Despite three unrelated banking fiascos, today falls in the “win column” because the torrential rains stopped, I discovered Librería Libros Libres, and I finished the night with some simple but incredible tapas in Madrid’s famous La Latina neighborhood. (Before I continue, I’ll tell you that the highlights were two tostas, one topped with jamón serrano, figs, and a honey drizzle; and the other with Manchego cheese, caramelized onions and a balsamic reduction. Salivating? You should be.)
Librería Libros Libres (“free book store”) is modeled after a project that was born in Baltimore in 1999, aiming to bring reading material, free of charge, to anyone who desires it. The Madrid version, which just opened this month, is one of the many projects run by the multinational non-profit Grupo2013, whose motto is “Educa a los niños y así no hará falta castigar a los hombres” – Educate the children, and that way you won’t have to arrest the adults. In Madrid, their other key initiative involves offering free remedial classes to students who would otherwise drop out of school. Although their work varies across the communities they serve, Grupo2013 believes that education is the key to ending poverty and inequality. Their director writes that he works with “sueños que se convierten en realidades, y realidades que en su día fueron sueños” – dreams that become realities, and realities that were once dreams. I cannot think of a more beautiful perspective on the past, present and future.
Tucked away on a mostly residential street, the bookstore consists of walls of precariously stacked reading material loosely organized by genre, plus a room full of DVDs. The operation runs completely on the honor system, as all items borrowed are to be returned at one’s leisure, with only a name (but no contact information or deposit) kept as a record. Donations are accepted in the form of books, DVDs, euros, volunteer hours, cake, and coffee. I will certainly be back, perhaps with one of those items in tow.