Speaking of books

If you check in at the world’s largest literary hotel, you might never want to go out (or leave)

In the Portuguese town of Óbidos is The Literary Man, where books rule over everything.

Nestled in the town of Óbidos, about 75 kilometers from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, is the world’s largest literary hotel, called The Literary Man. Studded with quaint libraries and hybrid bookshops, Óbidos is every bibliophile’s island of dreams. And The Literary Man is a standout experience in this booklovers’ paradise.

The hotel is built entirely around literary themes, with the focus, obviously, being on Portuguese literature and writers. But the idea is for guests to be immersed in a world of books, so much so that it is reported that visitors who stay at The Literary Man seldom go out to explore the city because they are engulfed by the presence of books here.

The hotel was set up by Telmo Faria, who was the Mayor of Óbidos for 12 years. The town was designated a City of Literature by UNESCO in 2015 – one of just 20 such cities around the world. In an email interview with Scroll.in, Faria spoke about the history of the “bookish” hotel, the books stocked at the library, secret menus for guests, the naming system for the rooms and more. Excerpts:

How was The Literary Man born?
In 2012, the concept of Óbidos – Literary Village began to be considered. By March 2015, we rented this hotel (it was formerly an inn) and we decided that it would make sense for a literary village to have a literary hotel. Then we did some research and found that other literary hotels in the world had very few books. That was the moment when we decided to make the largest literary hotel in the world (in terms of the number of books).

Tell us a bit about the architecture of The Literary Man. What was the major source of influence and inspiration?
One of the most important sources is, of course, the fact that the building was designed to be a convent in the 19th century. That kind of spirituality is totally suitable for a house that is meant to keep and preserve books. Some bedrooms have low beds, placed on a kind of pedestal, reminiscent of a sacred altar. Also, the former nuns’ cells are now the hotel’s bedrooms. The other great leitmotif we have is the use of recycled materials, not only for environmental proposes, but also because each table or chair is soaked in history.

The entrance
The entrance

I have read that the menu at the hotel comes in a sealed envelope. Is there any literary significance to this ritual?
It’s true. The menu coming inside a sealed envelope is an allusion to the times when big news and general information were delivered by the hands of a messenger. It intensifies curiosity and adds value to the overall dining experience.

There are 30 rooms in the hotel. Is each room dedicated to a writer? Who are the writers? How did you choose them?
Not every room is dedicated to a writer. The hotel offers different types of rooms: from standard rooms to suites. They all have a common layout as far as the interior decoration is concerned, and they all have books. The idea is to provide a unique experience to our guests – each room is modelled on a specific literary suggestion. For instance, if Room 14 is named after the Portuguese Nobel Prize recipient José Saramago, and has books written by him, you will find other accommodations dedicated to poetry, travel writing and detective stories.

The most sought-after room: Fernando Pessoa or José Saramago?

Is any of the rooms dedicated to a living Portuguese author?
Not yet.

Why Literary Man–does it not offend women readers and writers?
Not at all! The Literary Man is named after mankind, in a sense that all of us are a part of this world of books.

Telmo Faria (right)
Telmo Faria (right)

In 2015, UNESCO gave Obidos the title of “City of Literature”. How has the project of transforming historical sites into bookstores and literary hotels contributed toward this endeavour?
Besides its medieval and historical atmosphere, which enhances the excellence of Óbidos in so far as cultural tourism goes, the village has become a literary destination since 2013, thanks to the project Óbidos Vila Literária (Óbidos Literary Village). This initiative was responsible for a completely renewed and interesting cultural dynamic, attracting a different kind of visitors all year round. Important literary events take place here, such as the Annual Literary Festival named FOLIO, meetings with authors, and classes, seminars, creative bookshops, concerts, and more.

In one of your interviews, you said that The Literary Man is a book that is being “written little by little”. What new chapters do you wish to add in the coming years?
The Literary Man is a work in progress. We have about 65,000 books in the hotel. Some of them were bought, others reach us through donation. I really don’t have a clear idea about how many books we will be able to gather…The future will tell us. The contribution is immense and every effort is truly meaningful. Almost every week, we receive messages of support and books from all over the world. And, recently, I dreamed that I was building another hotel, a twin of The Literary Man, in Lisbon.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.