Trac­ing Harry Pot­ter ori­gins in Por­tu­gal

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

IT feels as if time has stood still at Lello, a Gothic Revival-style book­store in the his­toric cen­tre of Porto, whose heady “olde worlde” am­biance in­spired some of the scenes for Harry Pot­ter. It was in Por­tu­gal’s sec­ond city that Pot­ter au­thor JK Rowl­ing let her imag­i­na­tion off the leash dur­ing two years spent teach­ing English in the north­ern town, spend­ing her free time writ­ing early drafts of the seven-vol­ume global block­buster that made her a lit­er­ary house­hold name.

With its del­i­cately sculpted wooden pan­elling, blue-red- and gold-stained glass and book­shelves piled high from floor to ceil­ing – not for­get­ting its iconic sweep­ing stair­case – Lello con­jures its own form of magic.

The place draws in the be­holder to set Pot­teresque pulses rac­ing, so “fa­mil­iar” does its set­ting ap­pear to true fans.

“Wow! It’s amaz­ing – it’s so like Harry Pot­ter!” says Ines Pinto, a wideeyed 11-year-old who makes a bee­line for a stack of works on the young ma­gi­cian at the store’s en­trance.

“For me it’s the spit­ting im­age of Flourish and Blotts, where young sor­cer­ers buy their magic manuals,” adds Nerea Moyeno, a 24-year-old Span­ish tourist.

Moyeno hopes soon to get her hands on Harry Pot­ter and the Cursed Child, a new play imag­in­ing the fic­tional boy wizard as a grown-up fa­ther of three, which had its of­fi­cial pre­miere in Lon­don on July 30 af­ter win­ning rave re­views for press per­for­mances.

“If the Span­ish ver­sion doesn’t come out soon I’ll buy it in English,” she said.

The story is set 19 years af­ter the sev­enth and fi­nal book in the Pot­ter series, which have col­lec­tively shifted more than 450 mil­lion copies since 1997 and been adapted into eight films.

Thou­sands of fans will de­scend on Porto this week­end for a fes­ti­val or­gan­ised by Lello, says Jose Manuel Lello, 59, the great-grand­son of one of the two broth­ers who founded the book­store, which has or­dered 5000 copies of the new story.

“We have done very good busi­ness out of Harry Pot­ter,” Lello tells AFP.

Even though the book­store started charg­ing vis­i­tors 3 eu­ros (US$3.50) last year – which they re­coup if they make a pur­chase – sales have mush­roomed 300 per­cent.

The idea be­hind the fee, Lello says, is to “man­age the stream of tourists” who flock to the store at a rate of some 3000 per day and “trans­form them into read­ers”.

The cus­tomer cash boon also en­abled the store, which opened in 1906, to un­der­take ex­ten­sive re­pairs in time for last week­end’s cel­e­bra­tion.

“We shall re­dis­cover the at­mos­phere of 110 years ago” when the store opened its doors by recre­at­ing the decor of the era, said Lello be­fore the big day.

The fine stair­case emerged once again af­ter be­ing clad in scaf­fold­ing since April. Al­though it does not move – un­like the Grand Stair­case at Hog­warts school of wizardry, there is a def­i­nite re­sem­blance.

Rowl­ing was a loyal cus­tomer when she lived in Porto be­tween 1991 and 1993 and like­wise was fre­quently to be found at the nearby Cafe Ma­jes­tic, a famed belle epoque cul­tural haunt for the city’s in­tel­li­gentsia.

It was at one of the cafe’s white mar­ble low ta­bles that Rowl­ing penned an early draft for what would be­come Harry Pot­ter and the Philoso­pher’s Stone.

Back then she was just an­other cus­tomer sip­ping a cup. It would be some years later, from 1997, when her books had al­ready made her rep­u­ta­tion world­wide, that Lello book­sell­ers and Ma­jes­tic’s wait­ers would high­light their link to the au­thor.

“Tourists have sug­gested putting up a plaque to mark the writer’s pas­sage, but we don’t know yet where to put it,” says Fer­nando Bar­rias, son of the leg­endary Ma­jes­tic’s owner whose cus­tomers have in­cluded ac­tress Romy Sch­nei­der.

“Yes, we used to fre­quent the Ma­jes­tic,” Rowl­ing’s former hus­band, Por­tuguese jour­nal­ist Jorge Arantes, told AFP in a rare in­ter­view. He still lives in the brown and green house the former cou­ple lived in af­ter mar­ry­ing in 1992.

They split up in Novem­ber 1993. Two weeks later, Rowl­ing, then 28, left Por­tu­gal for good, tak­ing her four­month-old daugh­ter with her.

“In those first weeks in Por­tu­gal I wrote what has be­come my favourite chap­ter in the Philoso­pher’s Stone, ‘The Mir­ror of Erised’ – and had hoped that, when I re­turned from Por­tu­gal I would have a fin­ished book un­der my arm. In fact, I had some­thing even bet­ter: my daugh­ter, Jes­sica,” Rowl­ing says on her of­fi­cial web­site.

Two decades on, guide Bruno Cor­reia shows off some of Porto’s haunts which in­spired the au­thor.

Those in­clude a tower look­ing rather like the As­tron­omy Tower where Hog­warts head­mas­ter Al­bus Dum­ble­dore meets his end and the Crys­tal Palace Gar­dens which bring to mind the For­bid­den For­est, as well as the uni­ver­sity, home to black-caped stu­dents.

“Their uni­forms look very much like those of young sor­cer­ers. Tourists even call them Harry Pot­ters,” says Cor­reia, 33, a fan since his teens. –

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