Laurence Worms: The Onion Queen
Hotel Elephant : Weimar
By Laurence Worms
The safari takes on an international dimension. A slightly complex journey, but I reach Weimar (without undue incident) for a meeting of the presidents of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB). Quite an occasion, with booksellers from at least fifteen different countries (and representing many more) – from Australia, Japan, Canada and the USA to Denmark and Hungary – assembling to talk our way through the problems and complexities of the international trade.
A welcoming dinner in the famous old hostelry on the market square followed by a day of sight-seeing. All about Goethe and Schiller around here. We learn as much about the former as we are comfortable with, tour his house, view his study, his pictures, and his self-designed cabinets. The threat of even more Goethe in the afternoon inclines me to slip away quietly to the Bauhaus Museum – small but perfectly formed. After a cup of coffee in the sunlit square with ILAB President, Arnoud Gerits, we rejoin the main party for a tour of the Anna Amalia Library - a rococo miracle of elegance and light, now lovingly restored after the appalling fire. The booksellers fascinated by the advanced restoration techniques being used on the damaged books. And on to dinner at Zum Weissen Schwan, a favourite of Goethe himself.
On Saturday we start to earn our keep. A day-long meeting of the presidents, with the ILAB Committee and its tireless staff. Here’s not the place for a full report, but we discussed, among many other things, the circuit of international book fairs, the major upcoming events in Switzerland (2012) and France (2014), the sharing of new ideas to promote our activities, the preparation of an international guide to book-collecting in its various forms, the ever-expanding ILAB website, the international directory of members, and the wider geographical spread of associated booksellers around the world. All in all, a highly congenial and really rather impressive example of international co-operation. New friendships and better communications forged. We in the United Kingdom possibly tend to regard ILAB and all its works as a little remote from the everyday experiences of our members, but that, as Adam Bosze of the Magyar Antikváriusok Egyesülete suggested to me, is because we are a large association with a strong internal and external English-language market. For his members in Hungary, membership of the League is a vital outlet to the international stage. Let us not underestimate that.
The Onion Queen
Quite how the farewell dinner of the presidents of the International League (see below) morphed into the annual election and coronation of the Onion Queen – or the “Weimarer Zwiebelmarkt-Königin” to give the young lady her full title – is a little uncertain. I suppose the warning signs were there earlier in the evening. The presidents were dining on their usual plain and simple fare – truffles, quail, venison – that sort of thing, with perhaps a modest suggestion of parmesan ice-cream loitering in the undergrowth of one course.
And then the rather startling cabaret returned – and this time they wanted us to sing. Plainly some of the presidents and their spouses and partners would require additional fortification to sing in German – especially as we were to sing about wine, women and song (not necessarily in that order – and not necessarily in a precise translation). We seemed somehow to survive that, dignity more or less intact. We survived the speeches.
We survived the chef being hauled from the kitchen to take a bow. We survived the magnificent dessert. But it was becoming a long evening – and the temptation to join in the local festivities going on elsewhere in the hotel grew apace. It probably seemed like a very good idea at the time. You know how it goes.
The Onion Queen was duly chosen and crowned – petite and flaxen-haired – small but perfectly formed (she had already struck more than one of the presidents as a likely winner). Although had we had a vote our own Russian observer, Alena Lavrenova, spotted at about this juncture somewhat wistfully holding an onion, may well have been in with a shout. Wine, women and song – we’d got the message.
A final drink (or so) and time for bed. Up at dawn to catch the train to Frankfurt – a few hours there and then home. Let’s not pretend that I didn’t enjoy myself.
The article was posted in Laurence Worms’ blog The President on Safari. It is presented here by permission of the author.