Friday, January 20, 2006

The Bindery

I went to a book bindery in downtown Minneapolis today.

It's in the warehouse district and has been around for decades. It's run by generations of a family, and you either know where it is or you don't. No need to advertise, because they are true artisans and the quality of their work is recounted by word of mouth. It's in an ancient building, through winding corridors and up worn stairs.

Once inside--announced by a tinkling bell on the door--I stand and wait for someone to appear. Smells of ink and paper and dust and machine oil and leather... years of tattered cartoons and notes and phone numbers (still with the old exchanges: FR 4-3444) tacked to the walls...

Finally, an older, large woman wearing a flowered smock comes (shuffles, waddles, effortful) around a stack of books and greets me. I announce my business and she knows who to shout for. Her grandson comes up (long ponytail, not more than 20) and walks me through my options: calfskin, goatskin, vellum, full leather, 1/2 leather, 1/4 I want the crumbling pages restored, too? He's attentive and loving as he runs his fingers gently over the book I've placed before him. He knows it's my treasure, without me saying so, and he approaches it reverently.

He's much younger than this book.

He says he will have to let his dad examine it and confirm his estimate, but he feels pretty confident about what he tells me.

He's afraid the numbers he quotes me will cause me to balk, and I tell him that I am not just paying for the book restoration--I am also paying for the lift in spirit I get from having a 20-year old boy stand before me, knowing, understanding, in a dusty sanctuary of words and the material that binds them.

I leave the book with him and return downstairs and to the street. I drive away, through downtown, through the suburbs, past a Wal-Mart.

I don't think they carry what I just bought.