They say that books feed the soul but for a month and a half they have also filled the stomachs of families who come to the popular pot organized by Jorge Artola, a Uruguayan bookseller who, in addition to "hot, dignified, decent, rich and nutritious ", offers a particular dessert: a book.
The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca once pointed out that if he were helpless on the street "he would not ask for a loaf; instead he would ask for half a loaf and a book." Artola goes further. He offers "the whole book and the whole bread", he tells in a conversation with Efe.
A POT OF EVERYONE AND FOR EVERYONE
Just a few days after March 13, the date on which Uruguay released the first four positives for COVID-19, Artola and a group of students began cooking to provide a solution to those families who, due to the pandemic or any other factor, they suffer financial difficulties or even live on the street.
The recipe for that first time was a "very nutritious" stew prepared by a friend of the bookseller, of Balkan descent, and who "loved it," says Artola, giving rise to an initiative that seeks to stay beyond the pandemic.
"There are a lot of people who are becoming very paralyzed because between the fear, the quarantine and diseases that they already had, they have made a kind of progressive spiral that is very problematic," regrets the bookseller.
The hundreds of old and new books that are piled up on the walls, the shelves and the floor of Diomedes Libros like a jungle of knowledge are now witnesses of a popular pot that every Tuesday and Thursday gives dinner to more than one hundred people in Montevideo who They come for their plate, their dessert, their breakfast for the day after and, if they want, a book.
Dressed in gloves and masks, and respecting the social distance necessary to avoid contagions, the volunteers prepare the tables - in some the viands and in others the books - for when the people arrive who have previously been given a number, precisely to limit crowds.
It is the residents of the neighborhood who donate what is necessary to organize the dishes, says Artola, and an "international brigade" of Argentines, Paraguayans, Venezuelans and Uruguayans, "from all parties and from all religions" who prepare the food, the They also offer and take her to pensions so that those who cannot go to the bookstore can also eat.
During Efe's visit, citizens of different ages, all covered with masks, wait at the bookstore door laughing and chatting among themselves, amid the good atmosphere generated by Artola and his "brigade".
In addition, this small bookstore is sponsoring other projects in "more complex" areas of the city, thanks to which they are giving meals to 400 people.
"CULTURE IS AN ESSENTIAL SERVICE"
Although there is no mandatory quarantine in Uruguay, many small businesses decided to close with the arrival of COVID-19 in the country, but Diomedes never lowered the blind.
"Culture is an essential service," says its owner emphatically, who has spent 35 years working among books, now with health protection and surviving a crisis in which "the rent continues to run."
Before the pandemic, Artola already offered free novels to anyone who could not pay for literature. A loan that, if it was not repaid, nothing happened because "the idea was for the book to circulate."
Now, the bookseller adds works of all genres in the "menu" of his popular pot and, in addition, the projects he sponsors in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods of Montevideo include a library aimed at children, so that they can continue studying despite the suspension of classes due to the health emergency.
Given the lack of internet connection in some houses that prevents students from accessing the virtual classrooms, Artola is working with educators, who he provides with consultation material, so that they come to help the children and prevent the little ones from abandoning school, which would provoke a "dantesque" scenario.
"If the kids begin to drop out of the educational system, we will not only have the virus, we will not only have depression, but we will be burning another generation," denounces the bookseller.
For this reason, Artola and his group of volunteers will continue to provide culture and books, so that García Lorca's "half bread" does not fall short and the stomachs and souls of the most disadvantaged continue to be full.
Sergio Marín Lafuente