12 December, 2011Issue 17.5Photo Essays

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Postcards from Atlantis

Ioanna Mavrou

Atlantis Books, like most shops in Oia, is situated within a cave, built on the cliffs that are cut sharp above the sea and face the Caldera where the ancient volcano still lies. From the sea the bookshop is just another white-washed roof of a Santorini postcard; from the village street it’s a sunken entryway flanked by stand displays of paperbacks. Inside, the place looks like it was built by J.M. Barrie’s lost boys. Staircases climb along or behind bookshelves and lead to hidden bunk beds.

There are such things as the Philosophy Tower and the Writing Desk—a wooden plank that can be pulled up for writing or put back down to disappear into its surroundings. A lot of things in Atlantis move around as needed. There are doors that look like walls and steps that appear to be random pieces of wood until you see someone climb them. There are informative wooden painted signs. One says “This bookshop is made of driftwood and scrapwood.” Or: “Today we like this book.” Another points to the ceiling where the names of everyone who ever helped the bookstore are printed, starting from the founders in the centre, then spiraling out to the present; “The spiral contains all volunteers.”

Atlantis is now almost eight years old and already the spiral is filled with names. It’s a bookstore, but it’s also a home, a hub for writers and artists and travelers. People come from everywhere to work and play and stay in the bookstore for months, or just to visit and partake in the various festivities that Atlantis organizes, the latest being the very successful Caldera Arts & Literature Festival (in early November), where these pictures were taken.

At a time when bookstores struggle and the future of books remains uncertain, Atlantis is a literary meeting place, comparable to Shakespeare & Company in Paris or City Lights in San Francisco. It even has a great origin story, which finds Craig Walzer and his friend Oliver Wise in 2002—at Oxford for a year from Brown—in the long break between Hilary and Trinity terms making their way to Santorini, where upon not finding any bookshops, they decide to come back and open their very own.

More recently the bookshop gave birth to a publishing press, playfully named Paravion, as it publishes postcard sized paperbacks of short works meant to be shared by mail. Some have illustrations and jackets, and all come with an envelope and a page intentionally left blank for optional correspondence. So far there have been 11 of them, all classics—the latest is James Joyce’s “The Dead”, a Christmas edition with festive wrapping paper. As everything else in Atlantis Books, the press grows more ambitious with each passing season—the New Year will see the publication of contemporary authors and artists—and still stays as young and optimistic as the day it was born out of wanderlust on the shores of Santorini.

 

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Ioanna Mavrou graduated in 2011 with an MSt in Creative Writing from Kellogg College, Oxford.