowing with books on Italian art, culture, and of course, gondolas. Bestsellers gush out of other canoes, guidebooks and comics stream out of bathtubs.

I ask Luigi about the novel floor display. “So that the gondolas and bathtubs float during acqua alta and the books remain safe and dry,” he explains. He is referring to an annual geo­physical phenomenon, when parts of Venice are flooded after the lagoon overflows into the city.

I take my time exploring the books. Corto Maltese, legendary Italian graphic novelist Hugo Pratt’s anti-hero, emerges as a clear favourite, appearing on postcards and souvenir magnets. The other books are an eclectic mix of old and new, and include Italian and foreign-language titles, but it is books about Venice that occupy prime position.

I ask Luigi for a recommend­ation for my four-year-old, and he selects Tobia the Gondolier, part of a children’s book series on Venetian craftsmen. I return to the heat and activity outside, leaving behind the curious collage of canals, cats, boats, bathtubs, and hundreds of books in what is surely one of the world’s unique bookshops.

Appeared in the November 2014 issue as “Title Waves”.

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