Each year when I arrive in San Miguel de Allende, I set my suitcases inside the door and immediately walk out into the town. Yes, the sidewalks still insist we tread single file; the Parroquia still glows pink as the sun sets; the iron benches in the Jardin still hoard the day’s warmth. But look! The giant Christmas tree has moved to Plaza Civica. From our new digs, I hear the bells of not three churches, but five.
This first walk settles me in the same way that running my fingers over the spines of my books settles me: reading the titles, even thinking of them, lifts my heart into a place that is at once familiar and everlastingly new.
In the Café Gluck on the outskirts of Vienna, in the fading years of the Empire, Jakob Mendel sits surrounded by heaps of catalogues and books. An itinerant bibliophile denied a license for permanent trade, he sets up at a table when the café opens and stays until closing, his portable bookshop a secret except to the initiated. Even so, his book table is a mecca for booklovers and collectors, for Mendel is blessed with the magic of perfect memory and knows the contents of every book he sells — a mind stuffed fuller more than any expert, any librarian, any corporate whiz.