Monday, January 22, 2018

Rome Journal: The Great Library at Termini

photo: Francis Levy
Not far from Termini, the central train station in Rome, with its ominous sounding name, are a number of sodden green painted wooden bookstalls, of the kind you still see in Paris along the Seine. The only difference is that these are more beaten down and forgotten. Some just sell editions of old paperbacks in all languages, some are devoted to art books, but a few sell pornographic tapes and magazines with titles like Sex Slave. Even in terms of porn the material displayed is the kind of dated stuff that can only be found on old VCR tapes. The purveyors of these goods are the kinds of guys in raincoats who used to haunt the old 42nd Street peep shows. This lost landscape is really Graham Greene territory. Readers of Brighton Rock might be looking out for the local Pinkie. But in our era of political correctness these stalls may turn out to be the last place on earth that you’ll one day find copies of banned classics like Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. If the world continues to spin in its current direction, there may, in fact, be an upsurge of traffic to the bookstalls near Termini which will be the last place on earth where free speech still exists. Libraries will only be carrying the sanitized version of Huckleberry Finn.  So if you want to read it in the original, you will have to fly over to Rome where it will be lined up alongside work by other banned authors like Sophocles and Garrison Keillor, whose triggering warnings have given them an X rating. The stalls at Termini may one day rank with Alexandria as one of the great libraries of history.

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