Francisco Antolin and Domingos Cruz, old schoolfriends in Lisbon, were having a drink once when a problem common to them came up in conversation. Namely, getting hold of copies of Portuguese novels in translation they had each recommended to foreign friends. Copies to actually hand to somebody or to bring as presents – true, there is Amazon and the internet but sometimes you want things a little more promptly. What started off as bar-room grumbling ended up in a business plan, and a mobile bookshop, named Tell a Story, housed in a custom-fitted 1977 Renault Estafette van, which sells its wares at various locations around Lisbon. Cruz, a lawyer, got the idea for a van from book-hawkers he saw when on a business trip to China; not that they had much choice in any case – store-front premises were prohibitively expensive for a new business venture in recession-racked Portugal.
With the help of a third friend, advertising creative João Correia Pereira, who devised a branded look, the van opened for business in June this year. Antolin, freshly returned to Lisbon after spending much of the past fifteen years abroad in various countries, takes care of the sales. An affable multilingual bear of a man with a keen knowledge of Portuguese literature, he is an able salesman and built for the constant chatter – with both locals and visitors – that is an occupational hazard.
The novelty of the undertaking is a talking point alone, as is the baby-blue and white Estafette which has quickly become an Instagram favourite. When I visited one day in Chiado, Lisbon’s main shopping area, there was a constant flow of curious passers-by and tourists enquiring about the concept. Some depart with purchases of books – be they canonical works by Eça de Queiroz or Fernando Pessoa or more recent ones by José Saramago and António Lobo Antunes – others with the goodies that Tell a Story gives away for publicity: tote bags, branded pencils, author postcards.
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