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Sunday February 7, 2016

How a new bookshop breathed life into a small Mallorcan town

Turning a new page

Not long ago, the popular bookshop in my rural town of Soller in Majorca, sadly closed its doors. Calabruix had been run for 33 years by two wonderful ladies named Margalida who, as well as sharing a name, also shared a passion for books.

But out of the blue, one of these inspiring women suddenly fell gravely ill and a short time later, died. Her close friend valiantly soldiered on alone for some months until she reluctantly gave up the ghost. She was too heartbroken and depleted to carry on without Margalida by her side. As a consequence, a community was left in mourning and bewildered, and worse still, without a bookshop.

Historically, Soller has always had a vibrant and revered literary tradition and Calabruix was the beating heart of a town for residents of all ages and nationalities who simply loved books. In its place a hairdressing salon sprang up – at least the fifth in the town – and gauging public feeling, tried to make amends by offering a Spanish book loan service amid the dryers and washbasins. It was a brave gesture but it was not and would never be Calabruix.

And then when all hope had faded, Ana, a brilliant young local woman, stepped into the breach. She had been studying abroad and working in Belgium, the country of her mother’s birth, but was devastated when she learnt that her favourite childhood bookshop was no more.

Resolving to open a new entity in Margalida’s memory, she gave up her job and returned home last autumn to put her plans in place. In December, delighted townspeople saw the opening of a new bijoux bookshop, just a hop and a skip from the original Calabruix, off the town’s main shopping street.

This little gem is set across two minuscule floors and has books to suit all tastes and ages crammed into just about every nook and cranny. Having trained as a biologist in Barcelona, Ana decided to give her own individual twist to the enterprise, calling it Calabruixa, the name of a pretty purple plant. In Majorcan dialect, Calabruix, the name of the original bookshop, meant hailstones or possibly even, witches cove. As they say, what a difference an a makes!

For cynics and those who never turn the pages of a book, such fuss over a tiny new store may seem strange but Calabruixa is more than just a shop. It is an important symbol of community life, a metaphor for hope in our vibrant little town, showing that goodness and joy can spring even from tragic events. In fact, every time I pop by to see Ana, the shop is bristling with life. So small is this retail jewel that just five or more customers vying for space can create a fiesta spirit. People talk, laughter fills the air and new friendships are forged.

One thing I do know is that were Margalida still with us, she would be beaming with pride. She believed in fostering a deep respect for books and learning among her young clients, and Ana’s initiative would have thrilled her. Our town will never be the same without Margalida but Calabruixa has at least allowed us to turn a page. A new chapter dawns for our local literary community once more.

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