I love bookshops. For a time as a teenager I worked in Britain’s oldest, Hatchard’s, which opened in 1797. But my favourite bookshop in all the world is right here in Andorra.
Walking slowly up the cobbled street alongside the Sant Esteve Church into Andorra La Vella’s Centre Historic, you come to a tiny square graced by Sergi Mas’s charming sculpture of people dancing the Contrapas. Head straight on up in the direction of the old Casa de la Vall and, just before you reach the brow of the hill, there on your right is La Puça (The Flea!) with some tables outside in the street and books hanging by the entrance. To the right, nailed to the wall is the sign “La Puça” accompanied by an illustration of a very lively red flea. Don’t be confused by the inscription above the door, El Rebost del Padrí, for La Puça is far more than just a shop that sells books. It is a place that cares for both books and its customers.
La Puça first opened it’s doors to the pubic in December 1984. The dream of Anna Ribaraygua, Miguel Fornolleda and Maria Babot it is still theirs today. Originally it was lodged in a tiny, stone-built house near the church. The ground floor displayed the shop’s speciality books, those on Andorra and the Pyrenees. Then at the far end and up creaking wooden stairs to the creaking wooden floor above were their other speciality: children’s books. Wonderfully illustrated, mind-stretching children’s books in Andorra’s three main languages: Catalan, French and Spanish.
Since then the shop has moved twice but now it has settled down in another, larger, 100-year-old, four storey, traditional stone building in the Centre Historic. (The author photo for this blog was taken on the first floor.)
Indeed, come inside with me and let us have a quick guided tour. As we walk through the door onto the terracotta-coloured tiles imagine how, in years gone by, this is where the family kept their animals in winter: chickens and pigs and maybe a cow whose body heat would have risen up to help warm the inhabitants above.
Today on the left is the cashier and a traditional oak dresser displaying tourist guide books in several languages. To the right is a grey stone bar decorated with cheerful posters advertising Andorra’s cultural events large and small. Would you care to order a coffee or tea or perhaps one of their many infusions? Be my guest! Straight ahead is another unique feature: a double archway with the left hand arch leading into the Rebost or Larder del Padrí while the right hand one heads up the stairs to the main bookshop.
Standing between the two arches is a wooden table, it’s long drawer open to display Pocions de lluna nova (Potions of the New Moon): lip balms, soaps – some of which, when you reach the end, release flower petals – hand creams and arnica cream, all made from local plants in my own village of l’Aldosa.
But come and take a peek in the Rebost itself. See, here on the left, are two refrigerators containing ready-cooked meals all, where possible, sourced locally. These meals can either be bought as takeaways or you can order one at the bar and have your lunch brought to you upstairs. For La Puça has now opened it’s own version of a restaurant run by Gemma Santfont and helped by the young waitress Katie Campos Costa.
Here are dishes such as crema de carbassa (cream of pumpkin soup) for 1.95€ or cigrons & espinacs (chick peas and spinach) at 2.90€ leading up to such traditional Andorran dishes as pollastre amb prunes i bolets (chicken with prunes and mushrooms) or bacallà amb samfaina (cod with ratatouille) both at the top price of 4.75€. And to slake your thirst are local beers with names such as La Font del Bisbe (the Bishop’s Spring), liquors from Canillo and exclusive wines – at pretty exclusive prices – from Casa d’Auvinia in Sant Julia.
Ideal as souvenirs or gifts to give to your next hostess are a small but excellent assortment of locally made jams and nectums including a very effective traditional cough medicine made from an infusion of pine cones. Some, specially wrapped along with the Products of the New Moon, make unusual presents to take home with you. And yes, there are cookery books too, including one on Andorran cuisine which comes in several languages including English.
And now let’s visit the centre of operations, up the winding staircase on the right. Here a low red armchair sits waiting for you in the window through which you can look down the cobbled street to the Casa de la Vall built in 1580 and converted, in 1702, into the country’s seat of parliament. Incidentally, founded in 1419 as the Consell de la Terra (the Land Council) now called the Consell General, Andorra’s parliament is one of the oldest and most continuous parliaments in Europe.
The walls of the first floor are lined with books: Children’s books up one end and Latest Releases at the other. Here, too, you can find books in English written by local resident authors. There are shelves of elegant picture books showing off Andorra’s great beauty. I especially recommend Jaume Riba’s impressive book, Anells, filled with his superb photographs alternating with a lyrical text in Catalan and English. Ideal as a present. Further up wooden stairs is a floor of second-hand books in various languages; as far as I know the only second-hand books on sale in Andorra.
Down the centre of the main, first floor are modern tables and chairs for study, reading or for enjoying your lunch. (There are a further five restaurant/study tables, two storeys up.) But my favourite table is the large solid oak one at the end. I have such happy memories of it, for it was here that, for more than a year, I came each Thursday afternoon to meet my young friend Jaymee Martin. Remember that name for we were there to write and Jaymee write’s beautifully. If truth be told we did more chatting then writing but we inspired each other and goaded each other on.
It is here, too, that around 20 times a year Anna and Miguel organise special presentations. Sometimes it may be an intimate concert. (I first met the couple when our two choirs got together for an Aplec or gathering.) More often it is a book launch and it was here that a group of us recently launched our own anthology, Andorra Revealed, which aims, with humour, to delve deeper into the intriguing nature of this tiny and ancient Principality of Andorra. Yes, I have many reasons to name La Puça as my favourite bookshop in all the world.
PICK OF THE WEEK
GALA PERFORMANCE OF THE ST PETERSBURG BALLET in support of the School of St Vladimir. Thursday, 9th February at 21.30 at the Centre Cultural of Sant Julià de Lòria. (35€ – 10% discount for Carnet Jove/ Tarja Magna and groups of over 12, on sale at the Centre Cultural) Estels de les nits blanques (Stars of the White Nights) with guest dancer and principal ballerina of the Kirov/ Teatre Mariinski ballet, Julia Makhalina. The company will present a programme suitable for all ages with extracts from some of the jewels of their repertoire.
IN SUPPORT OF THE NGO Refugioxnarices Friday, 10th February at 20.30 at the Sala d’Actes at the Comú of Escaldes-Engordany. Refugiats per nassos is a live show of dance, music and magic by a group of boys and girls aged between 11 and 19. The principal aim of Refugioxnarices is to deliver hygiene products (including sanitary towels, wipes, nappies …) to refugee camps in Europe.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA Monday 6th & Tuesday, 7th February at 19.45 at the Cinemes Illa Carlemany, Escaldes-Engordany. Directed by Kenneth Lonegan and starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler & Lee Chandler The film is about a brooding, irritable loner who works as a handyman for a Boston apartment block. One damp winter day he gets a call summoning him to his hometown, north of the city. His brother’s heart has given out suddenly, and he’s been named guardian to his 16-year-old nephew. As if losing his only sibling and doubts about raising a teenager weren’t enough, his return to the past re-opens an unspeakable tragedy. Nominated for 6 Oscars.
LA SONRISA VERDADERA (The Genuine Smile) Wednesday, 8th February at 21h at the Teatre de les Fontetes, La Massana. Part of the Mountain and Travel film series of La Massana-Ordino, 2017: La Sonrisa Verdadera is a documentary story of a journey as seen through the empty eyes of a blind and autistic boy who travels 1,300 kilometers in tandem with his brother. The Genuine Smile carries us into the impenetrable world of Sergio, a world much like the desert where they travel on their journey. During the summer of 2016 Sergio, accompanied by his brother Manuel, crossed Morocco from north to south, one of the least populated countries in Africa. In 30 days, pedaling on their tandem, the brothers traveled more than 1,000 kilometers of desert and mountains from Cuenca until they reached a small town in the Moroccan Atlas.
PHOTOGRAPHIC EXHIBITION by two of Andorra’s top photographers.
MADRIU 8.8 Until Sunday, 8th March at the Governments’ exhibition hall, ARTALROC, Escaldes-Engordany. (Free) ‘Madriu 8.8’ refers to the percentage of Andorran territory occupied by the Madriu-Perafita-Claror valley. The valley was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.) Madriu 8.8 brings together forty black and white photographs by photographers Jaume Riba and Àlex Tena, friends and collaborators over many years. In 2014 they produced a documentary on the valley to make it more widely known and now, with this exhibition, they are offering a more personal and subjective vision. Riba and Tena have opted for the austerity of black and white, focusing on what is essential: light and shadow, form and time. The valley is defined here as a sanctuary, a place of memory and ancestral practices, and of extraordinary natural beauty. Two different but complementary perspectives on a secular space and the age-old symbiosis between man and nature. The relationship between Riba and Tena and the Valley has always been very close. They have visited it many times (both day and night). They have travelled the paths and hidden corners, from Entremesaigües to the peak of Portelleta, to bring it to us, the public. For the past thirty years Jaume Riba, photographer exceptionnel, has lived by and through photography. Throughout the seasons, the mountains are his inspiration. He is the author of numerous successful books, such as Temps d’hereus, (Time of heirs) Vol de dia (Day Flight) and Anhels (Longing)*. Alex Tena, the photographer for the Madriu candidacy to UNESCO, has worked in all fields of photography and video, including as a documentary filmmaker.
If you want to learn more in depth about Andorra try reading “Andorra Revealed”.